It was not long until the fortunes of newspapers came to depend not on the quality or utility of the news they provided, but on how much, from what distances, and at what speed. James Bennett of the New York Herald boasted that in the first week of 1848, his paper contained 79,000 words of telegraphic content —of what relevance to his readers, he didn’t say. Only four years after Morse opened the nation’s first telegraph line on May 24, 1844, the Associated Press was founded, and news from nowhere, addressed to no one in particular, began to criss-cross the nation. Wars, crimes, crashes, fires, floods—much of it the social and political equivalent of Adelaide’s whooping cough—became the content of what people called “the news of the day.”


  1. Amusing Ourselves to Death