As the U.S. population in the latter half of the 20th cent. shifted from cities to suburbs and as competition from other media grew, many large city newspapers were forced to cease publication, merged with their competitors, or were taken over by newspaper chains such as the Gannett Company or Knight Ridder. (In 2006 the latter was itself taken over by the McClatchy Company chain.) In England large newspaper-publishing empires were built up by Lords Rothermere, Northcliffe, and Beaverbrook. More recent media empires with major operations on both sides of the Atlantic have been created by Rupert Murdoch and Robert Maxwell. The great American chains were founded by Joseph Pulitzer, J. G. Bennett, William Randolph Hearst, F. A. Munsey, E. W. Scripps, the McCormick-Pattersons, Frank E. Gannett, Charles L. and John S. Knight, and Hermann Ridder.
In 1982, using satellite transmission and color presses, the Gannett chain established a new national newspaper, USA Today, published and circulated throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia. The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and USA Today are read all over the country; small towns and rural districts usually have daily or weekly local papers made up largely of syndicated matter, with a page or two of local news and editorials. These local papers are frequently influential political organs.
Since the invention of the telegraph, which enormously facilitated the rapid gathering of news, the great news agencies, such as Reuters in England, Agence France-Presse in France, and Associated Press and United Press International in the United States, have sold their services to newspapers and to their associate members. Improvements in photocomposition and in printing (especially the web offset press) have enhanced the quality of print and made possible the publication of huge editions at great speed. Modern newspapers are supported primarily by the sale of advertising space.
Computer technology also has had an enormous impact on the production of news and newspapers, and by the 1990s when the first independent on-line daily appeared on the the Internet, it also had begun to affect the nature of newspapers. By the decade's end some 700 papers had web sites, some of which carried news gathered by their own staffs, and papers regularly scooped themselves by publishing electronically before the print edition appeared. Meanwhile, independent Internet-based news sources proliferated. The growth of on-line editions of established newspapers, other on-line news sources, and on-line venues offering free classified ad space also affected newspapers' sale of advertising space and the production of vital advertising revenue. In the early 21st cent., as newspaper owners devoted more and more attention to their Web editions, print advertising was typically declining while sales of advertising for increasingly popular on-line and other digital editions was growing but not enough to offset print adversitising losses. Concurrently, as print readership and advertising declined, many newspapers were experiencing cuts in their budgets, buyouts, staff layoffs, and reductions in physical size, and some daily newspapers moved to publishing several days a week instead of every day.
The extent to which the editorial policy of a paper is affected by the interests of its advertisers has been a subject of frequent controversy. More broadly controversial is the entire question of corporate ownership wielding vast influence through controlling interests in newspapers, radio, and television.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.