• The mass production of the written word in the 1400s fundamentally changed human history.
  • Newspapers are the major source of news for most North Americans.
  • Most newspapers are owned by chains.
  • Thriving newspapers include counter-culture, gay and ethnic papers aimed at narrow readerships.
  • Magazines have been innovators as a journalistic and visual medium.
  • The magazine industry continues to demassify with products aimed at audiences with more narrowly focused interests.


Words are probably the most common sign in communication.

As symbols they signify something other than themselves.

They operate on a denotative level in the sense that they name objects in our world.
Example: the word snow

They also work on a connotative level in the sense that they convey cultural beliefs and values. (Example: The experienced skier can identify a wide variety of snow such as corn snow, powder, champagne snow, packed powder, granular snow, and icy snow).


As a business man not very successful and died penniless. However, like most people living along the Rhine, he did press his own grapes to make wine.

Johannes Gutenberg caused the most significant change in all human history. The mass produced written word. He invented moveable type.

We estimate the first page to be printed was around 1446. By 1500, presses all over western Europe had published almost 40,000 books. Today, Gutenberg is also known for the bibles he printed with moveable type.

Forty seven Gutenberg Bibles remain today. One sold in 1978 for $2.4 million dollars.


The introduction of books in the 15th century marked a turning point in human history.

Before then books were usually hand written by scribes or monks who copied existing books onto blank sheets of paper, letter by letter, one page at a time. These scribes could produce only a few hand-lettered books in a lifetime.

The duplicative power of moveable type put the written word into wide circulation and fueled quantum increases in literacy.

One hundred years after Guttenberg's death, an elaborate postal system was in place, printed maps replaced hand-drawn maps and newspapers followed shortly after.


In Canada, 106 dailies publish about 5 million copies a day.

The Canadian newspaper industry is multicultural: 39 Canadian ethnic groups publish almost 300 newspapers.

What makes a Canadian newspaper Canadian?

The type is set in Canada (excluding ads or feature stories).
It is wholly printed in Canada (excluding comics).
It is edited and published by people living in Canada.


Newspapers have a rich mix of content - news, advice, comics, opinions, sports etc.

People like newspapers. (Example: Having a cup of coffee in the morning, while reading the morning paper).

However, the newspaper industry is facing huge problems from:

1. Competing media
2. New technology
3. Changing lifestyles

1990 only 30% of people under 35 years of age read a daily newspaper
1965 only 60% of people under 35 years of age read a daily newspaper
(It appears that young people prefer television news).

Newspapers have since emphasized morning newspapers and have phased out afternoon papers.


Bartholomew Green set up the first printing press in Canada in 1751 in Halifax.

One year later, Green published Canada's first newspaper, the Halifax Gazette.

At the end of the War of 1812, Canada had only a handful of newspapers.

By 1825 the number had risen to almost 300 newspapers.

From 1850-1900s, immigration and migration became the two important factors in the growth of Canadian newspapers.


Improvements in technology helped the newspaper to grow to new heights.

The average circulation for a daily newspaper in 1951 was around 40,000. An 800 percent increase since the 1900s.

Television arrived in 1952, and people began to turn away from newspapers as a source of news and entertainment.

Watching television takes less energy than reading a newspaper.


Reasoning that he could multiply profits by owning multiple newspapers, William Randolph Hearst put together a chain of big-city newspapers in the 1800s. Like other chains, Hearst also expanded into magazines, radio and television.

The trend toward chain ownership continues.

Today chains own the majority of daily newspapers in the United States and in Canada. (Example: See table page 41).


Is chain ownership good for newspapers?

Are diverse points of view as likely to get into print if ownership is concentrated into fewer and fewer hands?

Are chains more oriented to profits than participating in public dialogue?

Are chains so concerned about profits that they forget good journalism?


1930 -116 daily newspapers were owned by 99 publishers

1970 - 3 newspapers chains, Southern, Thompson and F.P. had controlling interests in three-quarters of newspaper circulation in Canada.

1970 a Special Senate Committee on the status of the mass media in Canada, headed by Senator Keith Davey, released a report on the state of Canadian newspapers.

Rationale for the committee was the growing trend toward concentration of newspaper ownership.

The Davey report made many recommendations:

1. Creation of a press ownership review board to monitor ownership changes and proposed mergers.
2. The board would have the power to veto any sale of a newspaper if it meant an increase in concentration of ownership?

Ten years later the situation had not improved.

Ownership of newspapers, especially in Quebec had fallen into fewer and fewer hands.

1981 Kent Commission headed by Tom Kent

In August of 1980, the Ottawa Journal, which had been publishing for 94 years and was owned by Thomson, and the Winnipeg Tribune, which had been publishing for 90 years and was owned by Southam, each closed their doors. (Each city still had a daily newspaper, The Winnipeg Free Press owned by Thompson and the Ottawa Citizen, owned by Southern).

The commission was to propose a course of action for the government and the commission's mandate was considerably broader than its predecessors.

Kent Commission made recommendations on the concentration of ownership, on editorial expression, and on the quality of Journalism in Canada.

  1. No owner could own more than 5% of Canada's total newspaper circulation.
  2. No owner could own more than 5 newspapers
  3. No owner could own more than one newspaper within a radius of 500 kilometers.
  4. Newspaper editors would have to report each year to a press rights panel about the editorial content of a newspaper.
  5. A newspaper would be taxed if it were found the quality of content had suffered while excellence would be rewarded through subsidies and tax incentives.
  6. Several newspapers, including Thompson, would be ordered to divest themselves of some of their newspaper holdings.


Since the 1981 Kent Commission the situation has not changed, just the players have. 1981 Thompson owned twice as many newspapers as Southam. Thompson has since sold off most of its newspapers to concentrate on electronic information services.

Southam is now the largest newspaper player in Canada with an average daily circulation of 1.4 million newspapers, or 27% of total daily newspaper circulation in Canada. It owns 17 dailies and 33 weeklies in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta. Southam also publishes business magazines and electronic information for America On-Line (AOL).

Conrad Black's Hollinger is Canada's second largest publisher. In 1996 Hollinger acquired 41 percent of Southam.

The fears of both the Davey and Kent commissions are well founded. Mr. Black has become a media supernova.

Some view this a national disaster

  • with ominous consequences for freedom of the press
  • for political discourse
  • for national cohesiveness
  • newspaper journalists have been greatly reduce
    (CBC television and radio journalists have experienced this for years).
    (Example: See table page 41).

MIDTERM Assignment: Do a historical analysis of the concentration of chain ownership by Southern, Thompson or Hollinger or a critical anlysis of the Davey or Kent commissions.

What will replace the newspaper as the mirror and mentor of our communities?
Why should we not allow concentration of ownership in a capitalist society? (More concern about profit than editorial comment).
Who owns The Sun? Who owns The Herald?

News is a product, and it needs a variety of voices to be produced. Too much power in the hands of one person contradicts the role of the press in a democracy. (Example: Conrad Black and the Prime Minister).

Also, newspapers have traditionally been used to record history. Concentration of ownership has serious implications for archival information and future historical research.


Television, direct mail and preprints have affected newspaper advertising and subsequent revenues. (Preprints are advertising circulars tucked inside a newspaper. In the past, these advertisers would have supported the newspaper directly by placing advertisements within the newspaper itself).

Formal classified ads generate more than half of a newspaper's revenue.


Portability: Newspapers are a portable medium.

Variety: Cover a variety of events and features, more than other media.

Indexed content: Quick source of information.

Depth coverage: Room for lengthy, in-depth treatment, unlike radio or TV.

Counter-culture newspapers (Alternative newspapers): Antiestablishment political coverage and antimilitary slant

Ethnic newspapers (Minority newspapers) Canada's Italian community has 30 newspapers, Jewish community 20 newspapers and First Nations 20 newspapers.

SOURCE: Abridged version of Chapter two from: Vivian, John and Maurin, Peter. (1997). The Media of Mass Communication. Allyn and Bacon Canada. Scarborough, Ontario.