Newspapers today are having a bit of a crisis. The internet is changing the way people get their news, leaving a dwindling audience willing to pay for their daily paper.
But it’s probably about time the industry had a shakeup. The daily rag has had a good run – 313 years, to be precise.
Before 1695, the press was severely restricted by the Licensing of the Press Act 1662, which was passed to prevent the “frequent Abuses in printing seditious treasonable and unlicensed Bookes and Pamphlets and for regulating of Printing and Printing Presses.”
It also enshrined the position of the Stationers’ Company in law, meaning nobody was allowed to print without their say so. And so a lot of early pamphlets and ‘corantos’ – digests of foreign news – were printed in Amsterdam. The only real official paper was the London Gazette.
But the Act lapsed in 1695, the monopoly was broken and the press was free (ish) to print what it liked. Even so, it took a while for papers to take off.
And it wasn’t until this day in 1702 that Elizabeth Mallet published the first edition of The Daily Courant, the world’s first daily newspaper.
The Courant was a single sheet with two columns, and adverts on the back. It carried digests of news from foreign papers, and Mallet herself (writing as a him) claimed only to provide the facts, and to let the reader make up their own minds, saying: “Nor will [the Author] take it upon himself to give any Comments or Conjectures of his own, but will relate only Matter of Fact; supposing other People to have Sense enough to make Reflections for themselves.”
Fittingly for the first newspaper, Mallet’s premises were situated “Next door to the King’s Arms Tavern by the Ditch-side near Fleet Bridge”. Fleet Street had been a centre of the printing industry since William Caxton’s contemporary Wynkyn de Worde set up business there in 1500.