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The News, Oh Boy

invention of news"The hegemony of the daily newspaper was briefer and less heroic than its present champions may apprehend," writes Jeffrey Collins in a Wall Street Journal review of The Invention of News, by Andrew Pettegree (4/14/14). "In the Middle Ages … news was the privilege of lords and popes … Modest folk relied on royal proclamations, church sermons or the ballads of ‘news singers‘ … by the 16th century elites subscribed to services offering manuscript ‘new-books,’ scribally copied and dearly priced."

With the "invention of the printing press in the 15th century … news was an irresistible market opportunity and printers moved to seize it." However, "serial newspapers only appeared in the 17th century" and were "dominated by foreign dispatches. In an age of censorship, the reporting of domestic politics was a risky proposition … early newspapers often acted as ‘propaganda vehicles’ for princes … for nearly two centuries newspapers were something of a niche market," with reporting "dominated by pamphlets."

It wasn’t until the "end of the 18th century" that the "modern newspaper" arrived — a product of the French Revolution. "The French Revolution," Andrew writes, "was arguably the first European event to which a periodical press was truly indispensable … The great age of the daily newspaper was at hand." This was made possible by the collapse of censorship and "an almost inexhaustible supply of subject matter," leading to the birth of "advocacy journalism." Newspapers became "the characteristic organ of revolutionary debate."