The Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, Germany, which houses the worlds first printing press, has told WAN that the birth certificate of the newspaper, Relation, was unearthed in the town archives of Strasbourg, now in France but at the time a part of the so-called Deutsches Reich.
"The evidence is compelling and I think we can all say Happy - 400th - Birthday this year to the print newspaper!", said Timothy Balding, the WAN Director General. "Our Executive Committee has examined all the facts and has been persuaded that the story stands up".
Martin Welke, founder of the German Newspaper Museum, who is also the father of the discovery together with Professor Jean Pierre Kintz, a Strasbourg historian, told WAN that the publisher of Relation was a certain Johann Carolus, who earned his living at the turn of the 17th century by producing hand-written newsletters, sold to rich subscribers at very high prices, reproducing news sent to him by a network of paid correspondents.
"In 1604, he bought a complete printing shop from the widow of a famous printer," said Dr Welke. "In the summer of 1605 he switched to printing his ... newspapers, because it took him too much time copying by hand". Carolus also calculated that he could earn a lot more money "by printing a higher circulation for a lower price".
In October that year, Carolus wrote a petition to the Strasbourg city council asking for "protection against reprints by other printers". And the rest is history...
"Copyright problems already!", said Mr Balding. "And strategic considerations about pricing policy and circulation!"
"Today, more than a billion people a day, across the planet, read a daily newspaper in print - a figure, not incidentally, that has risen nearly five per cent in the last five years", added Mr Balding. "So, were not only 400 years old - or rather young - but we are globally enjoying great health and can presumably look forward to the next century or so, at least, with optimism".
The Gutenberg Museum will celebrate the 400th anniversary with a big exhibition in July retracing the evolution of newspapers over their entire history. Dr Welke is the trustee of this jubilee event; Timothy Balding will make a speech at the inauguration.
The Paris-based WAN, the global organisation for the newspaper industry, represents 18,000 newspapers; its membership includes 72 national newspaper associations, individual newspaper executives in 102 countries, 10 news agencies and ten regional and world-wide press groups.
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