And there was no such thing as journalism until the 1600s?

There was no such thing as a newspaper—published, periodical, printed, present-centered. There was no such thing as journalism—an arena of human activities differentiated from others, with its own definition; a social domain that people might understand themselves to be vocationally or avocation- ally a part of; a set of ideas and practices at least partially distinct from other fields.

This does not mean there was no such thing as news, the gathering of news, and the dissemination of news. Whenever language developed, surely there were people who shouted to others in their group something like, "Run! A predator!"

Surely there were some ancient ancestors of Captain Ahab who called out to their crew, "Whale on the starboard bow!" And no doubt after writing developed, people passed notes to one another with news like "Enemy troops sighted just over the mountain" or "Amy loves Brian." These are all items of relevant information about the present. But that is a long way from journalism as a distinguishable social function and specialized pursuit.

Before there were newspapers, sermons sometimes had news-like purposes. Sermons were periodical, published for a known community but one that might at any Sunday include also some strangers. Sermons might even be printed later, in book form, although by then their value as news of current affairs would have expired. We know that more than a few sermons in England in the late 1500s and early 1600s shared with parishioners information about the outcome of military battles abroad, putting them in the context of God's intentions. But sermons, even when they provided some world news, were delivered for religious purposes in a distinctively religious setting. Important church-sponsored newspapers notwithstanding, the lineage of the newspapers that for four hundred years would be the heart of journalism goes back to states, parties, and commerce, not churches.

There were scattered impulses toward organized provision of news as public communication, at least as far back as ancient Rome, but they left no legacy for what would become journalism as we have known it since the 1600s. In China, a court gazette had been published for a thousand years before Peking Gazette was established early in the eighteenth century, but its audience was court officials, not a general public. The first recognizably modern newspapers in China began in the nineteenth century under the initiative of Protestant missionaries.

The recency of newspapers and of journalism should not seem odd. Storytelling is old but novels in the West appear as a narrative form in the 1700s. Humans have presumably always been curious and inquiring but organized science begins as a distinctive vocation, field, and pursuit in the 1600s. People have likewise always had interest in novel developments around them, but a field centered on regularly disseminating notice of and commentary about these topical events (or some subset of them) has been organized as an intentional pursuit for only about four hundred years.

 
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