COMM 436/636: History of the Mass Media

Exercise: The Penny Press era (Do as a group, or on your own)

The 1830s is known as the Penny Press Era because newspaper publishers began to establish a new concept of journalism in the United States: the idea that a newspaper should be aimed at the “common man” (well, “person”), and not at the “elites.” Along this line, several new papers were set up with new ideas including:

* Copies available cheaply;
* Copies hawked on the street;
* Avoidance of political ideology and debate;
* Reliance on news of crime, celebrities, and curious “small items”;
* Writing style aimed at the “common man.”

Of course, at this time, articles still mixed opinion and fact, relied only vaguely on reputable sources, and used a narrative, story-telling, lead.
Now back to the present. Reading the Spectrum today, you’ve become convinced that Penny Press concepts ought to be applied to student journalism at NDSU. In fact, you decide to establish a rival weekly to attract readers from the venerable Spectrum, and advertisers too, possibly making you enough money to pay next year’s tuition, or at least keep you in beers at Chubs. With your “editorial planning board” and a copy of the current Spectrum in front of you, answer the following, keeping in mind the Penny Press ideals above.

1. How will you distribute your paper? Where on campus? Why? Be specific.

2. How would you handle stories currently in the paper? Choose three stories from the issue and explain how you would change them to match your concept.

3. Choose a story and rewrite the lead paragraph or two, using the story-telling lead.

4. Do you think such a paper could be successful at NDSU? Why or why not? What problems would it likely encounter?