For the 114th episode of the Journalism History podcast, hosted by Teri Finneman, Paul Moore discusses his co-authored book, The Sunday Paper, exploring the history of the Sunday newspaper and its rise as an American cultural institution between the 1880s and 1920s.
Paul Moore is professor and program director of Arts & Contemporary Studies in the Sociology Department at Toronto Metropolitan University. He studies the history of the mass market and urban modernity in North America. The Sunday Paper, co-authored with Sandra Gabriele, is part of the University of Illinois Press History of Media and Communication Series.
Paul Moore: [music plays] And, of course, the Sunday paper is, we realized very quickly, an anchor for consumption and popular culture.
Teri Finneman: Welcome to Journalism History, a podcast that rips out the pages of your history books to re-examine the stories you thought you knew and the ones you were never told. I’m Teri Finneman, and I research media coverage of women in politics.
Nick Hirshon: And I’m Nick Hirshon, and I research the history of New York sports.
Ken Ward: And I’m Ken Ward, and I research the journalism history of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains.
Teri Finneman: And together, we are professional media historians guiding you through our own drafts of history. Transcripts of the show are available at journalism-history.org/podcast. This episode is sponsored by Taylor and Francis, the publisher of our academic journal, Journalism History.
[0:01:00] “The modern newspaper is truly one of the wonders of the age. It reflects the varied life of humanity and is a faithful recorder of everyday history.” This 1889 quote from New York Governor David Bennet Hill is particularly pertinent when discussing the Sunday newspaper. For those in the younger generation who may be unfamiliar, the Sunday newspaper wasn’t just filled with a lot of news. It was packed with magazines, comics, song sheets, paper dolls, cutout toys, even dress pattern for women. It was really a full interactive experience for the whole family that helped newspapers compete against magazines, moving pictures, and radio. At one point, there were 11 Sunday newspapers in New York City alone in the late 1800s, as circulations for this must-read content exploded.
Just the mention of the Sunday newspaper may bring back fond memories of leisurely Sunday mornings.
[0:02:00] As a child, I remember going to my grandparents’ house, where the coffee had already been made, and the various sections of the paper were strewn about. Later, I would go on to become a reporter myself, where the ultimate goal was to have a story right in the center of the front page of the Sunday newspaper. On today’s show, we have Paul Moore discussing his book with Sandra Gabriele, The Sunday Paper: A Media History. Paul, welcome to the show. Why were you interested in doing a book about Sunday newspapers?
Paul Moore: Well, Sandra and I, my co-author Sandra, we each were coming from communication fields and studying different forms of popular culture and – and not really studying news journalism, but studying culture and the – and the relation between culture and journalism. I was interested in film advertising in early cinemas, early journalism about cinema. Sandra was looking in Canada at women’s journalism and fashion pages and women’s pages.
[0:03:00] And both of those are weekend journalism features that are remarkably important for Sunday papers, and we knew, especially as Canadians, that this idea of the Sunday paper as this overabundant, overstuffed, complete package of everything in the world, you know, that that was such a fascinating thing to witness in our histories of film’s relation to journalism and women’s relation to journalism. So, that’s where we started from with a perspective from Canada about, you know, this incredible American phenomenon that we didn’t – we don’t really have here in Canada. We have Saturday papers that have comics and magazines, but it’s – it’s not the same, especially in the 1890s, not the same at all, as the great Sunday papers of America.
[0:04:00] And, of course, the Sunday paper is, we realized very quickly, an anchor for consumption and popular culture, and, in a way, we were interested in everything but the news. And it’s on Sunday where everything but the news takes center stage.
Teri Finneman: That’s interesting that you mention Saturday in Canada. So, let’s talk about that. When and why did the Sunday newspaper start in America, and why was Sunday, in particular, chosen as the day for these special newspapers here?
Paul Moore: Well, in the UK, some people might know, Sunday papers often have their own mastheads, and that goes way back to the early 1800s. In the U.S., it’s a little different, because Sunday papers are just a seventh day edition, and a seventh paper of the week. It was initially just another paper. Even some of the early ones are the same size as a Saturday and Monday paper, or just one extra sheet with some fiction or some extra news.
[0:05:00] But, the multi-sectioned supplemented paper, you know, with all the different sections and all the different supplements, we found that launches in the late 1880s. No surprise, it comes out of Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World, but not just Pulitzer’s World. We found it very quickly was replicated in Philadelphia and in Boston and Chicago, in the biggest of the metropolitan cities of the United States. You know, and Sunday, it needed to be Sunday for the extra time for leisure reading, the extra time for reading about leisure. On Sunday, the whole family could read the paper together, and read the paper at ease, at home, and this is where the multi-sectioned, the supplements come into play, because every person in the family had their own section, and you could, in a way, read the paper all together, but, in another way, you were all reading it for a different purpose and reading a different section of it.
[0:06:00] You know, so we find that emerges right around 1888 is the first illustrated banners for women’s pages, for children’s pages, for humor pages and comic pages, right around 1888. 1889, we find some of the first poster giveaways and poster supplements. 1890, they turn fiction into little quarto and tabloid novel supplements, and they turn fiction sections into little keepsake novels. And then, 1891, 1892, maybe some people already know, that’s when color comes along, half tone, and comic sections come along.
[0:07:00] So, by the mid-1890s, the largest six metropolitan cities, almost every newspaper had this kind of forum of a newspaper of abundance, a newspaper of attractions. And we found, really, it takes syndication in the early 20th century, at the turn of the century, it takes syndication for that to spread through pre-print supplements to even some of the next tier of cities. So, that’s – that’s kind of, you know, we’re interested in the form and the format even more than the content, and what we did is primarily trace the emergency of the new forms of supplements as they were introduced to various papers across the country.
Teri Finneman: So, Sunday wasn’t a popular choice for some people. Talk about some of the early criticism of the Sunday newspapers.
Paul Moore: Well, there is, in the reform era, which is, you know, in the 1890s, when the Sunday paper is coming into its golden age, there is a great Sabbatarian movement that really fought the secularization of Sunday, and Sunday papers were central to the Sabbatarian critique of the, you know, the secular society. We found, as well, around the turn of the century, a critique of the malaise of American society focuses on Sunday papers being introduced during the Civil War, and they look back to the malaise of the wound of the Civil War as kind of introducing a tolerance and a need and a new habit of Sunday paper reading, and we find that wasn’t exactly true historically, but the myth of it emerges at that time.
[0:09:00] You know, elites were against the Sunday paper in a snobbish kind of way for its appeal to women and women’s consumption, and shopping and consumer items, like department store ads and fashion supplements, and elites were also against the way that comic supplements appealed to children and that. But, really, the Sunday paper includes women and children as equal readers alongside businessmen and political readers, not exactly for the first time, but, you know, really they had their own sections, they had their own pages.
Teri Finneman: So, this probably ties into what you were just talking about, but your opening line of the book notes “The Sunday paper was the stage on which the drama of American modernity unfolded.” Talk about what you mean by that.
Paul Moore: Well, again, we’ve tried to write a media history of the Sunday paper, not so much a journalism history. So, we kind of propose that the Sunday paper, with all those supplements, is a platform or a network for all that was happening in the rest of American society, or at least, you know, secular middle class domestic American society.
[0:10:00] The Sunday paper, because of its illustrations and its early use of photography and early use of half tone, it allowed a speculative imagining of the future of American society. Whenever an inventor like Marconi or Edison had even a speculation of what they wanted to invest next, the newspapers really leapt in and did full, whole-page illustrated, almost science fiction news coverage of what was coming next, what was going to be.
[0:11:00] But, also, the Sunday paper was the stage of modernity because those illustrated articles, especially the ones appealing to women, they put modern problems center stage, too, with the stunt girl journalists of Nellie Bly in Pulitzer’s World and Annie Laurie in Hearst’s San Francisco Examiner. And those stunt girl reporters, you know, they went undercover, and their stories were illustrated on Sundays, to talk about the modern problems of poverty, the modern problems of addiction and of prostitution, and even of more light-hearted kinds of things. But, you know, those became center stage, and – and the accusation of yellow journalism results largely from that muckraking and that appeal to that use of stunt and gimmick and illustration and then color in order to kind of animate all of society.
[0:12:00] You know, we say that on Sunday, I’ve prepared just one quote for you, Teri, “on Sunday, the paper embraced circulation in and of itself as a modern ideal, transforming journalism from paper and ink into a dizzying array of new material formats.” I’m not gonna read anything prepared other than that quote, but, you know, that really encapsulates for us this idea of circulation in and of itself, and we also focus on subscription for subscription sake, syndication for syndication sake, and not just in the literal way that those terms mean. Those become our conceptual ways of organizing all the material that we did research on.
[0:13:00] Those concepts of circulation, subscription, and syndication, those become technologies of reading, technologies of making publics together, technologies of citizenship is what we try to say about the Sunday paper.
Teri Finneman: Related to this concept of being modern, one of the most interesting points of your book to me is how innovative the newspaper industry was in the late 1800s. Things that people think are new to journalism now, like multimedia, audience engagement, the internet and social media – these things existed back in the 1800s already in their own ways. So, I wanna discuss them one by one. Let’s start with multimedia. The first newspaper-run newsreel came out in 1914. Discuss the relationship that Sunday newspapers had with radio and with newsreels’ moving pictures.
Paul Moore: Well, you mentioned 1914, Teri. I will get there in a moment. But, we find photographic interviews back in 1890, and motion picture interviews being used at the turn of the century in 1900.
[0:14:00] We find etchings of flash photography, called instantaneous photography. So, even before the newspaper was able to print photographs, they were playing on the intermediality with the camera as substituting for the eye witness of the reporters. This is what’s really interesting to us. We found the famous Rice Irwin Kiss from the very first exhibition of motion pictures in 1896. Pulitzer’s World claimed that they had sponsored that film, and they did a full-page reproduction of frames from the film, even before it was playing to the public in 1896. You know, so there’s this constant intermediality, constant collaboration with – literally collaborating with Edison and Marconi on early technologies.
[0:15:00] But, the newsreels you mentioned in 1914, absolutely, all of a sudden, 1914, just before Hollywood, in the years leading up to the consolidation of Hollywood, it was newspapers that really took center stage at first in trying to create what became newsreels, and it really centers in Chicago. We find the Tribune animated weekly was a collaboration with Selig Studios in Chicago. The Herald movies come out of the Chicago Herald for a brief period. Focused in Chicago, Hearst takes his fledgling chain of papers and collaborates with Pathe on syndicated newsreels that would be distributed all over America. But, we don’t find it’s just the big newsreels that get syndicated across the country. We found the New Orleans moving picture item, which is actually one of the very first that we found.
[0:16:00] We found the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s moving picture magazine. Studios World Pictures and Universal Pictures, they collaborated in different kind of competing mechanisms to set up a bunch of newspapers from coast to coast, 12 or more newspapers to syndicate local versions of their moving picture magazines. And this is really in this period, 1914, 1916, trying to figure out how newspapers could create a moving picture version of their syndicated magazines that had been included in the Sunday editions since 1903 and syndicated version in even earlier in some of the metropolitan versions.
[0:17:00] And, Teri, we end the book with that idea of syndication as kind of the model motivating the way that network radio was set up, and a few kind of recovered stories of how literally newspaper-owned radio stations were put together in fledgling networks before NBC was created to try to compete against this new idea of syndicated radio that became the National Broadcasting Corporation shortly after. So, you know, newsreels are just the tip of the iceberg.
Teri Finneman: Then let’s talk about audience engagement, which has been just a tremendous buzzword in journalism in the last few years. But, back in the day, they were already conquering that. There were constant contests and interactions with readers. So, discuss what audience engagement was like back in this time, in the late 1800s, early 1900s.
Paul Moore: Well, when we started looking at the early years of Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World, we saw that the new journalism – this is, you know, well-trod territory, but nonetheless, that the new journalism in the 1880s used coupons and contests as part of its fundraising campaigns and as part of its, you know, charitable advocacy for reform and journalism at the center of social change, and that most importantly, for example, Pulitzer used the paper to finish the fundraising campaign for the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty. You know, offering people to – even, no matter how small your contribution would be, you would have your name printed in the paper, and all hundreds of schoolchildren who sent in just pennies had their name printed in the paper. That was centered around the idea of subscribing, subscribing to the campaign that the newspaper was doing, and it often involved illustrated articles on Sunday and coupons and contests on Sunday.
[0:19:00] Nellie Bly, when she had her trip around the world, there was a contest to guess exactly when she would arrive back in New York. There were circulation guessing contests to guess exactly how many New York Worlds would be sold in the year, how many millions and millions would be sold. There were census contests, there were election contests. There was guess – the earliest person to guess every member of McKinley’s cabinet would win a prize in 1893. There were contests of how to write stories out of advertising. There were contests to write stories out of just clippings from the classified ads. There were two fascinating competing contests in San Francisco to guess how many words would be printed in a future issue of a 28-page chronicle, and then upping the ante in a 32-page Hearst San Francisco Examiner.
[0:20:00] And, of course, this is partly about teaching people how to engage with the news, teaching people how to read the paper, teaching people how to value the paper, literally by pulling it apart, tearing it apart, cutting it out. The materiality of paper, the very words and letters, you know, how many words could you make from the letters St. Louis Post-Dispatch, never mind the hyphen. You know, just all incredible varieties of popularity contests and, you know, the coupon is such a lowly form of technology. We wouldn’t consider the coupon a new media. But that coupon did incredible wonders to get people engaged with the news. And this is where, you know, to repeat how we kind of discuss subscription, because this is also about getting people to subscribe for at least six months or a year or more in order to get those coupons.
[0:21:00] This is about subscription becoming a model for mass citizenship and a model for participation in mass society, you know, self-consciously part of one of those millions of numbers of circulation.
Teri Finneman: And then one of my favorite examples, you mentioned that Pulitzer, in 1887, ordered a hot air balloon to fly to St. Louis from New York, which is certainly another audience engagement tactic in its own right, isn’t it?
Paul Moore: Well, it’s not just that one time of flying from St. Louis to New York. We found maybe a dozen examples of Pulitzer hiring a hot air balloon, between 1885 and 1887, at least. We found all these times of putting the reporter, the eye witness of the reporter, up in a hot air balloon to give them the God’s-eye view, to make them literally omnipotent.
[0:22:00] You know, that specific gimmick that you’re interested in from 1887 of the trip from St. Louis to New York, you know, that’s also about the emerging network of affiliated chains of newspapers providing national coverage, you know, and the people on the ground became the reporters, and the Pulitzer paper started printing telegrams from the public about where was the balloon and where could we see it and what was the – it wasn’t just the reporters that were authoring the news about that balloon trip. The eyewitnesses were the people down on the ground themselves. And it wasn’t just sky-borne billboards, although they were also sky-borne billboards, this is about, you know, creating an obvious way that journalism was taking stewardship for the entire population and the entire nation, that journalism was literally all-seeing and all-encompassing.
Teri Finneman: As far as my earlier reference to the internet and social media, you know, obviously they didn’t exist in the late 1800s, but the telegraph, which quickly could send information across the country, was a crucial tool to help newspapers. In fact, newspapers were so into this technology that they were the first customers of Western Union to purchase dedicated transcontinental wires. So, how did this enhance Sunday newspapers?
Paul Moore: Well, the telegraphs, specifically, those news wires from Associated Press and United Press, they’re in a way, the everyday, weekday instantaneous way of creating networks of news. We know this; we know this from James Carey and, you know, The Telegraph and Society.
[0:24:00] On Sunday, the telegraph, on the other hand, was never enough, because it only transmitted news. So, we do find, you know, illustrated Sunday articles about the emergence of what became the telephone being able to transmit images and photographs through the news wires as well. But, really, the Sunday paper has a different problem, and it’s about getting the print circulation as instantaneous as possible. So, the news wire is, in a sense, the model for what they were trying to do with the Sunday syndicated pre-prints, and entire networks of coordinated national delivery were created in order to handle instantaneous – well, not instantaneous, but simultaneous national delivery of all those Sunday pre-preprinted supplements.
[0:25:00] You know, the Sunday paper had to figure out to do, for illustrations and for color and for photographs and for half tone, what newswires did for news, in a way, and circulation became the limitation of what news could do. The frustration and the actual kind of confrontation with the materiality of print, and that goes back to all those collaboration with other media trying to overcome those forms where print was limited. But, we have – I just wanna mention this incredible example from early radio, where we have Hearst’s Chicago American reporting about a movie theater audience watching a silent newsreel of a radio concert being broadcast by a Westinghouse station that was transmitting the partnering news from the newspaper.
[0:26:00] It’s like unbelievable to think of all those intermedial connections where you’ve got an audience watching, radio listeners listening, newspaper readers reading, and yet they’re all doing it in tandem with each other. None of those acts of reading, listening, watching, seeing, holding was enough to contain the full experience. You needed to do all of those things all at once.
Teri Finneman: Examining printing and delivery is also explored in your book. You note that the printing press itself was central to journalism’s business, and, in turn, its cultural authority. I know when I was in the newsroom, we’d often have tours come by to see the printing press, and it’s really been difficult for me to hear about printing presses being dismantled at newspapers I’ve worked at before.
[0:27:00] Let’s talk about them in their exciting early days and how the industry used these printing presses as a public relations tool.
Paul Moore: Well, I want all the listeners to imagine that cliched moment from the movies where we get the printing press in action, and it’s just a flurry of newspapers shooting by. You can’t see any of the words. It’s just newspapers going by faster than the eye can actually see. So, the press, you know, down in the basement below the foundations, you know, the printing press at the Boston Globe was literally under downtown’s Washington Street, every – all the hubbub of Boston going on right above the printing press.
[0:28:00] That printing press and its capacity to create millions of readers through superhuman, superfast technology, is really about the sublime imagination and the wonder of, again, the secular, but nonetheless, the secular wonders of a moment when society was almost gonna escape its bounds through progress, and we can create that now, but it was fascinating to see how important it was to give the public a view of the press. The New York Herald, in its new building, put plate-glass windows around Herald Square so that people could stand on the sidewalk in Herald Square and see the presses working down below. Again, the Boston Globe gave tours of its printing presses routinely. And, of course, never to be outdone, Pulitzer’s New York World in the new Pulitzer building in 1890, built a viewing gallery, literally built a balcony over the mastodon of the presses, of the pressroom floor.
[0:29:00] And the public was welcome to come see the presses. I’m not sure how often many tourists went, but it was, like, a real tourist event at the time to go see the presses on Park Row. And the Globe, we found, made toy replicas of its press as a Sunday supplement, and the Herald, the New York Herald, again, made a toy replica of its own building as one of its early Sunday poster supplements. You know, Pulitzer famously said his circulation books were open to all, and part of the gimmick of transparency in circulation was opening the pressroom to all, too. There’s something about understanding that you couldn’t count the papers as they were being printed as kind of the evidence for the circulation being millions and millions and more than anyone could count, in a way.
[0:30:00] You know, that spectacle, just, I don’t think we have anything equivalent in digital news where there’s a real spectacle behind the witnessing of the production.
Teri Finneman: So, talking about the delivery aspect more, you also talk about newspaper trains that would take these newspapers all around the country. You know, tell us more about what you researched with that.
Paul Moore: Well, it was really important for the Sunday paper to arrive on your stoop before breakfast on Sunday, before – and that was before church on Sunday, too. You know, and the effort and labor behind getting it delivered to your door was a constant theme of illustrated Sunday journalism.
[0:31:00] So, you would have these heavily-illustrated articles about the production and delivery of the paper you were reading. Again, a lot of emphasis around explaining kind of the object lesson of how spectacular, how important the paper that you were holding, that you were reading, was. So, there are newspaper trains out of every metropolis, from Los Angeles all the way to San Bernardino by breakfast. From St. Louis across Missouri and Kansas City across Kansas in order to cut off the reach of the St. Louis papers. Boston papers, trains headed all over New England in the wee hours of the dark on Sunday morning. Chicago papers, from Indianapolis to Iowa to Wisconsin.
And, of course, New York papers all upstate and down through Pennsylvania, and some of the New York papers, the Hearst and Pulitzer competition in the late 1890s, made a big deal out of being available on the streets of Philadelphia and Washington before the local Sunday papers were even available.
[0:32:00] And getting the paper down to D.C., down to Philly, again, just this fascinating thing where the paper itself always was promoting what it could do. You know, and newspaper trains, the Sunday newspaper trains, they were a train just for the Sunday paper. They weren’t postal trains. They took days to prepare. As the supplements were printed earlier in the week, they would be sent to Grand Central or sent to Newark Central and the people would be working on the train days in advance right up until the news section arrived at 3:00 in the morning on Sunday, in the wee hours of Sunday, and the train left as soon as the news section arrived, and the papers were put together on the train and tossed off without even stopping as it went down through New Jersey. And, I mean, it’s just fascinating.
[0:33:00] We’ve seen this is movies, right, but this is the journalistic version of it in illustrated print was a topic of Sunday journalism in and of itself.
Teri Finneman: One of the most popular features of the Sunday newspaper was, of course, the comics, also known as the funnies. So, tell us some of the history of the Sunday funnies.
Paul Moore: Well, we don’t focus too much on the well-known syndicated comics later in the 20th century. We start our discussion of comics – I mean, we acknowledge how important they are. What would the Sunday paper be without the funnies, exactly. But, we find the earliest recurring comic characters are actually circulation mascots for the paper itself, like, characters, cartoon characters that represented the paper, and they would be almost mascots for the Sunday paper, mascots promoting how important the paper was and how extensive its circulation was.
[0:34:00] The Chicago Inter Ocean introduced a cartoon character in a Columbia – a female Columbia figure called I Will. The New York World often used a globe-headed man to kind of personify and become a caricature for the paper itself. The New York Journal, Hearst’s New York Journal, we found this fascinating example of the New York Journal as a woman coming into maturity from an infant to mature – beautiful, mature woman, because of the yellow paper, but literally reading herself as she grew in circulation, as she became mature.
[0:35:00] But, the most fascinating example of these comic characters is the Boston Globe man who was around for decades as a mascot in almost every Sunday Boston Globe. They would put the Boston Globe man in these bicycle-racing competition against the Herald and the Post and the other Boston papers, and, again, they made a cartoon comic version of him. He hosted election night, hypothetically. They sent – you could have a cutout paper doll toy of the Boston Global man. You know, just incredible. And when the color section sort of created, we find this idea of the recurring mascot gradually becomes child-friendly mascots. Before they even become characters in comics, they’re really more recurring mascots and promotional items, but the Brownies and the Ragtags and the Bumpkins and, of course, the Yellow Kid.
[0:36:00] And then, we know, on the other hand, syndication that begins in 1900 Hearst’s Katzenjammer Kids is really the first comic to be syndicated outside of the newspaper that owned the copyright. Syndication turns this fascination with comics and really drives the adoption of syndicated supplements in even tiny papers in 1910 and before. And, again, to repeat, syndication, really, the model, for what we would later recognize as broadcast in radio and television, and we kind of take the origins of that in the syndicated Sunday comics.
Teri Finneman: Readers can certainly learn much more in your book, which would make an excellent gift.
[0:37:00] So, our final question of the show, that we ask every guest, is why does journalism history matter?
Paul Moore: Well, for us, journalism history matters because it’s so much more than news. It’s all the stuff of life. You know, truly the newspaper at the turn of the century, especially the Sunday paper is, you know, a container for the entirety of other media, of popular culture, of American public culture. It’s certainly, I would say, having read hundreds of thousands of Sunday papers over the 15 years it took to finish this book, it’s certainly the most important portal we have for public history, and it’s hard to understate how the newspaper really reported on all aspects of public life, at least commercial, secular public life for white middle class families, but nonetheless, you know, this isn’t just about politics.
[0:38:00] It’s not just about the democratic public sphere. That’s part of it, of course, but it’s all those leisure features and poplar culture, the classified ads for city life and the women’s sections, and architecture news and sports and technology and children’s sections. Like, it’s, again, the abundance of everything all in this one container that you could hold in your hand that only cost five cents.
Teri Finneman: All right, well, thank you so much for joining us today.
Paul Moore: Thank you, Teri, and I’m so sad Sandra couldn’t join me, but it’s a pleasure to share our enthusiasm about the book with your listeners.
Teri Finneman: Thanks for tuning in, and be sure to subscribe to our podcast. You can also follow us on Twitter @jhistoryjournal. Until next time, I’m your host, Teri Finneman, signing off with the words of Edward R. Murrow, good night and good luck. [music plays]