Commentary

Founders Would Have Deemed Pace Of News Unprecedented: Un-President-ed, Too

On this Presidents' Day, I'd like you to think about how the speed of media has changed since our first President, and what implications that holds for a republic that relies on informed citizens.

When our founders declared independence from the British on July 4, 1776, it took six days before news of that event in Philadelphia was published in newspapers in New York -- and 43 days before it was published in London.

As America spread across the frontier from the original continental states, the dissemination of news actually slowed down with geography.

It took 37 days for news about the fall of the Alamo to reach New York, and 72 days to reach London in 1836.

It took 78 days for news about the discovery of gold in California to reach New York, and 207 days to reach London.

The invention of the telegraph and the laying of undersea cables in the 1850s accelerated the spread of news, but it still took two days for news about Lincoln's assassination to get published in New York, and 13 days in London.

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Broadcast media dramatically closed the gap in the 20th century, enabling news about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor to be spread in minutes By the 1960s, satellite communications enabled the entire world to watch man land and walk on the moon in near-real-time, albeit with a 1.3-second communication delay.

Today, major news events now seem to spread before they even happen -- or even if they do not happen.

Numerous studies have already proven that disinformation, misinformation, propaganda, and "fake news" spread faster than real news. Negative news also moves faster than neutral or positive news.

The speed of information access is worth remembering on this Presidents' Day, because I don't think it was something our founders accounted for, especially as we head into one of the most consequential election years since we were founded.

5 comments about "Founders Would Have Deemed Pace Of News Unprecedented: Un-President-ed, Too".
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  1. David Scardino from TV & Film Content Development, February 17, 2020 at 11:22 a.m.

    Excellent piece, Joe! One minor correction: today is not George Washington's birthday. That would be February 22nd. Today is "Presidents' Day," a holiday made up in 1971 by our brilliant politicians in Congress thereby single-handedly elevating non-entities like Franklin Pierce and James Buchanon (much less William Henry Harrison, in office one month) to the same level as Washington, Lincoln and the Roosevelts. As usual, a great job by the boobs in Washington.

  2. Jerry Milani from JMPR, February 17, 2020 at 1:22 p.m.

    IDK... NY Times from 4/15/1865 has it on the front page... 
    https://www.nytimes.com/1865/04/15/archives/president-lincoln-shot-by-an-assassin-the-deed-done-at-fords.html



  3. Joe Mandese from MediaPost, February 17, 2020 at 1:29 p.m.

    @Jerry Milani: Lincoln was shot by Booth on April 14, he died on April 15.

    The April 15 edition of the New York Times you're sourcing reports an assissination attempt in which Lincoln was still alive. The New York Times didn't report his actual assissination until the next day, April 16.

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited replied, February 17, 2020 at 2:02 p.m.

    It was to combine Lincoln and Washington birthdays for the sake of commerce for one day off instead of 2 for schools, government and other employees. 

  5. jen hahs from essence, February 17, 2020 at 10:04 p.m.

    Love this article, Joe! I'm seeing an uptick in consumer interest for non-partisan news but hadn't thought about the speed of information angle to the problem. It is an important consideration if consumers are trying to turn back the clock on our post-truth world. 

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