History of News

Posted by
August 7, 2017

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The desire to be informed, to be in the know, is in one respect as old as human society itself. In ancient times this desire was fulfilled by news that travelled by word of mouth from person to person. People were suspicious of information that came to them in written form. The credibility of a news report was directly proportional to the reputation of the person who delivered it. So news report by a trusted messenger was far more believable than an anonymous report. Kings, merchants, governors and other appointees were the first consumers of news and also its most likely suppliers. They were aware of the value of knowledge, foreknowledge, and the perils of acting on false hoax.

The Romans were one of the first to understand that control of news was an essential attribute of power. They developed extensive, high quality network of roads on which they deployed the cursus publicus, a state run courier system. A series of forts and stations were spread out along the major road systems connecting the regions of the Roman world. News was carried by messengers on horsebacks. These relay points (stationes) provided horses to dispatch riders, usually soldiers, and vehicles for magistrates or officers of the court.

All this changed around 1440 in Mainz, Germany, Gutenberg’s machine improved on already existing presses through the use of a mould that allowed for the rapid production of lead alloy type pieces. This assembly line method of copying books enabled a single printing press to create as many as 3,600 pages per day. By 1500 over 1,000 Gutenberg presses were operating in Europe, and by 1600 they had created over 200 million new books. The printing press not only made books affordable for the common person, but it helped spark the Age of Enlightenment and facilitated the spread of new and often controversial ideas. Prior to the rise of the Internet, no innovation did more for the spread and democratization of news and knowledge than Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press. The printing press proved so influential in prompting revolutions, religious upheaval and scientific thought that Mark Twain would later write, “What the world is today, good and bad, it owes to Gutenberg.”

If there was ever a time that news first became a commercial commodity it occurred in the 90 years between 1440 and 1530 following the invention of printing. The technological innovation enabled publishers to experiment with shorter and cheaper books compared to scholarly and theological manuscripts that had dominated the market. It was in 16th century that for the first time in history, news became a part of the mass market and popular culture. However, this created one acute problem: Corroboration. The earlier model of news transfer allowed people to assess the credibility of the news by the person delivering it but the same was not possible in a market flooded with newspapers and reports from unknown and anonymous writers. Different sources often had conflicting reports. Fortunes turned, fates reversed and kingdoms rose or fell by acting on the right or sometimes wrong information.

The business of News primarily relied on the following 4 factors:

  1. Speed
  2. Reliability
  3. Content
  4. Value

From 17th century to the 19th century there was rapid development and continuous improvement of existing systems of communication and news.

The next major technological shift came at the dawn of the 20th century with the invention of radio and television. People could now transmit news across the world without having to travel or send a messenger. Now, owners of the media transmitted news to anyone who owned an operational television or radio. A new industry was created and for the first time in history more people could be reached than ever before – This was the birth of Mass Media. The triumvirate monopoly of radio, newspaper and television penetrated millions of households. However, it’s greatest strength was also it’s greatest folly: People were served news at a large scale, all at once and all the same.

Excerpt from – The Future of Online News Media: For Bloggers, Startups and Media Organizations ( https://www.amazon.in/Future-Online-News-Media-Organizations-ebook/dp/B071YYN27V )

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