Little Bits of History

Freedom of the Press?

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 11, 2010

The Daily Courant

March 11, 1702: The Daily Courant launches as the first English language daily newspaper. It was first published by Edward Mallet and consisted of one page in two columns that promised to “give news daily and impartially” and focused primarily on foreign news. “Courant” had the meaning of “au courant” or current.

Newspapering is a way to keep the public informed, especially before the age of instant transmission of data. However, even newspapers had problems. The printing press was invented in 1436, but printing newspapers would have been foolish. Illiteracy was common, paper and in ink were expensive, and printing was still difficult. Before newspapers, official government bulletins were circulated by carving notices in metal or stone and posting them in public places. In China the had news sheets, called tipao, that circulated inside the court. In the sixth century, news was printed on silk and read to the crowds.

Europe’s first newspaper came in 1556 when the Venetian government began printing a monthly edition. These were handwritten and passed from person to person. The German’s first paper came in 1605 while the Dutch followed in 1618. The Dutch paper came as a folio, or single page printed. The first English language paper was printed in Amsterdam in 1620. The paper was printed in England in 1621 and was filled with news from the Continent. The first successful daily paper was The Daily Courant.

Even in the 1700s, it was necessary to be careful. It was seen, at the time, as possibly deleterious to the Crown. Recklessness and misuse of information might undercut authority. In fact, the April 12, 1712 edition of The Daily Courant caused the Crown to notice the little paper and bring a suit of malicious libel against the press. By 1735, the paper was out of business and taken over by The Daily Gazetteer. It has been stated by no less authority than Prince Charles, The Daily Courant was “the victim of the swing of a ministerial axe.”

“Half of the American people have never read a newspaper. Half never voted for President. One hopes it is the same half.” – unknown

“To us, who are regaled every morning and evening with intelligence, and are supplied from day to day with materials for conversation, it is difficult to conceive how man can consist without a newspaper, or to what entertainment companies can assemble” – Samuel Johnson

“The evil that men do lives on the front pages of greedy newspapers, but the good is oft interred apathetically inside” – Brooks Atkinson

“Early in life I had noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper” George Orwell

Also on this day, in 1864 the Great Sheffield Flood took place.

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