Let’s face it: we all have news cycle fatigue.
If it’s not struggling to find reliable
sources online, then it’s figuring out how
to sift through the myriad of competing (and
sometimes conflicting) headlines that roll
across our TV screens, cell phones and social
But when did the news, in all of these varied
and sundry forms, become integral to our lives?
And why do we even follow it?
Desire to help and empathize?
Our answers will vary from story to story,
but one thing is certain.
We live in a culture in which the news has
become almost impossible to ignore.
Today I’m giving you guys the inside scoop
the history of the news.
We will talk about when and how letting the
public know what has been happening domestically
and globally became an international phenomenon.
In his book, Mitchell Stephens defines news
as “new information about a subject of some
public interest that is shared with some portion
of the public.”
Stephens also provides a useful chronology
of how the news came to be.
Since humans have existed, they have wanted
to share their news.
We might imagine cavemen grunting and signaling
furiously to warn of an imminent attack, smoke-signals,
stories of Greek messengers running to tell
about military victories, speakers ascending
to the platform at the Roman forum to present
political edicts, and West African griots
who shared news and oral traditions within
their own communities.
Eventually, oral reports evolved into written
Julius Caesar ordered the daily records of
Senate proceedings (or acta) to be posted
Some upper class Romans even got their own
hand-written copies to read at home.
However, it was the Chinese Han dynasty, and
not the Romans, who according to legend invented
paper in 105 CE.
By the time of the T’ang dynasty (which
began in 618 CE), tipao or official newsletters,
were distributed widely among the elites.
With the invention of block printing, it became
possible to quickly create multiple copies
of these tipaos.
At the start of the 11th century, a Chinese
artisan named Pi Sheng even developed a way
to use moveable type to make prints.
However, this invention wasn’t terribly
practical for a language that relied on so
many discrete characters.
That said, the idea did not go away.
In the 13th century, the Koreans made the
first moveable type blocks out of metal.
Around 1439, the German goldsmith, Johann
Gutenberg, developed his own version of a
movable type-based press system.
By 1450, his letter press made it possible
to mass produce books, pamphlets and other
Gutenberg’s invention ushered in a new era
of mass communication and helped expand literacy
throughout the Continent.
Common people no longer depended on a town
crier or a single page posted in town to learn
what was going on locally.
They also were able to find out about events
in other parts of the world.
Access to news had skyrocketed.
But of course, the circulation of new ideas
often threatens those in power.
And new modes of communication lead to new
kinds of censorship.
In Renaissance Spain, King Ferdinand and Queen
Isabella required all printed materials to
be licensed and approved in advance by government
or church authorities.
And in the 16th century, the English monarchy
also regulated printed works to be licensed.
In France, from the mid-16th century though
the French revolution, circulating defamatory
pamphlets could be punishable by death.
Despite these laws, the appetite for news
But so did the desire to make a profit from
This brings us to the birth of the newspaper.
Stephens explains that most scholars agree
that newspapers must:
First, be available to a sizeable portion
of the public.
Second, be published regularly and frequently.
Third, contain multiple stories in each issue.
And fourth, have a consistent and recognizable
title or format.
The Venetian gazette was a precursor to the
During the 16th century, Venice was an important
center of commerce and a place in which information
was exchanged between Europe and the Ottoman
Since a sheet of hand-written news sold for
a gazeta (a Venetian coin of little value),
these papers became known as a gazeta de la
novità—a halfpenny’s worth of news.
The French termed this the gazette.
The Venetian gazette fit all the characteristics
that I just listed, except for one.
Its circulation was limited by an odd anachronism:
these gazettes were still being written by
It wasn’t until the 17th century, in Germany,
that printing the news for mass consumption
The two oldest examples of printed European
newspapers date from the same year, 1609.
We might think of this as being a moment in
which the public appetite for printed news
really took off.
The oldest surviving newspaper that was printed
in the English language was a single-page
collection of news items cribbed from foreign
It was called a coranto and it was published
in Amsterdam in 1620.
It was a sort-of highlight reel of the stories.
The oldest surviving coranto that was printed
in England was published in 1621.
It was called “Corante, or Newes from Italy,
Germany, Hungarie, Spaine and France” and
contained news items translated from German
Between 250 and 850 copies of each coranto
were printed in this series.
The circulation of printed materials was a
powerful tool for swaying public opinions
of those in power.
But reporting the news was, and still is,
a very dangerous business.
So much so that, for the remainder of the
17th century, English newspapers were heavily
censored from reporting domestic news and
largely stuck to commenting on foreign affairs.
It wasn’t until the Licensing Act expired
in 1695, that it became possible for these
papers to publish political arguments about
debates within England.
The British reading public suddenly had access
to journals of opinion that were produced
by the likes of Jonathan Swift and Daniel
According to Stephens, this began a tradition
in the English press of presenting skillfully-argued
opinion pieces alongside business news, updates
on scientific discoveries and advertisements.
In the 18th century, as the nuts and bolts
of the printing business were being worked
out, more theoretical questions were being
asked related to the role of the press in
This is particularly the case on the other
side of the Atalantic.
In the US, the concept of a “free press”
was integral to a notion of national identity.
In 1765, the British imposed the Stamp Act,
which required printers to pay for a stamp
on each piece of paper that they used.
The protests ranged from non-compliance, heated
printed arguments, and the printing of alternative
images to the stamp.
These protests made it difficult for the British
to enforce the act and it was eventually repealed.
In The Creation of the Media, Paul Starr argues
that laws promoting the free exchange of ideas
have been integral to the development of the
American news industry.
For example, the Constitution protected rights
to free expression and the Bill of Rights
mostly denied the federal government the authority
to regulate the press.
Around the same time, the US Postal Service,
a centralized government agency, had the potential
to provide the government a means of censoring
the news, but largely didn’t.
It guaranteed postal privacy and subsidized
the growth of independent newspapers by providing
lower postal rates for their distribution.
This also coincided with the development of
new technologies that made news distribution
In 1810, a German printer named Friedrich
Koenig started working on a printing press
that was connected to a steam engine.
A year later, he and a German engineer named
Andreas Bauer, designed a model that could
make 1,100 impressions an hour.
In 1843, American Richard Hoe created his
rotary printing press, which could print millions
of copies of a page in a day.
And in the 1880s, German American immigrant
Ottmar Mergenthaler, invented a machine that
enabled a writer to type words on a keyboard
that would be immediately set in molten metal.
And in the 1880s: photographs began to appear
And a picture’s worth a thousand words.
Much as ways of printing the news were evolving,
so were methods of getting those inside scoops
out to eager readers.
After Samuel Morse’s public demonstration
of the telegraph in 1844, newspapers began
sending correspondents into the field.
Soon it became clear that good reporting was
not merely observation.
Reportage required trained journalists, who
used what came to be known as the journalistic
method, which Stephens defines as, “…the
pursuit of independently verifiable facts
about current events through enterprise, observation
By the start of the 20th century, new advancements
in radio technology revolutionized the way
that Americans received news.
The first American radio news program was
broadcast on August 31, 1920 by station 8MK
Starr claims: “Relative to the press in
the United States, American broadcasting was
more centralized, more subject to government
control, less diverse, and less open to ideological
The federal government had actually been regulating
the airwaves since 1912, when the Radio Act
gave the Department of Commerce the power
to license radio transmitters.
As more American radio stations emerged, disputes
arose over the right to control various frequencies.
But the transition from printed newspapers
to 24 hour TV news went through a few evolutions
in medium along the way.
As an increasing number of Americans relied
on radio news (particularly during the Great
Depression), radio journalists adopted a new
style to hold the attention of a listening
They kept the detached perspective of print
journalists, but simplified their sentence
structure and choices of words.
This style carried over into another revolutionary
medium: the newsreel.
This was a short documentary film that contained
news stories and was presented at cinemas
between the 1910s to the 1960s.
Newsreels adapted the detached perspective
(and simplified language) of radio journalists.
However, the new medium had a powerful advantage–it
could use moving images not only to tell a
story, but also to entertain theatre-goers.
This early combination of information and
entertainment is familiar to those who watch
television news today.
In 1940, the first regularly-scheduled television
news broadcast was basically a simulcast of
a radio show: Lowell Thomas’s news cast
A year later, CBS offered two daily news programs
on weekdays, all anchored by Richard Hubbell.
Over time, television news relied on images
more heavily to give viewers the sense that
they, too, were witnessing history as it unfolded.
For decades, a few networks held the monopoly
on both morning and evening news.
But in 1980, Ted Turner launched the first
24-hour news operation, CNN, followed in the
1990s by competitors like Fox News, MSNBC,
Al-Jazeera, and this kinda new thing called
home internet access and personal computers.
With the explosion of the internet, many people
now have unprecedented access to live news—either
on their own devices or on public computers.
And with this access, many people have become
less reliant on professional journalism.
We have more ways to participate in a story,
rather than just to watch it happen.
We can voice our opinion, donate to
causes, reach out to someone who has been
Furthermore, we can also broadcast our own
versions of personal “news” that are often
kind of trivial like witnessing our special
lunches or beholding our glorious offspring,
or we can upload eye-witness accounts of large-scale
events (think of videos from rallies or big
People who aren’t trained journalists actually
produce a larger portion of the “news”
than ever before.
So what does it mean to participate in the
news cycle like this?
Have we become more connected and more useful
members of our society?
Or might our non-stop exposure to news events
cause “compassion fatigue” or indifference
to the suffering of others?
Worse yet, might we turn to the news as a
form of entertainment—if viewing the misfortunes
of others simply reminds us that we are not,
in fact, suffering in quite the same way?
These are knotty questions that tie, very
closely into our understanding of what it
means to be human and to what it means to
be a member of an increasingly interconnected