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Home of newspaper during Revolutionary War named Historic Site in Journalism



Chad Hosier, SPJ Awards Coordinator, (317) 920-4791, chosier@spj.org
Ellen Kobe, SPJ Communications Coordinator, (317) 920-4785, ekobe@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS — The Society of Professional Journalists has named Washington Square in Newport, R.I., a National Historic Site in Journalism.

Since 1942, the Society has honored the people and places that have played important roles in the history of journalism through the Historic Sites program. Some honorees include: The Associated Press offices in Washington and New York City; Freedom’s Journal, the first Black newspaper published in the United States; and, most recently, the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park.

Janine Weisman, editor of the Newport Mercury, nominated the historical section of Newport, which housed the town’s only printing press during the Revolutionary War. When the British arrived in 1776, they seized the printing press in order to print official military documents and a newspaper for British soldiers. Its owner Solomon Southwick had allegedly tried to bury it, but couldn’t hide it before it was discovered by troops.

The press is usually referred to as the “Franklin Press” for the family that owned and operated it for three generations. Benjamin Franklin trained his nephew James Franklin Jr. on the printing press in Philadelphia. After James’ father passed away, he returned to Newport to help his mother with the family printing press. Together, they started the Newport Mercury in 1758. Mercury is one of the longest running newspapers in American history and today is a Weekly tabloid journal published every Wednesday by the Edward A. Sherman Publishing Company.

Today, the press is back in the hands of the town, currently residing at the Newport Historical Society’s Museum, where the public can appreciate it.

“I think it takes on even greater significance in today’s digital World when news and information can spread in a fraction of a second,” Weisman said. “This unwieldy machine that played such a critical role in how locals obtained news from afar and near in both times of peace and War now serves as a reminder of how physically cumbersome and difficult mass communication once was.”

A plaque will be placed at the location to distinguish it as a National Historic Site in Journalism. See a complete list of past winners here.

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information on SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.


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