Equally important to this book are [Andrew] Pettegree’s observations about the history of news and the questions that they raise concerning the current age of information. For example, if, as Pettegree argues, “news is fresh to anyone who hears or reads it for the first time,” then how important is expediency and immediacy to the reader? Furthermore, The Invention of News raises the question of what makes for trustworthy news. While modern audiences trust print and digital media, in “the early medieval tradition ”¦ word of mouth was more to be trusted than a written report.” Finally, why do most people watch or read the news? Do they consume news because it is important to their lives or because it is “an accoutrement of a polite life”?
Pettegree does not seem too interested in uncovering answers to such questions. This is unfortunate for readers who are expecting a more opinionated study, but it is not unwarranted. By keeping these topics at arms’ length, Pettegree avoids any sidetracks that would distract from plotting a clear, historical trajectory of news. This he does very well.
The Invention of News delivers a rich and compelling narrative, which picks away at several common presumptions about the history of news. While he gives leading newspapermen like John Wilkes their due, Pettegree complicates our understanding of the newspaper as an agent of “empowerment and emancipation.” The Invention of News veers away from the sort of Whiggish triumphalism that would set up the newspaper as the pinnacle of democratic expression. This is particularly germane in our own day, as the newspaper continues to decline in popularity and other media compete for its place. As Pettegree explains, the newspaper””a latecomer and late-bloomer in the story of news””has always been one among many news outlets in the culture of Western media.