Early Modern News and Crime Writing: Its Literary and Ideological Context



An interest in news is probably a feature of all societies since it constitutes a basic element in communication between individuals and groups and a footing for social intercourse. But news is not a neutral or objective concept, through whatever medium transmitted; it is a construction which exists in oblique relation to actual events. A modern sociologist refers to news as ‘the end-product of a complex process which begins with a systematic sorting and selecting of events and topics according to a socially constructed set of categories’,1 and this is a process which operates even in the most primitive form of news, that of orally transmitted gossip. In contemporary societies, the news media play an important, and often highly contested, ideological role in the existing structures of power. Raymond Williams calls newspapers ‘a signifying system through which necessarily (though among other means) a social order is communicated, reproduced, experienced and explored’.2 The accounts of reality which newspapers put forward are shaped and constrained by the interests they represent. In the early modern period, before the systematic and professional production of news in the form of newsbooks, corantos and official newsletters, news writing, both scribal and printed, circulated in a variety of forms, many of them no longer in existence, in which the interaction of oral and written cultures was highly significant.


Violent Crime Seventeenth Century Sixteenth Century Early Modern Period Printing Industry 
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Copyright information

© Sandra Clark 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of English and Humanities, Birkbeck CollegeUniversity of LondonUK

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