Excerpt: Change is in the air. A new communications technology threatens a dramatic upheaval in America’s newspaper industry, overturning the status quo and disrupting the business model that has served the industry for years. This “great revolution”, warns one editor, will mean that some publications “must submit to destiny, and go out of existence.” With many American papers declaring bankruptcy in the past few months, their readers and advertisers lured away by cheaper alternatives on the internet, this doom-laden prediction sounds familiar. But it was in fact made in May 1845, when the revolutionary technology of the day was not the internet—but the electric telegraph.
It was only a year earlier, in May 1844, that Samuel Morse had connected Washington, DC, and Baltimore by wire and sent the first official message, in dots and dashes: “WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT”. The second message sent down Morse’s line was of more practical value, however: “HAVE YOU ANY NEWS”. (There was no question-mark in Morse’s original alphabet.) As a network of wires spread across the country, referred to as “the great highway of thought” by one contemporary observer, it was obvious that this new technology was going to have a huge impact on the newspaper industry. But would the telegraph be friend or foe?