Happy Birthday to the newspaper - 400 and going strong
By Mike Hanlon
March 8, 2005
March 9, 2005 Mass media will celebrate its 400th birthday later this year when the newspaper, the first mass medium begins its fifth century of publication. The exact date of the first newspaper is not known, and was thought to have been during 1609 but recent evidence accepted by the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) pinpoints the year in which Strasbourg's Johann Carolus began printing his handwritten newsletters as 1605. Though radio, television, and the internet have long threatened to usurp print's status as the primary mass medium, the fact remains that print still garners more than half of the world's advertising expenditure.
Though the exact date at which Carolus began printing his previously handwritten newsletters is unclear, it is known that it was during the Northern hemisphere summer, and hence the Gutenberg Museum will celebrate the 400th anniversary with a big exhibition in July retracing the evolution of newspapers over their entire history.
The recently accepted evidence regarding Carolus' transition from handwriting to print of his newsletter "Relations: Aller Furnemmen" is steeped in irony. Carolus earned his living at the turn of the 17th century by producing hand-written newsletters, sold to rich subscribers at very high prices, reproducing news sent to him by a network of paid correspondents.
Original printed copies of the newsletter have been found dating back to 1609 and until recently, these were believed to have been the first printed "newspapers." The Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, Germany, which houses the world's first printing press, recently submitted to WAN a petition dated in October of 1605 from Carolus asking the Strasbourg city council for "protection against reprints by other printers".
Accordingly, the document which has effectively become the "birth certificate of the newspaper" was also the first copyright petition.
"The evidence is compelling and I think we can all say Happy - 400th - Birthday this year to the print newspaper!", said Timothy Balding, the WAN Director General. "Our Executive Committee has examined all the facts and has been persuaded that the story stands up".
Martin Welke, founder of the German Newspaper Museum, who is also the 'father' of the discovery together with Professor Jean Pierre Kintz, a Strasbourg historian, explains that Carolus, "in 1604, ... bought a complete printing shop from the widow of a famous printer."
"In the summer of 1605 he switched to printing his ... newspapers, because it took him 'too much time copying by hand'".
Carolus also calculated that he could earn a lot more money "by printing a higher circulation for a lower price," said Dr Welke.
Today, more than a billion people a day, across the planet, read a daily newspaper in print according to WAN.
The Gutenberg Museum will celebrate the 400th anniversary with a big exhibition in July retracing the evolution of newspapers over their entire history. Dr Welke is the trustee of this jubilee event; Timothy Balding will make a speech at the inauguration.
The history of the newspaper and the technological advances from Gutenberg to now are particularly well detailed in this article by Clark Robinson on the Newspapers Association of America web site.
The article chronicles most of the major advances being the invention of lithography, the invention of the steam powered printing press, Louis Daguerre's invention of practical photography, du Hauron's Colour photographic process and Mergenthaler's Linotype Machine, though it has omitted the important work done by Geschke and Warnock at Adobe systems.
Finally, for those who want the detailed history of paper, written communication, print, the origins of books and the early history of mass communication, look no further than this wonderful resource at New York University entitled "History of Newspapers" by Mitchell Stephens for Collier's Encyclopedia.