You would assume that some things were always here, like aspirin, only because they were always there during your lifetime. But when people talk about their extinctions, you can ask yourself, where do they come from? Today, I asked myself this question:
Who Invented the Newspaper?
The idea of reporting the news is certainly not a recent one. In fact, during the period of ancient Rome, there was the “Acta Diurna,” daily news carved in stone or metal before being presented in public places. The idea apparently came from Julius Caesar, but we will not credit him for the invention of the newspaper, because it was not the same thing.
In fact, the newspaper, as we know, came far later, in 1605. It was called the “Relation aller Fürnemmen und gedenckwürdigen Historien” and it was the first printed weekly newspaper. It was created by Johann Carolus in Strasbourg (still in Germany at that time), and others quickly follow as the newspaper was helped by the spread of the printing press—in fact, the two went hand in hand.
It was rudimentary newspapers, of course, but a lot of them started popping up around Europe during the first half of the 17th century. Some of them offered translations of foreign newspapers, like the French newspaper “Les Nouvelles ordinaires de divers endroits” founded by Jean Epstein and launched around 1631 which translated a lot of information from Germany into French. It was a controversial outlet though, and “Les Nouvelles” was quickly stopped by the power in place (the King!) and replaced by the officially approved “La Gazette” from Théophraste Renaudot.
In Britain, the press was at first limited to foreign affairs. Printer Nathaniel Butter (known for being the publisher of the first edition of Shakespeare’s King Lear in 1608) offered in 1621 a translation of the Dutch “corantos,” informational broadsheets collecting letters of news from multiple places (like Italy, Germany, Hungary, Spain, and France). In 1624, Butter partnered with colleague Nicholas Bourne to publish the Certain News of the Present Week, also known as the Weekly News. It was the first British newspaper, and it quickly inspired a lot of imitators.
The First Newspapers in America
In North America, the first attempt at a newspaper was before the independence of the United States was effective. Then, British law was not favorable to such an enterprise. Even so, a Londoner called Benjamin Harris used to publish “Domestick Intelligence: Or News both from City and Country,” a paper of local news, and moved to Boston in 1686 with the idea to do the same on the other side of the Atlantic. He published and edited the first American multi-page newspaper, “Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick,” starting in 1690. It was printed and distributed without a license which led Harris to jail after only one issue.
Not until 1704 an American newspaper lasted beyond the first issue. It was John Campbell’s “Boston News-Letter.” It became the Boston Gazette in 1719 with James Franklin as editor. It was an official newspaper, approved by the authorities. In 1721, James Franklin also launched the first independent American newspaper, the “New-England Courant.” His younger brother, Benjamin Franklin, worked for him, but moved to Philadelphia in 1728 and quickly took over the Pennsylvania Gazette. When the war for independence began in 1775, most newspapers supported the American Revolution—and one third of them didn’t survive the war, but new ones were quickly launched after that. In fact, newspapers played a big part in promoting patriotic ideas. After that, helped by the fact that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteed freedom of the press and freedom of speech, the newspaper industry flourished.
For more information about the history of journalism in America, you can read “Covering America: A Narrative History of a Nation’s Journalism” by Christopher B. Daly.