Friday, July 24, 2015

Newssheets and Gazettes


A 1609 title page of the German Relation, the world's first newspaper

Use in the Game

    The campaign that I run is a mix of sandbox and mission oriented play. The players are free to have their PCs do whatever they want limited only by the players' imaginations, their PCs' abilities, the genre of play, and any repercussions or consequences of their acts in the game world. One useful feature for sandbox play is some way of conveying rumors and other information to the players. Since the game I'm running takes place in 1624 France, one way to convey information is by the era equivalent of newspapers.

Gazettes and bulletins

    In Ancient Rome, Acta Diurna, or government announcement bulletins, were produced. They were carved in metal or stone and posted in public places.
     In China, early government-produced news sheets, called Dibao, circulated among court officials during the late Han dynasty (second and third centuries AD). Between 713 and 734, the Kaiyuan Za Bao ("Bulletin of the Court") of the Chinese Tang Dynasty published government news; it was handwritten on silk and read by government officials. In 1582, there was the first reference to privately published newssheets in Beijing, during the late Ming Dynasty.
    In Early modern Europe the increased cross-border interaction created a rising need for information which was met by concise handwritten newssheets, called avvisi. In 1556, the government of Venice first published the monthly Notizie scritte, which cost one gazetta, a small coin. These avvisi were handwritten newsletters and used to convey political, military, and economic news quickly and efficiently to Italian cities (1500–1700)—sharing some characteristics of newspapers though usually not considered true newspapers.

Newssheets or Avvisi

    Newssheets or avvisi (plural of avviso) were hand-written newsletters used to convey political, military, and economic news quickly and efficiently throughout Europe, and more specifically Italy, during the early modern era (1500-1700). In the beginning newssheets were very similar to letters written from one dignitary to another, but diverged from such letters in the sixteenth century with more standardized practices. Newssheets can be divided into two categories: 'public' newssheets and 'secret' newssheets, though each copy was often written by the same person.


    The newssheets found their origins, and peaked, in the early modern Italian world - primarily Rome and Venice. The popularity and distribution of the newssheets was driven by each court's desire to know what the opposing and even the allied courts are up to. News networks spread all across Europe, but the avviso itself was generally created in either Rome or Venice, with the rest of Europe simply consuming. Newssheets influenced many aspects of the early modern world including public opinion, political battles, the nature of propaganda, careers, and historical records.
    The newssheets allowed the general public to learn of the secret dealing of the nation’s leaders – essentially making the public new players in the game of politics. Though officially renounced by many leaders at the time, newssheets were then used by those very same leaders to wage their political campaigns against one another. Destruction and censorship of newssheets was selective, demonstrating that the authorities recognized the importance of spreading news but would have preferred to spread only news that was of benefit to themselves. In addition, invaluable secrets provided by the newssheets could be used in extortion or allowing individuals to influence prices at market. History

Public newssheets

    Public newssheets were news letters that were available to anyone who wished to travel to a distribution center in a city. They were limited to generic, often harmless facts.

Secret newssheets

    Secret newssheets were news letters available to a restricted audience, much akin to duplicated personal letters. Their content could be considerably more harmful than the public counterpart, as it could include opinions of top officials and the discussions from secret meetings. This form of communication often had a very specific purpose.

Writing and Distribution

    Writing of newssheets began with the sources of information. Reporters or newsletter writers (menanti, reportisti, gazzettieri) had networks of contacts filtering information from chancelleries, Catholic churches, Protestant churches, foreign embassies, and shops. This information was then gathered and put together either individually or at a workshop or scrittoria. Writers typically received very little recognition which, quite often, was exactly how they wanted it. Fear of censorship kept writers from signing work under their own name - for in the early modern era censorship could mean death.
    Once written and copied, the newssheets would then be distributed by regular news services and organized postal service networks. Whether newsletters were sent weekly, bi-weekly, or annually depended on the type of news and the writer. As the public newssheets were made available, the news would quickly spread by word of mouth among the illiterate, no longer relying on the newssheets reporters. The range of information presented within the Venetian and Roman newssheets was very broad, including countries such as France, Italy, and the Netherlands.
    It was not until the middle of the seventeenth century that printed newssheets became more common, and even then Venice and Rome abstained from print. Due to restrictions from censorship on printed works, a sense of urgency, and a desire for personalization hand written newssheets would not be easily replaced by the printing press.


Other posts on this topic: Newspapers and Broadsheets (available 24 July) and List of Oldest Newspapers (available 25 July)

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