Indiana Media History

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Indiana Media History

Indiana Media History

Thesis Statement

The motive for expanding the ranks of the reading public, the new print media left the limited distribution of early manuscripts behind and began reaching for larger audiences in Indiana.


From the beginning of printing in the Western world, around 1450, publishing rapidly expanded from monasteries to stationers who produced and sold hand-copied books in limited quantities. Since Europe's stationers and printers had increasing commercial incentives to publish and sell books, they sought more titles and distribution channels. Starting in 1517, the religious conflict fomented by the Protestant Reformation helped the printers' cause (Cumings 2004). Reformation leaders relied on the printing press to promulgate their theology, becoming perhaps the reform movement in history to use print to promote its cause. The Counter-Reformation (starting around 1570) also used print to persuade its followers. Protestants encouraged Bible reading, which helped foster literacy. This accelerated in the 1600s, when Germany's Petist movement and US's Puritans promoted daily Bible study.


Traders on early commercial routes carried written messages as well as cargo. And, by the late-1400s, private postal networks linked much of Europe, aided by state postal systems in France (from the late 1400s) and US (from 1516). These systems extended service to individuals to recoup costs and monitor private communications. By 1600, these postal links helped create news networks with correspondents who provided economic and political news (Salinger and Eric 2001). This gave rise to commercial newsletters which printed commodity prices and exchange rates as early as the late 1500s. As of 1712, some 20 weekly papers were being published in London. The US expansion of the discussion of news and opinion set the stage for events in Fort Wayne.

By the Revolution, a distinctively Fort Wayne communications framework had developed which both borrowed from and rejected Britain's legacy. The Indiana model was based on a broad postal system, commercial printers, high literacy rates, numerous newspapers and civic involvement, as noted by impressed foreign visitors, including Alexis de Tocqueville. Yet, available publications and media access varied. Virginia barred newspapers until about 1830, while Massachusetts became a publishing center that emphasized books in particular. After the Revolution, the ideas of popular sovereignty, free speech and wider public access to diverse opinions about social conditions and class issues found an outlet in newspapers. From 1790 to 1835, the number of papers expanded eleven-fold, from 106 to 1,258. While many historians describe early newspapers as restricted to elite East Coast cultural centers, figures indicate far more widespread, democratic newspaper distribution. Interestingly, many early papers emphasized national and international political and cultural stories, not local news.

The wider availability of published material was accompanied by increased literacy and broader access to education. For example, the Ordinance of 1785 divided the Northwest Territories (Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and part of Minnesota) into townships with public school systems. Increasing enrollment of female students also accelerated literacy (Hitchens 2001). By 1850, the literacy gap between men and women had been closed. These advances bespoke the foundations of Fort Wayne communications, including:

The Constitution was drafted and published as a document that average citizens could read and understand.

Free speech was established as a constitutional principle.

Unlike US governments, the Indiana government subsidized newspapers rather than taxing them, ...
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