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In this unit, we are looking first, at the history of journalism from the viewpoint of the technologies that were produced in aid of the practice. There is also a view of the development of journalism in relation to the political and economic situation peculiar to the societies under which the discussion is made. Before we set out to do that, let us first understand what the concept of journalism is all about.


On successful completion of this unit, you should be able to:

  1.  Define and explain what journalism means
  2.  Describe the origins of writing and printing
  3. Explain how journalism started in Europe and America 
  4. Highlight the different phases of journalism development in Nigeria 


3.1 Journalism: What it Means

Journalism is the art and science of gathering, selecting and processing information or ideas, intelligence for dissemination to the public. The media of dissemination are usually the print or broadcast channels. In other words, there is journalism for the print and the broadcast. For both

them, the journalist follows the same principles and is guided by the same determinants/values in gathering news materials. What makes them different, lies in the adaptation of the principles to bear upon or reflect the specific features of the medium. For instance, a news story for transmission in the radio medium should use words, which simpler and mostly conversational. But, in the newspaper or magazines, are words may not be as simple and less conversational. Good journalism consists of the intelligent assembly of relevant facts. Getting the facts to work with is not an easy task. Yet, it is the most important responsibility of the reporter. Newsgathering therefore concerns the ‘what’, ‘where’ and ‘How’ of identifying, selecting, collating and processing of information for publication in the newspaper, magazine, radio, television. To achieve all this, demands the special skill of nosing for news.

3.2 Nose For News

This is a journalistic parlance that describes the pulling force, anxiety and sensitivity of a journalist in the process of newsgathering. It zeal, requires that extreme observational tendencies and the ability to make deductions or meanings from factual assumptions. It does not call for any invention of facts, instead, an ability to assess or weigh usefulness of answers from questions, especially when people, of today the are particularly observant to help a journalist give answers that think the journalist wants, rather than the ones he needs. In summary they therefore, the ‘nose for News’ is

  1. an ability to recognise possibilities of an item of information 
  2. an ability to recognise clues which through their casual search, lead to the discovery of important information 
  3. the capacity to recognise the relative importance of a number of facts concerning the same general subject 

Self Assessment Exercise 1.1

State three primary roles of the journalists that have also given direction to the practice yesterday and today.

3.3 The History of Journalism

3.3.1 Technological Developments Strictly speaking, the word technology does not refer to mechanisms, but the way mechanisms are used. Thus, when using such terms as modern technology, or the latest technology, although inventions or new machines are at the heart of the matter, it is the processes in which they are used that constitute the technology. This should be borne in mind when studying the text by a journalism historian Robert Desmond (1978:1 – 12). He talks about the Roman’s first daily newspaper. Rain

or shine, soldiers in Caesar’s garrison in the freezing Alps or burning Sahara were lined up in the parade ground at least once a week to have the Acta Diurna read to them. The soldiers were easier to control and easier to motivate, if they were reassured regularly that theirs was the greatest nation on earth. News of fresh conquests by their colleagues in other parts of the Empire, plans by the government to increase soldiers’ pensions, gossip about the famous, and sports reports all helped convince them they were remembered and would get fed today and paid next week.

a) Writing

Desmond then takes several steps backward to trace the history of the ideographic and phonetic types of writing. The phonetic writing used here is based on a 26-letter Latin alphabet, and an Arabic numbering system. This systems is pre-dated, however, by ideographic systems. Originally, these systems used stylised drawings of objects. By a series of combinations and associations these pictographs could be made to represent abstract ideas as well as objects. For instance, the abstract notion of a home could be written down by melding the pictographs for a house, with those for a man and a woman. The notion of a family could be portrayed by combining the pictographs of home and children, and so on. The three great early civilisations in India, Egypt, and China probably

developed their own ideographic systems of writing independently. Today, only the Sino-Japanese versions survive. To those of us who only have to learn 26 letters and nine figures, the survival of ideographic system in which people have to learn literally thousands of an characters may seem strange. The Chinese see the advantages of this system. The Latin alphabet is taught in schools in China and used in many forms of public communications such as street and shop names. However, the ideographic system has one advantage over the phonetic. The ideographs are the same for all languages. That is to say, there are many ethnic divisions in China, with many variations in language, but the ideographs are the same. The word for house may be very different in each language, but the ideograph is the same. Hence, the national television news is broadcast from Beijing in Standard Chinese, but for those who do not understand this language, most items of news summarised on the screen in ideographic writing. are

b) Paper and Printing

Desmond (1978) further outlines the development of writing surfaces, from animal skins to woven papyrus; then to the invention of about 1800 years ago. The latter occurred in China, but the paper breakthrough in paper manufacture took place in Europe at the major beginning of the nineteenth century. Almost simultaneously, chemists discovered how to break the strong bonds of lignite that hold fibres together so all the tree – not just the bark – could be used for wood paper-making. Engineers then invented machines that could make paper continuously as a long strip. (Up to this point paper had been made out of fibres, such as cotton and linen that were also used to make cloth). In the final part of this reading, Desmond summarises the development of printing.

For a start, the evidence has grown stronger that Coster (or Koster) was using movable type before Gutenberg. George Putnam says in his two- volume “Books and Their Makers” during the middle ages that Coster was using movable type in 1426 and published his first book using this method in 1430. This pre-dates the available evidence as to Gutenberg started using movable type. when Second, Peter Schoffer who made the breakthrough for mass-producing type seldom gets credit in the history of printing.

Third, Caxton is unlikely to have carried out much printing himself. By the scale of his time he was virtually an old man by the time he returned to England after retiring from being a wool-merchant and diplomat in Burgundy. The foreign assistants he brought with him back Europe, headed by Wynkyn de Word, were the real printers. Caxton from was an author and translator. Caxton used his knowledge of contemporary public service to get legislation passed by Parliament that the could be described as the world’s first guarantee of the Freedom of the Press.

3.3.2 American Dominance

This showcases the developments in journalism technology as viewed from the United States. This is probably an appropriate view because, after the steam-powered rotary press was invented by Walter Koenig in German, and first used in 1811 (three years earlier than in America), most of the significant new journalism technologies emerged in America. These included the telegraph, telephone, radio news, and television. This list, however, should only be used as a guide. There is a certain ethno-centric bias in the extract by Schramm (1975). For example, the town of Schenectady is credited as being the place from which the first regular television schedules were broadcast. Other countries make rival claims that such broadcasts were originated from their soil. The most widely accepted of these claims is that the honour goes to the British Broadcasting Corporation in London in 1936.

Today, the place of origin of new journalism technology is hardly relevant. It is not significant if John Logie Baird invented television. What matters is that there are more people involved with American television coverage at an Olympic Games than competitors. What matters is that Olympic officials time high points in the Games’ schedules to coincide with prime-time viewing in the Americas. What matters is that without the money generated through and by the American television networks, the Olympic Games as we know them may as well have some hitches.

However, the present dominance of the mass media by America is not something that will last in perpetuity. Just as the focus of media technology shifted from China to Europe, and then to America, so, too, will the focus move on to Asia and Africa.

Already there are signs this is happening. For instance, the present dominance of American and/or Japanese media is largely due to the expensive and complex back-up systems these two societies can afford to support their dominant news media. Even today it normally takes many hundreds of people to bring an overseas item of news to the front pages of American daily newspaper, radio newscasts, or television screens. But the 1991 coverage by CNN of the gulf War from within Iraq showed that a story could be covered round-the-clock by fewer than ten people using portable satellite phones. Since then, satellite technology has been improved, and the cost of digital video has been

reduced so that it can now come within many family budgets. Soon individual journalists will be able to afford the portable technologies to cover stories for all types of media, without the backup of a newspaper empire, or a television network. Such a situation might lead to a new type of less-restricted, independent journalist, covering the world’s news without political and economic interference.

On the other hand, it might lead to more restricted journalism publishers no longer have to employ staff journalists, but can pick and as choose which version of events pleases them and their customers most from the different ones offered by the many new technically- independent freelance journalists.

3.3.3 Politico-Economic Developments

The history of journalism in England is the next step. Cranfield (1975) of the University of Newcastle traces how the Tudor monarchy whittled away the freedoms gained in the 1484 Act until the Crown had total control of all publications. Even when Parliament gained ascendancy over the monarchy there was little inclination by the elected government to relax the controls on publishing. Only party politics prevented the Printing Act being renewed in 1695. This lapse in government control meant England was the only country in Europe at that time where the publishing of newspapers was unlicensed.

a) Freedom of the Press

A few weeks after he became king of Prussia in 1740, Frederick Great introduced a process that partially freed the Press by removing the virtually all censorship (Koser 1907: 158-9). He even tolerated attacks on himself in books, plays, pamphlets, and especially in the newspaper he ordered to be established in Berlin. Just across the border Denmark, a young doctor from Prussia, Johann Struensee, took over the in effective rule of the country in 1770 with the help of his lover, the queen

Caroline Matilda (Williams (1907: 415 – 118). One of his first edicts was the granting of unrestricted freedom of the press. Unfortunately, a prime target of the new free press was Struensee and his relationship with Caroline Matilda. After a sustained press campaign, Struensee was put on trial and beheaded in 1772. The concept of a free press jumped the 20km gap between Denmark’s Copenhagen and Sweden’s town of Malmo. In 1997, the world’s first law to specifically guarantee the freedom of the press – limitations to this freedom – was introduced in Sweden. Since then including freedom of the press has been guaranteed in the laws of many nations. In the United States and the former Soviet Union such a guarantee is enshrined in each nation’s constitution; although the Soviet guarantee differed from its Western counterparts by guaranteeing freedom of access of its citizens to the columns of the press.

b) Development of Newspapers

Anthony Smith (1979: 7 – 15) offers an explanation why the birthplace of printing. China was one of the last places to introduce circulation newspapers. Smith also expands on Desmond’s claim that mass- modern newspapers and accompanying forms of journalism did not emerge in the West until about the 1850s. The author outlines four stages before the nineteenth century in the European development of publishing news. All were in book form, with the first stage being known as relations. These contained a description of a single event that was written long after the event occurred. The second stage was the collection of these relations into a publication known as a Coranto. The first English prototype of a daily newspaper was the Daily Courant (or Coranto) which appeared during the latter part of this stage, in 1702.

The publications in the third stage were known as diurnals. These dealt with more recent events and were published weekly – provided a sufficient number of significant events had occurred during the previous week. However, the diurnals ranked their information in chronological order.

The fourth stage was the mercury. Although these publications were still in book form, according to Smith, their writers adopted some of the basic practices used by today’s journalists. For instance, for the time information was selected and ordered in ways that would most interest or influence the readers.
In another book by Smith (1978:147) that incorporates an historical view of journalism. The Politics of information, he quotes the nineteenth century poet Rev. George Crabbe as describing journalists as: “Some champions for the rights that prop the crown. Some sturdy patriots sworn to pull them down; some neutral powers, with secret forces fraught. Wishing for war, but willing to be brought.”
A pessimist might say that, in the intervening years, the role of journalists has not changed, only the technology. For instance, during the five years before the start of the nineteenth century, two New York newspapers “The World” (owned by Joseph Pulitzer) and “The Journal” (owned by William Randolph Hearst) were engaged in a circulation battle. After running the gamut of stories on local sex, crime and scandal, the World began to highlight often fictitious stories about the cruelty and excesses of the soldiers in the Spanish colony of Cuba.
The Journal responded by sending a dozen of the cream of its reporters and artists to milk as many human interest stories about the alleged civil war that was about to erupt. After several months one of the artists telegraphed Hearst asking to come home because there was no Hearst’s reply was: “You supply the pictures. I’ll supply the war”. Sure war. enough, public opinion in American had been whipped up to such a fever pitch against the Spanish over the “exploited” Cubans that Hearst was able to persuade his government that the almost certainly accidental sinking of an American warship near Havana in 1898 was cause enough to start the Spanish-American War.

c) The Fourth Estate

Like Smith, Jeremy Tunstall in Newspaper History from the Seventeenth Century to the present Day, identifies four stages in the development of journalism. However, Tunstall argues that these stages are myths that have been constructed post facto in attempts to raise the status and value of journalists.

The first of these mythical stages was “the heroic struggle against state control of the press, culminating in the establishment of the Estate”. The tag of Fourth Estate helped reinforce this first myth. This fourth was created by Lord Macaulay for journalists when he suggested that they were a fourth-part of government – after the estates, or classes, of the Lords Temporal (peers of the realm and members of the House of Lords), Lords Spiritual (archbishops and bishops of the Church England, also sitting in the House of Lords), and the of (members of the lower house).


The newspaper is not just the oldest of the popular mass media; it has also tended to serve as the training ground for many journalists. Without doubt, the press is an integral part of the society and needs to be kept healthy. It is the greatest public service, which hinges its performance on investigative journalism, a tool used to perform the watch dog function of the press.

The next question is to do with where the press is going with the speed of technological advancement of the century. What sort of future does the newspaper have in the new dispensation? Answers to these questions will be found by communication researchers. 


In this unit so far, you have learnt that:

  1.  Journalism is not just an art of news gathering and selecting, but of processing and disseminating of intelligence to the public; 
  2. Good journalism consists of intelligent assembly of facts which can be enhanced and facilitated by the journalists development and use of the skill of ‘nosing for News’; 
  3. Technology makes easy the work of the journalist at all levels – newsgathering, news professing and news dissemination; 
  4.  Technological developments in the field of journalism cuts across the globe with each continent of the world wielding dominant power as time and chance permit it; 
  5. The good journalism is significantly influenced by the political and economic support given it by any society. Such political structures and policy can dictate the length and breath of freedom given the press or can mar such freedom and discourage investment in the journalism progression. 


Discuss the significant trends in the world that have influenced growth of journalism. the


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