A few years ago, two colleagues of mine traveled around the country documenting what was going on in the newspaper industry, talking to editors, reporters, and publishers in all 50 states. Reading their book, Practicing Journalism: The Power and Purpose of the Fourth Estate, I was struck by the great passion of journalists and their commitment to public service. But I also found myself entranced by the variety of newspaper names. What might names reveal?
Most, if not all, newspaper names have some geographical component. From the Hartford Courant (the oldest continuously published newspaper in the country) to USA Today, names give us a clue about who newspapers serve and what they cover. Some newspapers even tout their local credentials in just a single word like the Oregonian, the Oklahoman, and the Chattanoogan, but many papers follow their geographical designation with a description of their contents.
That description may be fairly generic, simply announcing it as “the news” or the “daily news.” We find the Birmingham News, the Pittsburg News, the New York Daily News, the Philadelphia Daily News, the Bangor Daily News, the Dallas Morning News and many more. Often though, the contents are presented in a more lofty fashion than just what’s new: we find the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, the Houston Chronicle and the San Francisco Chronicle, the Wall Street Journal and the Providence Journal.
Some papers emphasize the historical means of delivery to the reader: the Washington Post and the New York Post, the Charleston Daily Mail, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. Some announce the news, trumpet-like: the Chicago Tribune, the Miami Herald and the Ashland Daily Tidings.
Contents and delivery play a role in names, but the newspapers also use names to position themselves with readers. In colonial times, we find names like the National Intelligencer and Washington Advertiser, the Massachusetts Spy, and the Green Mountain Patriot.
Contents and delivery play a role in names, but the newspapers also use names to position themselves with readers.
Later newspapers, from about the 1830s on, took a more public-interest role as watchdogs, like the Philadelphia Public Ledger, The Christian Science Monitor, The Charlotte Observer, The Roswell Record, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and more. Elkhardt, Indiana, somewhat immodestly offers up The Elkhardt Truth. And the Detroit Free Press refers not to the cost but to its role in society. The paper was launched in 1831 as the Democratic Free Press and Michigan Intelligencer and renamed the Detroit Daily Free Press four years later.
Politics is present in the form of names like the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and the Arizona Republic, which until 1930 was the Arizona Republican. Gone are the papers with Federalist or Whig in the title, but Union remains popular, as in the long-running New Hampshire Union-Leader.
Light plays a role: suns, star, searchlights, and beacons are common, all suggesting illumination. Astronomy is represented as well, not just in the various suns and the stars, but in older names like the New York Aurora. The broad scope of the news is also sometimes suggested by names like Globe or World, and Illinois even has a Metropolis Daily Planet, named for Clark Kent’s employer.
I was pleasantly surprised at the number of newspapers around the country with Bee in their title: There is a swarm of Bees in California, in Sacramento, Fresno, and Modesto. An editorial in 1857 when James McClatchy founded the Sacramento Bee explained: “The name of The Bee has been adopted as being different from that of any other paper in the state and as also being emblematic of the industry which is to prevail in its every department.”
There were earlier Bees, however, and even some Wasps. The New York Wasp once stung Thomas Jefferson with an expose of his attacks on Washington and Adams. The editor, Harry Crosswell, was prosecuted under New York’s libel laws and defended by none other than Alexander Hamilton. He lost and The Wasp, whose motto was “To lash the rascals naked through the world,” folded after just 12 issues.
Every name has a story and knowing a bit more about the names of newspapers makes me even prouder of the tradition of American journalism. I’m headed to the newsstand to celebrate freedom of the press.
Featured image credit: Newspapers by David Crosby. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr.