The trouble with the newspapers was that they were not very enjoyable. Although it might be important to be seen to be a subscriber, and thus to have the social kudos of one who followed the world’s affairs, the early newspapers were not much fun to read. The desiccated sequence of bare, undecorated facts made them difficult to follow – sometimes, plainly baffling. What did it mean to be told that the Duke of Sessa had arrived in Florence, without knowing who he was or why he was there? Was this a good thing or a bad thing? For inexperienced news readers this was tough going. People who were used to the familiar ordered narrative of a news pamphlet found the style alienating.We are again faced with this conundrum though now in an age of data plenty. The central issues remain veracity, context and relevance. Natural language processing and AI both help but we are still a long way from unlocking this issue.
The news reporting of the newspapers was very different, and utterly unfamiliar to those who had not previously been subscribers to the manuscript service. Each report was no more than a couple of sentences long. It offered no explanation, comment or commentary. Unlike a news pamphlet the reader did not know where this fitted in the narrative – or even whether what was reported would turn out to be important. This made for a very particular and quite demanding sort of news. The format offered inexperienced readers very little help. The most important story was seldom placed first; there were no headlines, and no illustrations. And because newspapers were offered on a subscription basis, readers were expected to follow events from issue to issue; this was time-consuming, expensive and rather wearing.