Front page article of the first issue of the Daily Universal Register, 1st January 1785, written by the founder of the newspaper, John Walter (he changed the name of his paper to The Times three years later).
To the Public
(transcription of first and second column of p. 21 in the brochure)
To bring out a new paper at the present day, when so many others are already established and confirmed in the public opinion, is certainly an arduous undertaking. And no one can be more fully aware of its difficulties than I am. I, nevertheless, entertain very sanguine hopes, that the nature of the plan on which this paper will be conducted, will ensure it a moderate share at least of public favour. …
It is very far from my intention to detract from the acknowledged merit of the daily papers now in existence. It is sufficient that they please the class of readers whose approbation their conductors are ambitious to deserve. Nevertheless, it is certain some of the best, some of the most respectable, and some of the most useful members of the community, have frequently complained (and the causes of the complaints still exist) that by radical defects in the plans of the present, established papers, there were deprived of many advantages, which ought naturally to result from daily publications. Of these, some build their fame on the length and accuracy of Parliamentary reports, which unquestionably are given with great ability, and with a laudable zeal to please those, who can spare time to read ten or twelve columns of debates. Others are principally attentive to the politics of the day, and make it their study to give satisfaction to the numerous class of politicians, who, blessed with easy circumstances, have nothing better to do, than to amuse themselves with watching the motions of ministers both at home and abroad; and endeavouring to find out the secret springs that set in motion the great machine of government in every state and empire in the world. There is one paper … which deals almost solely in advertisements; and consequently, though a very useful, it is by no means an entertaining paper. Thus it would seem that every newspaper published in London is calculated for a particular set of readers only. …
A newspaper conducted on the true and natural principles of such a publication, ought to be the register of the times, and faithful recorder of every species of intelligence. It ought not to be engrossed by any particular object, but, like a well-covered table, it should contain something suited to every palate: observations on the dispositions of our own, and of foreign courts should be provided for the political reader; debates should be reported for the amusement or information of those who may be particularly fond of them; and a due attention should be paid to the interests of trade, which are so greatly promoted by advertisements. — A paper that should blend all these advantages, and by steering clear of extremes, hit the happy medium, has long been expected by the public. — Such it is intended, shall be the UNIVERSAL REGISTER, the great objects of which will be to facilitate the commercial intercourse between the different parts of the community, through the channel of advertisements; to record the principal occurrences of the times; and to the bridge the account of debates during the sitting of Parliament. …
(transcription of second column of p. 22 in the brochure)
The Register, in its politics, will be of no party; weakened, as the country is, by a long and expensive war, and rent by intestine divisions, nothing, but the union of all parties can save it from destruction. Moderate men, therefore, I trust, will countenance a paper, which has for one of its objects to cool the animosities, stifle the resentments, manage the personal honour, and reconcile the principals of contending parties; while the favours of those will be courted, who support principles, by fair arguments, and think that a good cause may be injured by personalities, and low invective, the correspondence of such as descend, to illiberal abuse, and attack the man rather than the measure, will always be disregarded. The Register, instead of dealing in scurrilities, and abusing the great men in power, or the great men out of power; or, instead of deifying the one, or the other, will reserve to itself the right of censuring, or applauding either, as their conduct may occasionally appear proper or improper.
If censure should be thought necessary, it shall be conveyed in language suited to the respect that is due to the public, before whose tribunal the individual is arraigned; and no provocation shall be deemed an excuse for illiberal abuse, or personality.
HOMEWORK ON THE DOCUMENT
You should attempt to say what motivates John Walter to write this article given the historical context he writes in (which you must present in a way that is relevant to understanding the content of the article). In order to do this you may find it useful to focus on using both your knowledge and elements of the text to
- present the situation of the British press in the late 18th century to explain how John Walter views it.
- to reflect on John Walter’s view of the relationship between the press and British politics (or more largely the British political system born of the Glorious Revolution).