How a language snafu shut down Michigan's first newspaper after just one issue | Michigan Radio

How a language snafu shut down Michigan's first newspaper after just one issue

Aug 29, 2018

The single issue that was published of The Michigan Essay was four pages long and had options to subscribe for more, which, of course, never came.
Credit Archives of Michigan

For much of American history, newspapers were the main source of information for citizens of all backgrounds.

And although profits may have been a top priority, newspapers helped form and inform communities, and provided a check on government.

This week in 1809, the very first newspaper in Michigan was printed: The Michigan Essay.

Mark Harvey, State Archivist with the Michigan History Center, and Frank Boles, Director of the Clarke Historical Library at Central Michigan University, joined Stateside to give us the history.

The Michigan Essay itself was short-lived, only publishing one issue. The paper's failure can probably be attributed to one major issue.

"Most of the community spoke French, but the paper was published in English," Boles explained.

Harvey said that early papers were often short-lived, but they were at the heart of communities. At one point, there were over 650 newspapers being published in the state.

"It was uniquely American that these brand-new, small communities were being propped up along with publishing a newspaper. You would think that they would have other things on their mind like, I don't know, surviving," Harvey said. 

Listen above to hear how the state's first newspaper got its start, what obstacles it faced, and how newspapers spread in Michigan after that first flop.

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