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In researching an unrelated EL&U answer, I came across this commentary in an item titled "Hobart Town" in the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (November 10, 1829):

These three journals—the Courier, the Colonial Times, and the Tasmanian—are all conducted in a very respectable manner.

The first made us laugh most heartily by the novel and utterly outré practice lately adopted by its Editor, of speaking in the first person singular! We believe it is without precedent or parallel in the whole history of newspapers, at least within the last hundred years ; and it looks and sounds so exquisitely odd, that it is difficult to persuade one's self the worthy Editor is not quizzing. Perhaps he has in his eye the example of the Spectator, and the similar diurnals of the eighteenth century : it is at all events a bold defiance of fashion and immemorial usage.

This item makes a couple of interesting points about the "editorial we": (1) it was (in 1829) so thoroughly established that the use of first-person singular by the editor of the [Hobart] Courier struck the author of this article as "novel and utterly outré"; and (2) its dominance as a journalistic convention was of such long standing that the author of the item could not think of a single countervailing instance "within the last hundred years."

I have two questions on this subject:

  1. Assuming that the convention is not primordial, when did use of the "editorial we" first arise in English journalism?

  2. To what extent was the [Hobart] Courier editor's use of the "editorial I" something new under the British Empire's unsetting sun, and to what extent did it reflect an earlier style perhaps discernible in Addison & Steele's Spectator or other early periodicals?

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    Too broad, too broad. Why should the question belong to English? It's purely about journalism. – Kris Jun 25 '18 at 7:34
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    I think this is a great question about nosism in English. Given that not all languages use grammatical person in the same way as English, the question cannot be answered except by reference to particular languages. If this really is purely about journalism, and occurs in many languages, that would itself go some way to answering the question. – sjy Jun 25 '18 at 8:26
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    This blog post cites an 1829 publication which referred to “the fashionable virtue of the day in nos-ism.” – sjy Jun 25 '18 at 8:33
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    The late lamented Editorial We? "The Editorial We: A Posthumous Autobiography" amazon.com/Editorial-We-Posthumous-Autobiography/dp/B001Y0R64I – Kris Jun 25 '18 at 13:22
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There is an article on this topic in the 12 July 1823 Niles' Weekly Register (published in Baltimore, Maryland, USA), at page 289:

"THE FIRST PERSON SINGULAR." When it was resolved to published the REGISTER, in 1811, it was determined also that it should be conducted by myself, alone—and that no other person or persons, on any pretence whatever, should prescribe, dictate or suggest, [imperatively], the insertion of one line, unless in justification of some charges, or to correct some mistakes that might be made; for to these we are all liable. In pursuance of this rather "singular" notion, the first number contained an article in which, when I spoke of myself, I used the "first person" I–to shew that it was I who wrote it, and that we should not have anything to do with the management of this paper.

...

The use of "we," when a writer has to speak of himself, is often ridiculous in the extreme.

...

I cannot tell why it should seem more modest to speak falsely, affect authority or shew subserviency, by the use of we, we, we—than if to tell the truth and aim at nothing beyond it, by the use of I, I, I. At any rate, the last shall be used in the REGISTER by myself, even if there should be a partner in the concern, and the light of it be supported by the initials of my name—for my wish is, that every thing should pass for just as much as it is worth, and what it really is- and nothing more

So the Courier was not the only paper to use the singular.

However, the standard was to use the plural. For example Enchiridion clericum, or the preacher's guide (1812) says:

And always use the plural number, — we

...

Let sovereigns, speaking in the first person, use the plural number ; and let Reviewers, who exercise dominion in the empire of letters, use the plural number for the singular ; and newspaper editors likewise, to impress the public with an idea that their individual paper employs a constellation of talents, let them speak in the plural number ; but with what propriety can a preacher, addressing his congregation in his...

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The History of British Journalism, from the Foundation of the Newspaper Press in England, to the Repeal of the Stamp Act in 1855, with Sketches of Press Celebrities, With an Index – Alexander Andrews

" The Printer to the Reader: " Courteous reader ! we had thought to have given over printing our foreign avisoes, for that the licenser (out of a partial affection) would not oftentimes let pass apparent truth, and in other things (oftentimes) so crosse, and alter, which made us weary of printing; but he being vanished^ (and that office fallen upon another more understanding in these forraine affaires, and as you will find more candid) we are againe (by the favour of his Maiestie and the state) resolved to go on printing if we shall find the world to give a better acceptation of them (than of late), by their weekly buying them. It is well known these novels are well esteemed in all parts of the world (but heere) by the more judicious, which we can impute to no other but the discontinuance of them and the uncertaine daies of publishing them, which, if the poste fail us not, we shall keep a con stant day everie weeke therein, whereby everie man may constantly expect them, and so we take leave. January the 9th, 1640."

One thing is herein to be observed — the editorial " we" was already adopted by " the printer to the reader." The printer was then, and continued long afterwards to be, the ostensible director of the paper ; all letters, in the news papers of a century later, being addressed " to the printer," until about 1740, when they were occasionally addressed " to the author."

It would thus seem that the practice started with printers addressing their readers. In early journalism, the printers were the directors of the publication and presumably what we call editors, today.

history of British Journalism_Dec.1,1859 Publisher: Bentley

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