Wednesday, July 20, 2016

At this time regular access to news was the prerogative of those in circles of power

From The Invention of News: How The World Came to Know About Itself by Andrew Pettegree.
Bernard of Clairvaux, architect of the Cistercian order, sat at the centre of one of medieval Europe’s greatest news networks. Those who visited Clairvaux in eastern France would bring him news of their travels; sometimes they would carry his letters away with them when they departed. We are unusually well informed about Bernard’s news network, because over five hundred of his letters survive. But in some respects Bernard is utterly characteristic of the news world of the medieval period. At this time regular access to news was the prerogative of those in circles of power. Only they could afford it; only they had the means to gather it. But even for these privileged individuals at the apex of society, news gathering was not unproblematic. They were fully aware that those who brought them news were likely to be interested parties. The traveling cleric who brought Bernard news of a distant episcopal election might be supporting one candidate; the ambassador writing home from abroad might be seeking to influence policy; merchants hoped to gain from a fluctuating market. Merchants, in particular, had a keen awareness of the value of information, and the dangers of acting on a false rumor. For the first two centuries of the period covered by this book merchants were both the principal consumers of news and its most reliable suppliers.

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