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History of British newspapers

Regular newspaper publication dates from the mid 17th century. Prior to then it was believed that the 'reckless' reporting of news might endanger the Crown and the country. A limit was placed on the printing of news other than of events abroad, natural disasters, royal declarations and crimes; there were weekly corantos published from the 1620s containing these kinds of news. Publication grew following the general relaxation after the ending of the Star Chamber in 1641. During the Civil War there were regular news-sheets and then newsbooks carrying general information along with propaganda. Following the Restoration there arose a number of publications including the London Gazette (first published on November 16, 1665 as the Oxford Gazette), the first official journal of record and the newspaper of the Crown. Publication was controlled under the Licensing Act of 1662, but the Act's lapse from 1679-1685 and then abolition in 1694 encouraged a number of new titles, there were twelve London newspapers (the Daily Courant was the first London newspaper) and 24 provincial papers by the 1720s and by the early 19th century there were 52 London papers and over 100 other titles.

As stamp, paper and other duties were progessively reduced from the 1830s onwards (and all duties on newspapers were gone by 1855) there was a massive growth in overall circulation as major events and improved communications developed the public's need for information. The Times was the most significant newspaper of the first half of the 19th century, but from around 1860 there were a number of more strongly competitive titles, each differentiated by its political biases and interests.

The Manchester Guardian was founded in Manchester in 1821 by a group of non-conformist businessmen. Its most famous editor, Charles Prestwich Scott, made the Manchester Guardian into a world-famous newspaper in the 1890s. It is now called The Guardian.

The Chartist Northern Star, first published on May 26, 1838, was a pioneer of popular journalism but was very closely linked to the fortunes of the movement and was out of business by 1852. At the same time there was the establishment of more specialized periodicals and the first cheap newspaper in the Daily Telegraph (1855). From 1860 until around 1910 is considered a 'golden age' of newspaper publication, with technical advances in printing and communication combined with a professionalization of journalism and the prominence of new owners. Newspapers became more partisan and there was the rise of new or yellow journalism (see William Thomas Stead).

WW I saw the rise of the 'press barons' initially the Harmsworth Brothers (later Viscounts Northcliffe and Rothermere) and the Berry Brothers. A trend continued between the wars when the WW I barons were joined by Max Aitken (later Lord Beaverbrook) and the newspaper industry took on an appearance similar to today's. The post-war period was marked by the emergence of tabloid newspapers (or red tops), notably with Cecil Harmsworth King and his International Publishing Corporation.

In the 1970s the powerful print trade unions were challenged and production moved away from Fleet Street, marked by the successes of Rupert Murdoch and the Sun in the 1980s and 1990s. Currently circulation is in a slow but steady decline but still comparatively high.

Major newspapers still in circulation
The Times (1785), The Observer (1791), The Guardian/Manchester Guardian (1821), The Sunday Times (1822), Evening Standard (1827), News of the World (1843), The Daily Telegraph (1855), The People (1881), Financial Times (1888), Daily Mail (1896), Daily Express (1900), Daily Mirror (1903), Sunday Mirror (1915), Sunday Express (1918), Sunday Telegraph (1961), The Sun (1964), Daily Star (1978), Mail on Sunday (1982), Independent (1986), Independent on Sunday (1990).

See also: United Kingdom newspapers