Julia Guarneri. Newsprint Metropolis: City Papers and the Making of Modern Americans. Chicago, IL. University of Chicago Press, 2017.

Guarneri argues that reader turned to newspapers for entertainment, counsel, and companionship. They were not just repositories of information, but also instruments of change, like advertisements themselves (or even consumer groups), for navigating an increasingly modern world. White middle-class men may have dominated papers’ editorial boards and city newsrooms, but new types of workers, such as female freelance writers and self-taught immigrant illustrators, contributed a wider variety of voices to daily papers – the laboring of American culture – which spoke to readers about how to live their lives.


In Philadelphia, for instance, (Public Ledger), much of newspapers’ counsel came through advertisements, whose images and slogans suggested how city people ought to dress, eat, shop, and play while using the advertised product. From the 1880s into the early 1910s, tended to target the working, middle, or upper class and to communicate class-specific standards of behavior. In the 1910s and 1920s, a series of mergers erased many of the distinctions between newspaper types, resulting in mass-media papers which forged a common metropolitan culture for a diverse readership. As Roland Marchand noted about advertisements, these newspapers loosened class boundaries by speaking more openly about upward mobility.


These newspapers directed towards mass-audiences focused less on do-it-yourself projects and insisted competent city people were not those who could cook, change a tire, build a table, sew a dress, or stop a faucet leak, but those who knew how to choose products and services – those who knew how to shop. They were the original Consumers Reports of the 1930s and the public dissemination tool for Leagues of Women’s Shoppers.

In Chicago, the post office took an active role in distributing newspapers as a part of its federal mandate to circulate information as democratically as possible. As William Leach noted in Land of Desire, Postmaster General John Wanamaker proposed Rural Free Delivery to improve rural access to mail and specifically newspapers, which helped create a sense of imagined community for Iowans who received the Chicago dailies. This inter-state network helped spread the growth of Suburbs, as Cohen would note exploded in the postwar era.