Local Newspapers Were The Original Social Media

Local newspapers were the original social media. It reminds me of how, in early America, even personal letters would get published in the newspaper and sometimes without consent. A letter coming from a faraway friend or family member might mean news for the whole community. Or else it would make for great scandalous material your opponent might get a hold of (read about America’s founding era).

Privacy wasn’t always highly prized in centuries past. What was going on in your life was everyone’s business and so everyone had a right to know what you’ve been doing, as you had a right to know what everyone else has been doing. Apparently, you were wise to write your letters as if anyone might read them. That is still wise advice in writing anything today, something we’re regularly reminded of when some Tweet comes back to haunt someone as news.

More generally, newspapers were where people looked to learn about anything and everything, as there were few other sources of information. A daily newspaper told you what was going on in your little world and indeed the focus was almost entirely local. Whatever was even mildly significant would get reported. Look at that old newspaper — they really packed in the articles with small print and few pictures.

This still can be seen in some small communities. When my family and I were traveling out West, we passed through an isolated Indian Reservation, probably with a small population. There was a correspondingly small local newspaper. All the articles were about such things as a teen winning an award at school, the public library having purchased some new books, the ladies knitting club planning a bake sale for next Wednesday, etc.

This kind of news is only newsworthy because, in a tight-knit community, everyone is familiar with everyone else. These people are your neighbors and coworkers, friends and family. They go to the same church you do. Their kids go to school with your kids. You see them at the post office, bank, and store. It’s common knowledge about what goes on at Mrs. Jeffries’ card club, who attends, and the kind of person Mrs. Jeffries is. It’s part of a web of local information, what might be called gossip.

Now we have social media for that purpose where you keep close tabs on those you personally know. I might have little sense of what is going on in the lives of my brothers and their families if not for their Facebook postings, despite all of us living close to one another. It could be amusing to publish a monthly newspaper for reporting of family news where all the articles are based on the details gathered from social media, although I think there would only be one edition of the publication before everyone blocked me.

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JULY 10, 1944 – ROBOT BOMBS, NAZIS, SEXISM AND HOME RENTAL AT $50 PER MONTH
by Johnny Joo

1940s painesville ohio newspaper

One thing I found interesting was that stories were published about such mundane things, such as – “Mrs. Jeffries Is Hostess To Club” where it goes on to tell about Mrs. Ralph Jeffries and her card club, which she had hosted at her house on a Wednesday night. A following article talks about a family hosting a Sunday dinner at their home.

1940s painesville ohio newspaper

1940s painesville ohio newspaper

The paper also throws out a whole bunch of personal information about people:

“Miss Suzanne Miller of Cleveland has returned to her home after spending two weeks at the home of her grandmother, Mrs. H. G. Early, and her cousin Alice Young, of 111 E. Jackson St.”

“Mr. and Mrs. George Yager are now residing at their newly furnished apartment at 236 Courtland St.”

and many more to go along with those ^

If things like this were shared today, people would be throwing a fit (never mind that people share their entire lives on social media)