The Wasp, an early Mormon periodical, was one of many small newspapers striving to make a place and a name in an era called by many the “golden age” of American journalism. Newspapers were the popular of American reading materials in the 1840s; almost all growing frontier communities sought to establish a small press, and more populous areas often had a dozen or more. The boom of newspaper publishing throughout the country caused a jump from 800 such papers in 1830 to 1,400 in 1840.
The motives behind the eager interest shown by the common man for newspapers in the 1840s were social, political, religious, and literary. One author has suggested that 89 percent of the white population of the country was literate in 1840. While this estimate seems high, it does indicate that a large percentage of U. S. citizens created a market for cheap newspapers.
The average newspaper in the less populous regions was not only edited but written almost entirely by the editor, who was often poorly educated. This was an era of democratic agitation in which the primacy of the newspaper was virtually unchallenged. Frequently the editor or his financial backer established a newspaper with the specific purpose of expressing or suppressing a definite political, religious, or social view. Vicious libel was common.
Financial problems also occurred frequently, and many of the small town newspapers went under in their enthusiasm to corner unique events and extend their circulation.