What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The Printers in this Town would without Charge publish such Accounts.”
Daniel and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, regularly interspersed their own announcements among the other advertisements published in their newspaper. They inserted three such announcements in the August 7, 1767, edition. Two related notices had previously appeared, once requesting that “all Persons, who send Advertisements to this Press, would at the same Time send pay with them” and the other calling on “ALL Persons indebted for this Gazette, Advertisements, &c. … to make immediate Payment” or risk going to court. Both of these announcements addressed the financial operations of the publication.
The third, on the other hand, sought to enhance the content of the newspaper to better serve its subscribers, though the Fowles likely figured that new content of particular interest to readers would also enhance sales. Looking to their counterparts published in other cities, especially Philadelphia and New York, the Fowles noted that “the Publishers by some Means obtain Accounts from the Masters of Vessels on their Arrival of what Vessels they meet with on their Passage.” Such information was valuable to “those in the Mercantile Business” as well as the families of sailors who otherwise heard much less about the “Welfare of their Friends.”
The Fowles wished to include such information in the New-Hampshire Gazette, but they had difficulty collecting it. They called on the “Gentlemen Merchants” of Portsmouth to devise a method of reporting these accounts to the printing office, promising to publish them gratis as a service to the community. Their efforts to obtain these reports amounted to what would be described today as crowdsourcing, accepting and collating contributions of data or information from multiple participants to achieve a cumulative result. The process of crowdsourcing (as well as the term itself) became especially popular in the digital age, but new technologies improved and expanded a method already in practice much earlier. In their advertisements, the Fowles encouraged readers to participate in the production of the news via crowdsourcing the late 1760s.