The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

XXI. Newspapers, 1775–1860

§ 11. New York: The Evening Post

Though it could still be said that “too many of our gazettes are in the hands of persons destitute at once of the urbanity of gentlemen, the information of scholars, and the principles of virtue,” a fact due largely to the intensity of party spirit, the profession was by no means without editors who exhibited all these qualities, and put them into American journalism. William Coleman, for instance, who, encouraged by Hamilton, founded the New York Evening Post in 1801, was a man of high purposes, good training, and noble ideals. The Evening Post, reflecting variously the fine qualities of the editor, exemplified the improvement in tone and illustrated the growing importance of editorial writing, as did a dozen or more papers in the early decades of the century. Indeed the problem most seriously discussed at the earliest state meetings of editors and publishers, held in the thirties, was that of improving the tone of the press. They tried to attain by joint resolution a degree of editorial self-restraint which few individual editors had as yet acquired. Under the influence of Thomas Ritchie, vigorous and unsparing political editor but always a gentleman, who presided at the first meeting of Virginia journalists, the newspaper men in one state after another resolved to “abandon the infamous practice of pampering the vilest of appetites by violating the sanctity of private life, and indulging in gross personalities and indecorous language,” and to “conduct all controversies between themselves with decency, decorum, and moderation.” Ritchie found in the low tone of the newspapers a reason why journalism in America did not occupy as high a place in public regard as it did in England and France. The editorial page was assuming something of its modern form. The editorial signed with a pseudonym gradually passed away, but unsigned editorial comment and leading articles did not become an established feature until after 1814, when Nathan Hale made them a characteristic of the newly established Boston Daily Advertiser. From that time on they grew in importance until in the succeeding period of personal journalism they were the most vital part of the greater papers.

As the magazines were still few and offered poor pay, if any at all, the newspapers became the means of support of innumerable authors, and even in this age of the political press there were as many literary as political editors. In contrast with the situation today, when the magazines are generally conducted by men whose tastes and ideals have been formed in journalism rather than in literature, and assume more and more the characteristics of timeliness, until the middle of the century the newspapers owed their character to men of literary tastes and pursuits. When Bennett the elder referred slurringly to the “poets of the Post” and the Post declared that Bennett was not a journalist, a momentous divergence and change of ideals was indicated.

Changes which came about in the thirties well-nigh revolutionized the newspapers. Within a decade the cheap newspaper was begun; steam presses were introduced; a radical alteration took place in the idea of news values, reporting, and correspondence; freedom from party control was found possible; and important modifications took place in the party press.