The News Letter is one of Northern Ireland's main daily newspapers, published Monday to Saturday. It is the oldest English language general daily newspaper still in publication in the world, having first been printed in 1737.
The newspaper's editorial stance and readership, while originally republican, is strongly unionist. Its primary competitors are the Belfast Telegraph and the Irish News. The News Letter has changed hands several times since the mid-1990s, and since 2005 is owned by the Johnston Press holding company Johnston Publishing (NI). The full legal title of the newspaper is the "Belfast News Letter" though the word Belfast does not appear on the masthead any more.
Founded in 1737, the News Letter was printed in Joy's Entry in Belfast. The Joys were a family of Huguenot descent who added much to eighteenth-century Belfast, noted for their compiling materials for its history. Francis Joy, the father of Henry and Robert, had come to Belfast early in the century from the County Antrim village of Killead. In Belfast, he married the daughter of the town sovereign, and set up a practice as an attorney. In 1737, he obtained a small printing-press which was in settlement of a debt, and used it to publish the town's first newspaper at the sign of 'The Peacock' in Bridge Street. The family later bought a paper mill in Ballymena, and were able to produce enough paper not only for their own publication but for the whole province of Ulster.
Originally published three times weekly, it became daily in 1855. The title is now located in the Boucher Road industrial estate in the south of Belfast.
The Belfast News Letter published news of the American Declaration of Independence in its August 23, 1776 edition. According to the newspaper's owners:" The News Letter can claim the first genuine "world exclusive". The boat carrying the first copy to leave America of the Declaration of Independence, and bound for London, hit stormy waters off the north coast of Ireland. The boat sought refuge in Londonderry port and arrangements were made for the declaration to be sent on horseback to Belfast, where it would be met by another ship for delivery to King George III.
Somehow, and in the best traditions of revelatory journalism, the News Letter editor of the day gained access to the priceless document and duly published it on the front page of the August 23, 1776 edition. Today there is a constant demand for copies of that famous and historical front page." - The Belfast Newsletter.
However the London Chronicle was the first to print the Declaration in full in its August 15-17 1776 edition.
Before the partition of Ireland in 1922, the News Letter was distributed island-wide.
The paper publishes several weekly and infrequent supplements, such as Farming Life and Catwalk. It also prints many titles for other publishers including Trinity Mirror and Guardian Media Group. It also prints the Ulster-Scots Agency publication, The Ulster-Scot.