The Evolution of Newsprint

In 1440, Johannes Gutenberg invented a moveable type press that revolutionized print publications, making printed materials accessible to the masses. This invention was arguably one of the most significant in modern human history, changing the way knowledge is disseminated and contributing to the democratization of information. More than 400 years later, The Argosy was born. The years between the invention of the printing press and the conception of The Argosy saw an expansion of printing technology and the emergence of newspapers across the globe. 

The first newspapers in Canada began in Nova Scotia and Quebec in the mid-1700s, acting as a mouthpiece for the colonial government. Independent newspapers began to emerge as printing presses became cheaper to purchase and operate. Technological developments have facilitated the mass production of newspapers, leading to widespread circulation and opportunities for corporations through advertisements. The Argosy began in 1872, long before many of the large national newspapers were established. In the newspaper’s infancy, high-speed rotary presses were all the rage, and full colour printing was popularized before the turn of the century.

The technology that has facilitated the production of The Argosy and other newspapers in the last 150 years has evolved significantly. The process of printing used to be incredibly labour-intensive; printing shops emerged across the country to facilitate this complex process. For the sake of brevity, it suffices to say that the machinery used to print newspapers over the last century and a half has undergone a series of developments. In fact, the original editors of The Argosy would not be able to recognize the modern process of printing. Nor would the current editors be able to use the original printing presses to produce the next edition of the paper. Even those who worked for The Argosy a decade ago would hardly recognize the printing process now, and in another decade, who knows what the paper will look like or how it will be produced. Today, The Argosy uses Adobe software called InDesign to lay out each section of the newspaper based on templates developed by staff over the years. These files are combined into a single PDF, which is sent to Advocate Printing in Dieppe on Tuesday night. They print 500 copies of The Argosy on Wednesday morning and ship the newspapers to Sackville for Thursday distribution.

The dawn of the digital age has posed an existential threat to newsprint, with many transitioning to digital publishing and doing away with physical newspapers altogether. The Argosy has not been exempt from these changes, shifting to printing physical copies bi-weekly rather than weekly, with content posted on the newspaper website every week. Many of the big newspapers, such as the National Post, Toronto Star, and The Globe and Mail, have introduced paywalls, meaning that one must pay a subscription fee to access the online news content. This has been an attempt to increase revenue in an industry that has been hemorrhaging money as paid readership decreases and advertising agencies look elsewhere. The Argosy is funded by student fees, meaning that concerns around appealing to corporations for advertisement revenue or the installation of a subscription fee for access are not an issue.

At one time, The Argosy would have been a student’s only way to know what was going on at the university. There was no Instagram to hear about upcoming events on campus or Twitter to voice one’s frustration with the administration. In 2022, 150 years after it was first created, one might question the importance of an independent student newspaper like The Argosy. What role does it play today? There is a reason this paper has stood the test of time, outlasting better-funded, more prominent newspapers. It is clear that it remains an important resource for students and a platform for the discussion and dissemination of ideas.

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