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HISTORICAL FRAGMENTS OR PRESENT-DAY UNDERSTANDINGS?

HISTORICAL FRAGMENTS OR PRESENT-DAY UNDERSTANDINGS?

Thinking about the press, a 21st Century understanding has to be far different from the days of Constitution-making. What is understood today might have had a far different meaning (if indeed it had any meaning at all) two centuries ago. For example, “reporting” as understood today was not applicable to the journalists—more accurately “printers”—of the 1780s. The contents of the newspapers came from official bodies such as state legislatures or Congress, from clippings from other newspapers, and from essays either lifted from English publications or submitted by local readers. In addition, “the public’s right to know”—if understood at all—would have had quite a different meaning in 1776 or 1787. During the War for Independence (1775-1783), the Continental Congress met in secret, as did state legislatures, imitating the colonial assemblies they replaced. The Constitutional Convention of 1787 also met in secret.9

 

9 See, e.g., Jean Folkerts, Dwight Teeter, and Edward Caudill, Voices of a Nation: A History of Media in the United States, 5th ed. (Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2009), p. 59.