Early History of News in Ancient Times

Justin Tyler

When we think about news reporting, the first thing that probably comes to mind is the newspaper or the internet and social media. But how did people communicate news back in time before Newspapers and Internet existed. Not many people think about this today because it is a normal part of our life, to have internet, social media and access to information, but when we think about how people lived back then, we get a better understanding of how life was, and they didn’t have all these technologies that we today think is a need in life.

Historically news in ancient and medieval times mostly relayed on word of mouth and public display of News. According to Suetonius the earliest journalistic product comes from Rome 59 B.C. and was displayed in the Acta Diurna. News reporting may have been different than we know it today but already we can see similarities between back then and today. In the Roman Empire under Emperor Julius Caesar News was first recorded and distributed through out the Empire, but also acts in its colonies. Political news contained informations of upcoming events such as trials, gladiatorial contests, deaths, executions and marriages. After the death of Julius Caesar, Augustus his successor censored them again but it was maintained until the end of the Roman Empire in 476 A.D, according to New World Encyclopedia.

When we jump forward to 618 A.D. some major changes in news reporting can be seen.

During this time the Tang Dynasty ruled China which influenced and changed how news was reported in China. According to  Universal Class(a website which provides many online courses and helpful information to students), news were used to inform Government officials of relevant events. 

Development of Public News in Europe

Newspapers began to evolve in Europe in the 1600s, according to universal class,”The first indication of a regular news publication can be traced back to Germany in 1609”. This newspaper was published in Strasbourg, it contained brief news bulletins. Many were published following Johann Carolus’s 1609 Relation of Strassburg. Switzerland became the second to publish a newspaper in 1610. The invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in 1436 revolutionized how books and also now newspapers were made. Before that, books had to be written by hand and it took a long time to make copies.

 But with the printing press came also opposition and it was not tolerated everywhere.

“Earliest forays into keeping the public informed were met with government opposition in many cases. They attempted to impose censorship by placing restrictions and taxes on publishers,.”, according to universal class.

Many Governments opposed journalism.They didn’t want to keep the public informed. This shows how governments worked at that time and how they saw their power in danger by public information.

By the 1830s, magazines were common mass-circulated periodicals that appealed to a broader audience. Now after many years of public news a major change happened, while back then public news could only be read by people who could , during Medieval times some text were even in Latin. But now magazines are presenting pictures and Illustrated serials, aimed at a wider audience including people who couldn’t read, and also now more at the female audience.

Following magazines and newspapers agencies formed to take the place of independent publishers. People were hired to gather and write news reports. However this soon changed with the invention of the telegraph, followed by the radio, television and mass broadcasting.

History of News in North America

For publishers like Benjamin Harris it was very difficult to make their own newspapers and write what they want because the British also had the control over the news,  “In North America, publication of newspapers was deterred during colonial times by the long arm of the British law.” According to Britannica.

In North America Newspapers started out in 1690 with the first publisher Benjamin harris. But the newspapers were under control of the British government. One of the first public newspapers was the Boston Newsletter(1704) In which the war with france and the battles at sea are described. 

Political news plays also a big role in newspapers like the Boston newspaper. Different sides are made and one newspaper supports a candidate, while another one supports a different candidate.

As time went on new inventions came up which improved communication and spread of news over long distances, like the telegraph or telephone. Now news could be transmitted much faster and more efficiently than before. Before the Invention of the telegraph news like letters or messages had to be transported on trains or horse wagons which from the east coast to the west coast could take days.

By the end of the 19th century there were estimated 13,000 newspapers in the United States which equals the number of newspapers today. All these improvements of communication, and inventions lead to the news we have today.

Source: Wikipedia

Beginning of Broadcasting

Broadcasting started out with the invention of the radio in 1895, but the radio in the early years was mainly used to transmit information over long distances like the telegraph. It wasn’t until 1920 that the first public radio broadcast aired in Detroit. In the summer of 1920 radios were also adopted onboard ships, wireless was already in use on ships since the early 20th century, but was not common on every ship. But this all changed with the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic(the biggest ship in the world at that time) on April 15th 1912, the Titanic had wireless onboard, after hitting an Iceberg and with the ship beginning to sink the two wireless operators Jack Phillips and Harold Bride could send distress signals to other ships, which saved hundreds of lives. By the end of the 1920s and 1930s radio stations were more common and by 1939 28 million household had a radio, according to wire.com.

(Source: Silicon Republic via Andrea Borgnino)

When the Television was invented in 1927 it wasn’t a popular streaming device or even used by many. In the beginning it wasn’t really a tv that we have in mind today it looked something like this:


During the 1930s television development slowed done due to the Great Depression but in 1939 was back in development until 1941 when the U.S. entered WWII. By the early 1950s television was so popular that one half of homes in the U.S. had television. With the 1960s and 1970s color televisions became prominent. More and More advancements were made and development lead to the Tv’s we have today. 

With all these advancements many people could be reached, over the years the media grew, new channels went live and with that expanded their influence. Today News and TV and all these technologies are part of our life, watching the News in the morning or listening to the radio, but just 100 years ago nothing that we have today existed, no advanced technology. So as we move forward new things will come up that lead to new technologies, and people will wonder how could they manage life without these things?.