The Nature of the First English Newspapers Through the Eyes of a Contemporary Playwright Ben Jonson in His Play “The Staple of News”

10.17721/2522-1272.2022.81.7 (DOI)

UDC 007:070.000.93(410)

Olexander Meleshchenko, Doctor of Philology, Professor, Educational and Scientific Institute of Journalism, Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv,
0000-0002-0012-5669 (ORCID)


The nature of the first English newspapers through the eyes of a contemporary playwright Ben Jonson in his play “The Staple of News” is considered. These first-born publications inherited from their predecessops – actually the books, socalled “News books”, “Fair bulletins”, “News ballads”, “News”, “Newsletters”, hybrid publications (two pages of printed messages and two blank pages for handwritten information for the areas where there was still no printing press) – a book format and two-column layout, which restrained development of journalism. The things were not better in terms of filling the content of first periodicals. The journalistic profession was just getting back on its feet, and its criteria were developed through a long process of “trial and error”. In addition, the quality of news was strongly influenced by the political factor in the form of censorship bans directed to coverage of domestic political news and ethical behavior of journalists as well as by the economic factor which dictated the fastest possible profit and caused neglecting the reliability of information and other standards of journalistic profession, which were not completely comprehended at that time.

On the other hand, the continuous lies or half-truths in the newspapers could also repel the regular and potential readers, and this factor played a restraining role in descent of these publications to the level of gossip and hearsay. The Dutch newspapers were dominated before the appearance of the first English newspapers in the information space of Misty Albion, which came to the attention of Robert Burton, the English clergyman, writer and scientist. Being a skeptic and pessimist, he called his book “Anatomy of Melancholy” (1621) for good reason. In the same year, the first English newspaper “Corante, or Weekely Newes from Italy, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Bogemia, France and the Law countreys” appeared under the Dutch influence. Four years later, the second newspaper “Mercurius Britannicus” was published. The first newspaper was depicted in detail and the second one was depicted briefly in the play of the English playwright Ben Jonson “The Staple of News” (1625). Оbviously this is the first English work dedicated to the newspaper and its journalists.

KEYWORDS: English newspapers, journalism, Ben Jonson, “The Staple of News”.

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