Newspapers are both a business and a service to society. Fortunes have been made through selling them, and the lives of readers have been enriched and informed by them. They not only inform, but archive, serving as a great primary and secondary source of history.
The ancient Romans contributed so much to society in the modern West. Their roads inspired modern freeways, and their form of government inspired later governments. But, the Chinese had newspapers before the Romans, publishing their “tipao”, government news sheets, as early as 202 B.C.
The Acta Diurna were government newspapers published by ancient Rome; they may not have been written on ‘paper,’ per se, but on many different mediums, starting in 59 B.C. all the way through as late as 222 A.D.
These were hand written publications, written on stone tablets, lead plates, papyrus, vellum or parchment, and posted on bulletin boards. Many people do believe these were the invention of newspapers, the inspiration for later varieties, but the Han Dynasty invented the concept of distributing news via a medium other than word of mouth some 157 years before Rome.
The tipao of China were in the form of a gazette, and were government publications that were distributed to bureaucrats, and sometimes a subset of bureaucrats. The bureaucrats disseminated information to the public from these papers in the form of bulletins or word of mouth.
Similarly, the Roman Acta Diurna were government publications, but they were posted directly to the citizenry. So, one might say that officially, these were the first news ‘publications’. These were written by what could be compared to modern reporters, called ‘acturii’, who were responsible for composing the missives.
Today’s newspapers, however, do much more than the Acta Diurna and the tipao. The modern invention of newspapers as a ‘paper’ product that disseminates noteworthy events on a regular basis may be attributed to Johan Carolus of Strasbourg, Germany.
Carolus created a periodical called “Relation”, which was dubbed with a more complete moniker: “Relation aller Fürnemmen und gedenckwürdigen Historien” (Account of All Distinguished and Commemorable News).
Carolus had been hand-writing news sheets for dignitaries, and decided a printing press would be much more expedient, and free some of his time. He purchased the printing press in 1605, and began the first ‘newspaper’ in Europe. In the form that we know in the modern age, this could be seen as the birth/invention of the newspaper.
Newspapers in the format we know followed soon after Carolus’s “Relation”, and no real changes in format emerged for quite some time after.
The World Association of Newspapers holds that Carolus’ paper is indeed the first newspaper, in spite of other opinions against it, since Carolus’ ‘paper’ was printed in book form.
Beating a Dead Horse
Many people today no longer get a newspaper, the printed form of legacy papers like “The New York Times” or “The Washington Post.” Technology has people tied to their devices, carrying around smartphones and tablets that are connected to the internet.
Newspapers have had to evolve, and to create online and app versions of their publications, reducing them back down to smaller than the size of the originals in China and Rome, but yet with so much more information.