First use of "the press" as a collective reference to newspapers

Nowadays, “the press” is typically used interchangeably with “the media”. But it wasn’t that long ago (~100 years) that the only real form of mass media was newspapers.

I’m trying to find the earliest example where “the press” was used to refer to newspapers collectively.

From the Online Etymology Dictionary, “The press, meaning “journalists collectively” is attested from 1921.” The article also says that “the press” was used to refer to publishing houses in general in the late sixteenth century and to publishing in general by the late seventeenth century.

I’m pretty sure the US Constitution uses it to mean newspapers collectively

I’d always understood that the right granted in the first amendment applies to all citizens.

Do you believe it applies only to newspapers - that an individual could be prosecuted for printing and distributing something that a newspaper could freely do?

The first amendment has more to it than just freedom of the press. Technically, the part about freedom of the press only applies to the press, but the other parts, that of speech, assembly, and petition, are all parts that apply directly to the people.

It has been interpreted that “press” means journalists in general, not just those who work for a newspaper, but that is an interpretation that could be overturned by an overly pedantic supreme court.

So you have to be a journalist to enjoy freedom of the press? Although laws cannot restrict what a private citizen may say, they can validly restrict what he may write?

Really? What cases produced these interpretations?
(To me, this appears about the same as an argument that freedom of speech is something that applies to orators delivering speeches, but not to common citizens.)

In the US Constitution it relates to the act of publishing and not an industry or profession.

Everyone in the US has the right to publish information, that right is not restricted based on job title or industry.

No. If you are a member of the press, you are a journalist.

Probably not, unless we consider speech to only be what is spoken. Also, you ignore the other parts of the amendment. Redress of grievances, who says that can’t be in writing.

IANAL, but we consider what we see on TV to be the press, and is currently regulated as such. If you somehow don’t believe that, and really want the legal precedents that resulted in that, I’ll see what I can find.

I have no idea how you would get that impression, unless you actually did only read the parts of my post that you cut out its context.

What legal test determines whether someone is a “member of the press”?

You said “the part about freedom of the press only applies to the press”. That appears to say that some freedoms apply only to some (“members of the press”) and not to all (citizens in general). I’d be interested to hear how this distinction is made in law, and what freedoms apply restrictively.

Branzburg v. Hayes firmly defined it as “a fundamental personal right”

Any test or law that tried to impose a “member of the press” requirement would be counter to that decision.

There is a lot of established case law surrounding this at this point in time.

This matches my interpretation.

“Freedom of the press” is freedom to make use of the function of a printing press - i.e. to publish written material, without having to adhere to restrictions on its content.

I have no idea what you are going on about here. I said specifically that there are no limitations to who the press is, only that the medium has a theoretical restriction if a future supreme court decided to be pedantic about it. That the “press” could only count as newspapers, and not as Television. That is the only thing that was said whatsoever in my post. Anything else, you have made the decision to read into based on your out of context quotes.

You are taking words of my posts out of context, and demanding that I justify your erroneous interpretations of statements that you have made to be incomplete. You even did it with my statement about you taking my words out of context. I ask you to please stop doing that. Thank you.

And to the specific statement of “freedom of the press”, that does not apply to things that are not considered to be the press. Things like speech, or assembly or redress of grievances. Please tell me why you think that press is synonymous with speech, assembly, and redress of grievances, and if it is the case that they are the same thing, then why was it felt necessary to enumerate each of those?

I would say it has a broader meaning than newspapers. It means the printing press generally, for books, religious tracts, poilitical pamphlets, as well as newspapers.

It’s the continuation of the argument set out by Milton in Areopagitica, against any restrictions on the press, not just newspapers.

I don’t think that, and am puzzled to find anything I said that could make you think I do.

I think the second half of the first amendment is listing four distinct rights that Congress may not abridge:

  • freedom of speech
  • freedom of the press
  • to peaceably assemble
  • to petition for redress of grievances
    I see no distinction made in the applicability of these - each applies to all citizens. (rat avatar has supported this view by citing Branzburg v. Hayes.) Your first post made me think you do see such a distinction.

Here’s your sentence that made me think that: “Technically, the part about freedom of the press only applies to the press, but the other parts, that of speech, assembly, and petition, are all parts that apply directly to the people.” This seems very clearly to be saying that the applicability of freedom of the press is different from the others.

Exactly. Anyone can operate a print shop and claim the protection of the First Amendment. They don’t have to be producing a newspaper.

A print shop that publishes the Communist Manifesto is protected by the First Amendment.

No, just that they are different forms of communication, all enumerated. My first post was expanding upon the powers of the first amendment, not limiting or restricting it. I was pointing out that your freedom of communication was not limited to the “press”. The first line of the post said “The first amendment has more to it than just freedom of the press.”

The “press” means a form of mass communication. At the time of the writing of the amendment, it required someone with substantial money and resources to communicate in this fashion, the rest of us were limited to who we could reach by shouting on a corner or with handwritten letters. The press was not something that the average person had any part in, which is why the freedoms of communication were not limited to just a person that had a printing press. At the same time, for the person that had a printing press, their freedom of communication was also guaranteed with their more widespread reach.

Anyone who had access to a printing press would be considered a part of the press. Other forms of mass communication like radio and TV relatively naturally fell under the same rights as the press, as they came about, but were still not really “of the people”.

Now that we all have access to mass forms of communication, we can all be considered to be a part of the press, which blurs the lines between the enumerated rights a bit, but only in the fashion that you aren’t sure which freedom specifically you are using right now, not that you aren’t sure whether you are free to do so.

I mean, right now, are we using our freedom of assembly, our freedom of speech, or our freedom of the press? Pedantically, none of them apply, yet, we are actually using a combination of all three.

No, only someone who can afford to operate a print shop can operate a print shop.

Anyone can claim their protection of the First Amendment.

Yes, few people had a printing press. A substantially larger number could find someone who did, and have things printed.

I see no evidence that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom … of the press” was in any way intended to to restrict its protection to those who had printing presses. As I see it, this was clearly meant to be a right applicable to all, even though it was obvious that not everyone would make direct use of this right.

While these are from the UK this may help.


From Blacktones Commentaries from 1769

Note that the revolution mentioned above was not the US but related to this law from 1643

Which also verify the OP’s assumptions.

But it is pretty hard to tell when people are citing newspapers as the most common and popular form of publishing and when they are conflating the two.

So I can’t say which is which, but the rise in the 20th century seems related to the anti-communist movement but was targeting publishing political material and not newspapers.

After the mid 1960’s it does seem that casual use does shift to calling printed mass media journalists only as the “press”

But this is just what I am finding and may not be what matches reality.

The writers had a specific purpose for that phrasing. England had laws against “seditious libel,” which essentially said that any criticism of the crown or the government in print could be a crime. The founders wanted Americans to be free to criticize their government as they had criticized the crown in the revolutionary days. So for them the “press” definitely meant those with printing presses as opposed to “speech” which was oral or personal letters or other forms of individual expression.

John Adams, in his worst act as President, got the Alien and Sedition Laws passed and for reasons I don’t understand they lasted until Jefferson won over the Federalists and rescinded them. Why didn’t the Supreme Court rule? My guess is that since this was before Marbury v. Madison the Court had yet fixed on its power to rule laws unconstitutional, but it would be hard to find a more blatant example of an unconstitutional law in those days.

Multitudes of cases have expanded the definition since then, not always clearly IMO, but the distinction in 1789 was clear because they lived inside its context, one we have little reason to remember.