Newspapers were very biased, but they were also one of the main ways that each candidate got their names and views out to the public. Newspapers and word of mouth were about the only ways that people had to find out what was going on around the world. Even if a person didn’t read the newspaper, they would probably talk to someone who did, and that person would tell them what they had read. It was an effective way of getting the message out.
Each party would also hand out leaflets and would hold rallies and make speeches, letting everyone know what their party stood for.
Presidential debates weren’t much of a thing until the Lincoln-Douglas debates. After those debates, each party would print an edited version of what their candidate said during the debate, and this highly edited version would be published and distributed. The Lincoln-Douglas debates were such a success that after this, public debates (and their subsequent publishing in print) became a standard part of U.S. politics.
We tend to think of dirty politics as a relatively new invention, and schools tend to teach the early days of the U.S. as if it were some kind of weird happy time when everyone all got along together. If you look back at the leaflets that were handed out back in the 1700s and 1800s, you’ll see that dirty politics is definitely nothing new, and smear campaigns and outright lying were actually quite common. For example, Thomas Jefferson’s opponents published leaflets and newspaper articles accusing Jefferson of boinking his female slaves. Jefferson, on the other hand, accused Adams of being a hermaphrodite. Fun times.