News travels fast

 

English: The Fall of Nelson, Battle of Trafalg...

English: The Fall of Nelson, Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In today’s connected world, it is hard to believe that not so very long ago, events took a long time to become widely known. News was originally spread by word of mouth which meant that it travelled only as fast as the people who carried it. With the advent of literacy and language, people began to use the written word to communicate with the wider world around us.

Military communications relied on various methods throughout the ages. A company runner was often sent across a battlefield carrying instructions between different units. Sometimes he even survived the trip. Semaphore signals using flags or lanterns were somewhat safer and are still in use today between ships in the same formation.

There is a plaque in Kensington marking how the news of Nelson’s death was broken. After he was killed in the battle of Trafalgar just off the coast of Cadiz, the ship carrying his body pickled in a barrel sailed to Falmouth where the news was sent by rider to London. Even after riding through the night changing horses at every opportunity – it was days before the public knew about Nelson’s death. As time went on, despatch riders exchanged their horses for motorcycles and advances in radio and telecommunications rendered them pretty much obsolete altogether.

In the wild west, news was propagated by the pony express – literally men on ponies riding from town to town spreading news of anything noteworthy. As the railroads crept across continental America, telegraph lines were built alongside and before too long, a message given to a telegraph operator in one town could be relayed to the other side of the country in a matter of hours.

The first recognisable newspapers came about in Venice around the 17th century. Costing one gazetta (a small coin of the time), these handwritten sheets gave the reader an inkling of what was happening in the world. During the industrial revolution, great advances were made in technology and it was possible to buy a printed newspaper for the first time. Many of the newspapers we recognise today (such as the Times or the New York Post) started at around this time.

In order to populate the newspapers with stories, they relied on correspondents. They were so-called because they would send in the stories via letter. Any such letters from far away climes would travel on packet steamers across the oceans to deliver their stories to the newspaper office ready for publishing. The further away the correspondent, the longer the delay.

When I was growing up, if you wanted news you either read a newspaper or tuned in to the television at 6PM or 10PM.

Today, there are whole networks and channels devoted to bringing the news into your life 24 hours a day. There are hundreds of sites all over the internet dedicated to providing the very latest news. It can be a matter of seconds before a story becomes world news. Satellite technology means that correspondents can report direct from very remote locations live as events unfold.

Not only that, but smartphones have become so sophisticated now that every user is a potential correspondent. Nowadays, we get breathtaking footage of disasters as they unfold – often in high-definition. Revolutions that might have once been quietly suppressed by brutal regimes are now headline news. There have been many high-profile cases where people have attempted to stand Canute-like against an unwelcome story by taking out injunctions. With Twitter, the news seems to sweep over them like an angry wave.

If only more of the news was good news!

 

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