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Pictures In The Papers
Born in the 1840’s, the era of the woodblock and the “view taken from nature,” early pictorial journalism left behind a matchless treasure of history
June 1962 | Volume 13, Issue 4
As early as 1873, New York was the home of the world’s first pictorial daily— The Daily Graphic —which was started by a pair of enterprising Canadians. They promised to furnish every day a full budget of news told primarily in pictures. The Graphic experimental with several novel methods of printing, including some of the earliest halftones. But it never developed a vigorous news policy; subscribers had to buy others papers to find out what was going on. It disappeared in 1889, under competition from the livelier news pictures which by then were appearing in Pulitzer’s World and Charles Dana’s Sun .
As part of this burgeoning of the picture press came the rise of the pink paper Police Gazette, The Yellow Kid and other newspaper comics, and a furtive group of pictorial sheets whose subjects ranged from mere spice to outright pornography and blackmail. Even these have value to historians in documenting sub-levels of popular taste. But very few people kept them, and they are excessively rare.
In our century pictorial journalism, merging rapidly with television during recent years, has virtually flooded our walking hours with visual information. Through its strenuous endeavors we can now see everything, that seems to be making history, from Congo natives fighting with spears to astronauts revolving in space. The task which the Illustrated London News defined back in 1842—“the necessity of etching events as they fly—of reflecting the social action of each particular week—of being alive to every point of importance, every turn of public interest or news—and, above all, of crowning the moving panorama of life, with rich, faithfull, various, and abundant illustration”—is being performed in full measure and with great skill.
Whether all this outpouring helps to improve the world is really beside the point. It does keep millions of people informed, and it does help shape their opinions. The right to report in pictures, and the freedom to comment in cartoons and text, are too often taken for granted by the publishing empires that transmit the news today. But these priceless assets had to be created by the pioneers of pictorial journalism in the last century.