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Amidst the political turbulence of the English Civil War, and during the democratic experiments of the Interregnum, a pivotal moment in the evolution of journalism as we know it occurred. Historians of news have referred to the mid-seventeenth-century epoch as a ‘laboratory” for early journalism, as the technical and administrative framework for the invention of the modern newspaper was established.1)Martin Conboy, Journalism: A Critical History (London: SAGE, 2004), 29; and Anthony Smith, The Newspaper: An International History (London: Thames and Hudson, 1979), 12. During this tumultuous time of civil unrest, for what might be fairly called the first time in English history, there were three factors that allowed early journalism to flourish: there was a growing thirst for regular domestic news; there was a ready supply of domestic news; and finally, as the political climate grew more chaotic, the traditionally tight censorship laws collapsed and there was room to release this news.2)Nicholas Brownlees, The Language of Periodical News in Seventeenth-Century England (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2014[2011]), 97.

As with any historiographical era, the development of print culture and news media is far more complex than meets the eye. Leading news historian Joad Raymond warns his readers that the development of news should not be seen as a seamless progression from oral culture through manuscript culture to print culture, as a perfect parallel to the expansion of political franchise and the replacement of ancient regimes with modern democracies.3)Joad Raymond, The Invention of the Newspaper: English Newsbooks 1641-1649 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 5. This story has “all the properties of the classic Whig model of history,” he says, referring to the telescopic view that historians often fall prey to.4)Ibid. Instead, we must view this period as an episode within an ever-changing climate, in which the “newsbook” writer—the seventeenth-century journalist—experimented with varying editorial styles and forms, while political powers on both sides of the Civil War desperately attempted to hold onto licensing authority while also tiptoeing into the production of newsbooks themselves once they were forced to recognize its potential.

Header image credit: Adapted by Ross Casswell with inspiration and thanks to the British Library, Ashmolean Collection, Bodelian Library.

References   [ + ]

1. Martin Conboy, Journalism: A Critical History (London: SAGE, 2004), 29; and Anthony Smith, The Newspaper: An International History (London: Thames and Hudson, 1979), 12.
2. Nicholas Brownlees, The Language of Periodical News in Seventeenth-Century England (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2014[2011]), 97.
3. Joad Raymond, The Invention of the Newspaper: English Newsbooks 1641-1649 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 5.
4. Ibid.