July 12, 2011

Stanford University
Stanford has used data from the Library of Congress to illustrate the spread of all kinds of newspapers across the U.S. from 1690 to 2011. Users can see which cities had multiple papers and click on them to learn more about them. (Did you know a semi-weekly German-language newspaper was printed in New Orleans in the 1840s? Neither did I.) The presentation shows an incredible boom in newspapers between the 1880s, when there were about 4,400, to the 1890s, when the number exceeded 13,000 — about the same number as now. It also includes an interesting history lesson on newspapers’ role in the Gold Rush:

Gold was discovered in northern California in January of 1848, but it took four months before the news hit either of the region’s two papers. Blame the lag on skeptical reporters and secretive residents who kept mum until they’d pocketed gold for themselves. Once the strike made local headlines, word spread wide thanks to a San Francisco publisher named Sam Brannan, who wrote about it in a special edition of The California Star, sending 2,000 copies overland to eastern states. What followed was the biggest spontaneous migration in human history, and an illustration of how western newspapers fueled western expansion.

Related: Did the West make newspapers, or did newspapers make the West?

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Steve Myers was the managing editor of Poynter.org until August 2012, when he became the deputy managing editor and senior staff writer for The Lens,…
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