The history of news

News, as we know it today, may have evolved much, but what has remained constant is that news has always capitalized on the fact that there is an urge to gossip in all of us. The inherent nature of man to know what is going on around him and share it is made more apparent by the fact that long before enterprising individuals saw the commercial value of gathering and disseminating news, humans were already sharing bits of information about everything and everyone through word of mouth.

New York University Journalism and Mass Communication Professor Mitchell Stephens describes this obsessive need as a built-in instinct, a “survival factor.”

The word news is an English word that is a pluralized version of the word new. It has its roots in the late Middle English or old French word novels, as well as the Medieval Latin word nova (new things).

As the term implies, there is a flavor of newness or timeliness to news, as well as a quality of being out of the ordinary.

Evolution of News
In the old times, runners, couriers or messengers and criers were tasked to relay information, and people gathered at campfires and marketplaces to tell and listen to tales. Then, around 59 B.C., the earliest recorded newspaper called Acta Diurna appeared. Simply called Acta, these Roman official notices about trials and executions, government scandals, campaigns and other announcements were carved on stone or metal and displayed at the Forum of Rome or in other public message boards.

News sheets called tipao were commonly used in China during the late Han dynasty (2nd and 3rd centuries AD). When the Tang dynasty rolled in, Kaiyuan Za Bao or “Bulletin of the Court” became the norm. These were information about the goings-on in the government that were printed by hand on silk and read by government officials. Privately published news sheets emerged in Beijing around 1582, during the late Ming dynasty.

Then, German inventor, Johannes Gutenberg entered the picture and created the printing press in 1447 and soon newsletters and pamphlets were born. The first ever monthly newspaper for which readers paid a small coin called “gazetta” was published in Venice. Called Notizie scritte, it carried stories about politics, wars, and economics.

The modern newspaper has its roots in Europe.

  • Germany published the first printed newspaper, Relation, in 1609

but it was under heavy government restrictions and mainly tackled foreign news. Belgium published Nieuwe Tijdingen in 1616, while England had its London Gazette (1665). When the English government loosened restrictions in 1695, newspaper publications began to thrive.

By the1830s, high-speed presses could print publications in the thousands at such a low cost that major cities began publishing their own newspapers daily. Back then, political sponsorship was the name of the game in newspaper publication, but revenues from advertising started to gain ground in the 1900s.

Boston printed the first newspaper in the United States in 1690, called Publick Occurrences Both Foreign and Domestick. The paper was shut down by the Colonial government after its maiden issue and all copies were destroyed. In 1704, the first successful newspaper, The Boston News-Letter came out, albeit with limited circulation, and with each copy approved by the governor.

Kingston published the Weekly Jamaica Courant in 1718. Modeled after the London Gazette, it mainly contained information commonly published by English colonial newspapers: slave auctions, prices of commodities, stories about shipping, and advertisements. Like its predecessors, each issue of The Courant underwent censorship.

In 1719, the Boston Gazette followed suit and became the first successful newspaper in the Colonies. The first American daily was the Pennsylvania Evening Post, published in 1783. At this time there were 43 newspapers in print in America, and by 1814, 346 newspapers were in circulation.

Elsewhere in the world, the first Canadian newspaper, Halifax Gazette, was published in 1751. In sub-Saharan Africa, The Royal Gazette and Sierra Leone Advertiser, founded in 1801, became the first English-language newspaper. This was followed by The Royal Gold Coast Gazette and Commercial Intelligencer in 1822, and the Liberia Herald in 1826. These papers were mostly founded by the missionaries and published stories about the Europeans’ homeland.

Heavy censorship marred the publication of these colonial newspapers. In response, the locals published the first native African-language newspaper, the Muigwithania, which rebelled against the system and called for independence. The same stance was taken by other newspapers published by indigenous Africans during this period.

The concept of forming newspapers had a lukewarm reception in the Middle East where people mainly relied on word of mouth. Also, the Western World’s style of reporting did not sit well with the Arabs, so although the leaders of the Ottoman Empire monitored the news from the West, these were not disseminated to the public.

The earliest newspaper during the Ottoman Empire was printed in 1795 and was published fortnightly under the name of "Bulletin de Nouvelles." In 1796, it became "Gazette française de Constantinople" and then "Mercure Oriental" in 1797. This paper was mainly devoted to covering politics of Post-Revolutionary France with foreigners living in Istanbul as the main readers.

Muhammad Ali, the khedive or viceroy of Egypt, is credited as the one responsible for the rise of indigenous reporting in the Arab World. He initiated the publication of news bulletins called journals.

The first official gazette of the Ottoman Empire, "Moniteur Ottoman," was founded in 1831. This weekly publication was issued weekly and was written in French. Officials later ordered that it be written in the Turkish language and published under the name "Takvim-i Vekayi" (Calendar of Affairs).

In 1840, Englishman William Churchill published the first non-official Turkish newspaper, Ceride-i Havadis (Register of Events). Then in 1860, two Turkish journalists published the first private newspaper, Tercüman-ı Ahvâl (Interpreter of Events). This publication helped plant the seed of press freedom.

A Syrian poet, Riqallah Hassun, put up the first private newspaper in Arabic language, Mir'at al-ahwal, in 1855. However, the Syrian government put a stop to it for its critical stance. Several other newspapers were also founded in the provinces. In Lebanon, the private press flourished in the 1850s and 1860s.

The telegraph
The invention of the electric telegraph in 1844 enabled news to spread faster, in just a matter of minutes. Using electrical signals usually transmitted through dedicated telecommunication lines or radio, the telegraph served as the first form of electrical telecommunications and enabled news to become more centralized through wire services established in major cities.

In Paris, Charles Louis Havas founded the Bureau Havas, which was later renamed Agence France Press. A protégé, Bernhard Wolff, formed Wolffs Telegraphisches Bureau in Berlin in 1849. Another person associated with Havas, Paul Julius Reuter later founded the news agency, Reuters, in London. These three – Wolffs Telegraphisches Bureau, Bureau Havas, and Reuters -- formed the powerful triumvirate of telegraph monopoly in Europe during this era.

Around 1863, the Central Press agency was formed. Later renamed as the Press Association, the agency specialized in local news. Then Reuter formed news outposts in the British Empire in Alexandria, Bombay, Melbourne, Sydney, and Cape Town. In 1865, it scored a major scoop by reporting the Lincoln assassination 12 days after it happened. In the United States, meanwhile, the Associated Press was enjoying much success. Formed by five daily newspapers in New York City, AP proved that news can be a valuable commodity. By the middle of the 19th century, newspapers were considered the primary source of information, peaking between 1890 to 1920 when the print media attained it's “golden age.”

During this period, the likes of Joseph Pulitzer, William Randolph Hearst, and Lord Northcliffe formed media empires and enjoyed massive clout in the society.

Radio and television
In the 1920s, radio broadcasting emerged and provided serious competition to the print media in being the primary source of information. London’s British Broadcasting Company started radio transmission news in 1922. In May 1926, the General Strike of British workers in support of coal miners’ enforced pay-cuts, BBC took advantage of the fact that newspapers were closed, so radio became the primary disseminator of information during these turbulent times. However, the listening public was greatly dismayed when BBC showed apparent government leanings during the nine-day strike.

During World War II, American broadcast journalist Edward Murrow traveled to England and started broadcasting news about the war. Many Americans relied on Murrow’s broadcasts to keep them informed.

Americans relied even more heavily on radio broadcasts after the Pearl Harbor attacks. World War II provided the perfect backdrop for radio broadcasting to cement its status as the preferred source of quick updates about what was happening around the world.

Threatened by the popularity of its low-cost rival, newspapers were forced to improve their game to maintain readership, opting for expanded, in-depth news content. Then, just when newspapers thought they were safe, an even more powerful medium emerged: television.

Television further reshaped the way content is presented by providing visuals through live coverage and videos. Television is also a fast-paced, albeit less detailed medium; hence, it is considered by many as the most persuasive and influential medium for disseminating news.

Television news viewership dramatically increased in Britain and the United States in the 1950s, dislodging radio as the primary source of news by the 1960s. In the United States, TV news and radio broadcasting were owned and run by the same networks: NBC, CBS and ABC.

American businessman Ted Turner founded the Cable News Network (CNN) in 1980

which started the 24-hour satellite news programming. BBC introduced its own counterpart in 1991, the BBC World Service Television. Australian-born media mogul Rupert Murdoch joined the fray with Fox News Channel (U.S.), Sky News (Britain), and Star TV (Asia).

In Qatar, government-owned Al Jazeera emerged as a major global media organization, with 80 bureaus worldwide. Al Jazeera is perceived as a propaganda medium for the Qatari government and has been widely criticised for its perceived Islamist views and anti-Western stance.

Initially known as ARPANET during its early days, the internet was mainly used for academic purposes. In 1994, the Netscape browser was launched, paving the way for the Internet to be accessible to the general public.

Electronic Telegraph was an early online newspaper published by The Daily Telegraph. Among the first big stories to be reported in real time were the 1994 California earthquake and the Oklahoma City bombing. The Oklahoma City Daily, the San Jose Mercury News, as well as Time Magazine, posted content about major events on their sites.

By the late 1990s, many U.S. newspapers were posting news online, albeit with less depth, but more like a quick summary of events.

Within a decade, most major newspapers had online editions such as the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, The New York Times, and The Washington Post.

Web-only newspaper
Another trend emerged in which newspapers are run only in ‘soft-copy’ format or without its hard copy counterpart. Some examples are the weekly regional newspaper Southport Reporter and the daily Atlantic Highlands Herald.

The stiff competition provided by various news media channels prompted some traditional print publications to abandon print and go the online-only route, such as the Seattle Post-Intelligence, Caledonian Mercury, and The Yorkshire Times.

News aggregators
A news aggregator, also called feed reader, RSS reader, and feed aggregator is an app or website that consolidates news content from various online sources into a single page or application. The goal of aggregating news content is to help readers streamline and manage their online reading options to avoid being overwhelmed by the incessant bombardment of news updates.

News aggregators not only help readers keep up with the news of the day; they also help readers discover new and interesting information that may otherwise escape their radar. Examples of news aggregators include Flipboard, Google News, Pocket, Feedly, Inoreader, and News stream.


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