Pettigree, a scholar of the Reformation and early modernity at St. Andrews, writes an engaging tale of how people gathered, sought, bought and sold information in Renaissance and Enlightenment Europe. He begins with the manuscript newsletters circulated on subscription by well-informed men of letters in Italy, carrying news of trade and political gossip, and continues with the Holy Roman Empire’s postal system — today’s taxis are named for its founders, the Tassis — and then the printed broadsides, pamphlets, and eventually serials circulated among German burgs, to the rough-and-tumble of early newspapers and journals. It is thorough, enjoyable, and well worth your time. And publication never paid for itself: along with subscriptions and sales, the serial publications of early modern Europe quickly turned to advertising to make ends meet.
Much has changed, and little: the royal monopolies of London’s or Paris’ Gazette would be familiar to readers of Xinhua or Interfax, and censorship as familiar to readers of what remains of the Turkish press as to Milton. So, too, the well-informed still send around their newsletters, whether they sell investment advice, or have ‘curated’ different sorts of information (like the excellent @PrufrockNews); even the editors of major newspapers defend their established platform with newsletters, hoping to drive ‘traffic’ to their publications.
Blogs, and platforms like Tumblr and Medium, are likewise the imitators of the pamphleteers., and perhaps later early literary and intellectual journals, with less regular publication, ‘opinion’ pieces, and focused advocacy on certain topics. As he closes the book, Pettigree looks about, and seeing the difficulties of the newspapers, alongside the flowering of less-professional writing online aimed at information, persuasion and entertainment, reflects that the future of news may in many respects resemble the messy past he has recounted for his readers.
Indeed, gentle reader, this is where we fit. We, the editors of The Banterer, hope you will find our little journal pleasing, informative, and useful. We are not ‘journalists,’ as that is usually meant, and we do not pretend to any especial information: but we are immensely interested in this world, and hope that what we deliver here will interest you, as well.