Birth of American Journalism

Journalism is said to be the second oldest profession ? people's curiosity about themselves, their government and commerce being so compelling.The only difference in journalism of 3,500 B.C. clay tablets and today's mass media, is the technology of gathering and disseminating news.A great leap forward was the invention of movable type by Johannes Gutenberg in 1455 by which he could speedily and cheaply print the Holy Bible.Thereafter, various entrepreneurs ? generally postmasters -- produced "fly sheets" of news at irregular intervals.

The first regularly issued "newspaper" (every day but Sunday) was the Publick Intelligencer. It was published in 1645 by John Thurloe, secretary of state under Britain's "Lord Protector of the Realm" Oliver Cromwell.First attempt to publish an American newspaper was by Benjamin Harris's Publick Occurrences Both Foreign and Domestick in 1690. It was suppressed by the Royal governor after only one issue.

First successful American newspaper was the Boston News-Letter. It was published for 300 subscribers by Boston postmaster John Campbell in 1704.The most influential newspaper was the New England Courant established in 1721 by James Franklin. When he was arrested by the Royal governor for seditious publishing, James' ultimately more famous brother, Benjamin, took over.

Ben, a young printer apprentice, continued to challenge political authorities until the Courant was banned by the government two years later.Freedom Of Press.Defining event for modern journalism ? according to Prof.

Douglas Linder of the University of Missouri at Kansas City Law School -- occurred in 1735.John Peter Zenger, publisher of the New York Weekly Journal, was arrested by Governor William Cosby and tried for sedition.Zenger was a German immigrant who made a modest living printing religious tracts.

The only other printer in New York was William Bradford who published the New York Gazette under close censorship.James Alexander, an ardent colonial lawyer, persuaded Zenger to publish an opposition newspaper. First issue of the Journal came out Nov.

5, 1733.Editorial policy of the paper, undoubtedly written by Alexander, was published in the second issue:."The loss of liberty in general would soon follow the suppression of the liberty of the press; for it is an essential branch of liberty, so perhaps it is the best preservative of the whole."Even a restraint of the press would have a fatal influence.

No nation ? ancient or modern ? has ever lost the liberty of freely speaking, writing or publishing their sentiments, but forthwith lost their liberty in general and became slaves.".It should be remembered that this declaration of the right to free speech and press was publicly expressed 43 years before the War for Independence -- and 58 years before the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified.Hole In The Door.

First issue of the Journal featured the victory of Lewis Morris, Popular Party candidate for assemblyman from Westchester, over Cosby's handpicked candidate.Gov. Cosby had his sheriff disqualify Quaker voters ? a large constituency in Westchester ? on the basis they would not swear to their residency. Nevertheless, Morris won handily."Cosby put up with the Journal's attacks for two months before deciding it must be shut down," says Prof.

Linder."The first effort to silence the Journal occurred in January 1734 when Chief Justice Delancey asked a Grand Jury to indict Zenger based on the law of seditious libel. The Jury refused."Delancey tried again when the next Grand Jury met in October. He presented pamphlets and 'scandalous' verse from Zenger's Journal.

The jurors ? claiming that authorship of the allegedly libelous material could not be determined ? again refused to indict.".Thereupon, Gov. Cosby proclaimed a reward of 50 Pounds -- big money those days ? "for discovery of the authors of the Journal libels.".

In frustration, he also ordered that the offending newspapers "be publicly burned by the common hangman." The stunt greatly amused New Yorkers.More ominously, Cosby ordered his attorney general to file an accusatory "information" with his Justices who finally issued a warrant for Zenger's arrest.The sheriff arrested Zenger on Nov. 17, 1734, and clapped him into the city jail. The prisoner would languish there eight months for lack of 800 Pounds bail ? a preposterous amount.

The Journal missed publication the following day. Zenger's wife, Anna, took over the duties of editor. Her first issue front-paged an editorial by Zenger:.

"As you last week were disappointed of my Journal, I think it incumbent on me to publish my apology, which is this."I was arrested, taken and imprisoned in the common jail of this City by virtue of a warrant from the Governor and others in the Council."I had not the liberty of pen, ink or paper ? or to see or speak with people until my complaint to the honorable Chief Justice who discountenanced that proceeding."Since that time, I have had the liberty of speaking thro' the hole of the door to my wife and servants ?.

by which I can entertain you with my weekly Journal as formerly.".The Trial.

Prof. Linder points out that the enormous bail of 800 Pounds turned into an important tactical advantage for Zenger. "As a result of his stream of Journal editorials from prison, an outpouring of public sympathy for his cause developed.

".Two well-known, local lawyers undertook to defend Zenger. However both were disbarred by Chief Justice Delancey when they objected to the two-man court Gov.

Cosby appointed to try the case.Andrew Hamilton of Philadelphia ? considered one of the ablest lawyers in the colonies ? agreed to defend to defend Zenger.The trial began Aug.

4, 1735, at New York's City Hall. Prosecuting Attorney General Bradley read the information filed against Zenger:."Being a seditious person and a frequent printer and publisher of false news and seditious libel who wickedly and maliciously devised to traduce, scandalize and vilify Governor Cosby and his ministers.".

"Libeling has always been discouraged as a thing that tends to create differences among men, ill blood among the people, and oftentimes great bloodshed between the party libeling and the party libeled.".Hamilton announced his client would not contest the charge -- having truthfully printed and published the allegedly libelous materials.

A stunned Bradley rose and declared: "As Mr. Hamilton has confessed the printing and publishing these libels, I think the Jury must find a verdict for the King. Admission of truth is an aggravation of the crime.

".Hamilton in reply asserted the law ought not to be interpreted to prohibit "the just complaints of a number of men who suffer under a bad administration.".He argued that the libel law of England ? relying on judges to determine both fact and the law -- ought not to be the libel law of New York.His summation has become the cornerstone of a free press:.

"It is natural, it is a privilege, I will go farther, it is a right, which all free men claim ? that they are entitled to complain when they are hurt."They have a right publicly to remonstrate against the abuses of power in the strongest terms -- to put their neighbors upon their guard against the craft or open violence of men in authority."And to assert with courage the sense they have of the blessings of liberty, the value they put upon it, and their resolution at all hazards to preserve it as one of the greatest blessings heaven can bestow."The loss of liberty, to a generous mind, is worse than death.

And yet we know that there have been those in all ages who for the sake of preferment, or some imaginary honor, have freely lent a helping hand to oppress -- nay to destroy -- their country."The question before the Court, and you Gentlemen of the jury, is not of small or private concern. It is not the cause of one poor printer, nor of New York alone, which you are now trying."No! It may in its consequence affect every free man that lives under a British government on the main of America. It is the best cause. It is the cause of liberty.

".The jury withdrew and quickly rendered a verdict of Not Guilty "to huzzahs by the audience.".

Anti-administration supporters hosted a congratulatory dinner for Hamilton at the Black Horse Tavern; and when he left the next day for Philadelphia, "a grand salute of cannon was fired in his honor.".John Zenger was appointed "public printer" for New York and New Jersey.Prof. Linder concludes: "The trial of Zenger was the germ of American freedom, the Morning Star of that liberty which subsequently revolutionized America.".

Press Freedom Today.For your writer's opinion of press freedom and responsibilities today ? including all media ? turn to my other column on the editorial pages.

.Lindsey Williams is a Sun columnist who can be contacted http://www.

By: Lindsey Williams

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