“The Revolutionary Evolution of the Media”: “Official” Plus the Increasingly Popular “News” – Paul S. Maxwell

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Cover image for  article: “The Revolutionary Evolution of the Media”: “Official” Plus the Increasingly Popular “News” – Paul S. Maxwell

“The Revolutionary Evolution of the Media” Continues

This is a book in progress … How a changing world has made media what it is today.

Go here to read the previous chapters.

Chapter 5, Part 2

The 16th Century brought more and more conflicts. Theses forced newly formed and even older countries to have to become more organized and to build larger and larger armies. More organization and larger armies led to more and more taxes. (Kind of sounds like the US experiences in the Middle East today, doesn’t it?)

More and more taxes led to the need to explain things a little better to the growing number of literate citizens. In the early years of the century in France alone, King Francis 1 published about 2% of edicts, new taxes and new laws issued. Just a half-century later, Francis II published over 20%. Not only were taxes and armies growing, but prosperous printers were too.

In England, the religious changes brought by Henry VIII and his turn against the Pope created needs for new sacraments. The protestant sacraments further instituted by his son Edward VI also enriched London’s printers. And the quick switch back to Catholicism under Mary made the once-banned and burned Roman sacraments necessary – for a time – again.

To quell and silence the printers, Queen Mary also introduced a ban on “religious controversy” (whatever that might mean). She re-instituted the formal national church, banned any other and even banned unlicensed plays. Monarchs all over Europe copied her. Or rather copied part of it … Mary lost her head over a plot to assassinate the lady who would become Queen Elizabeth I.

Later in the 16th Century and again in Germany, the broadsheet (in the broadest, lewdest sense) was born with coverage of gruesome executions of criminals and heretics (again). Elaborate woodcuts exhibited detailed accounts of, for example, how a young German apprentice murdered a 10-year old girl and dismembered her. These broadsheets were an early example of “if it bleeds, it leads.”

In 1557, a rather eccentric Swiss clergyman named Johann Jakob Wick was appointed to the Zurich Cathedral. And he loved those broadsheets. Working under Heinrich Bullinger, one of Europe’s most connected men as part of network of corresponders who traded in news of note, Wick began collecting the broadsheets filing them in annual volumes until his death in 1588. Among his eclectic sources was the Zurich printer Christoph Foschauer who would bring back copies from the Frankfurt Fair annual gathering of printers showing off their best examples.

Wick had four separate examples of the crime apprentice-dismembers-girl story, a harbinger of the black-and-white-and-red-all-over that would come to characterize the “news.”

Other gruesome crime stories were often printed in illustrated strips not unlike today’s graphic novels … but shorter.

One strip concerned Blasius Endres murder of his wife – for stealing money from his hidden stash – and their six kids who lived in Wangen, about 90 miles north of Zurich.

Not content with real crimes, many printers turned to tales of witchcraft spurring the witch-crazes of the 16th and 17th Centuries … spilling out of Europe in the newly settle New World.

While the Roman Church was skeptical of this media rush to witches, the newly Protestant churches were less so, particularly the Lutheran preachers who emphasized the struggle between Jesus and the Devil.
One Austrian Catholic, a man named Henry Kramer who fancied himself a one-man Inquisitor went so far as to write and publish Malleus Maleficarum, a primer on how to identify witches and how to prosecute them. One pamphlet that later became a sensationalized broadsheet covered the actions of a woman in the Black Forest town of Schiltach … the lady set the town on fire, was caught, named a “devil” and executed. It became a major media throughout Germany.

With the broadsheets, news had changed from missives exchanged to a commercial transaction … at less than a penny per.

The rulers of expanding nation states struggling to manage wars noticed how printing stories could lead to changes in attitudes, not to mention hysteria.

What were their next steps?

Next week: Chapter 5, Part 3 –– The State Responds to News … With Embassies and Espionage

In an almost 50-year career writing and reporting on media, Paul S. Maxwell started and/or ran some 45-plus publications ranging from CATV Newsweekly to Colorado Magazine to CableVision to Multichannel News to CableFAX and The BRIDGE Suite of daily newsletters and research publications. In between publishing stints, Maxwell served as an advisor and/or consultant to a number of major media companies and media start-ups including running a unit of MCI and managing a partnership of TCI and McGraw-Hill.

Send any and all criticisms, suggestions, rants, threats, corrections, etc. to him at cablemax@mac.com. He has a new Web site coming soon!

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