Breaking News children's exhibition

This article collects the children's exhibition material featured in Breaking News: Renaissance Journalism and the Birth of the Newspaper, one of the Exhibitions at the Folger.

Even 350 years ago, newspapers were an important part of sharing information. Just like today, people wanted to get the latest reports on what was happening in their own communities as well as international news, gossip, and even tabloid stories. People even drank coffee while getting their morning news; coffeeshops often subscribed to newspapers that customers could read and were popular places to meet. Click on the links below for more about newspaper reporters, printers, and activities.

Writing the News: Reporters

If you don't read the newspaper, you are uninformed.
If you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed.
–Author unknown
  • Do you agree or disagree with this statement?

It took many years before journalism became established as a profession. Sometimes, journalists sensationalized their stories with details that were not true. Journalists might also change sides, and many people felt that early reporters were not always good sources of information. However, this didn't stop them from reading the news!

During England's Civil Wars in the 1640s, many journalists and publishers supported either the king, Charles I, or Oliver Cromwell and his army, who were known as "Parliamentarians."

Reporters and Publishers

Jane Coe: One of the few female printers in London, Jane Coe built a successful business after her husband's death. She specialized in political pamphlets and newspapers, and wasn't afraid to take sides during the English Civil War. In fact, she was a strong opponent of the monarchy and King Charles II.

Sir Roger L'Estrange: Sir Roger, whose portrait is on this page, was a government censor. He also wrote pamphlets and started a newspaper, The Observator, to spread news and ideas that supported the government and the king.

Samuel Pecke: Samuel Pecke is often considered the first English journalist. After selling copies of political speeches and other documents related to government affairs, he eventually became a newsbook editor. Unlike some of the other writers of this time period, he had a reputation as a fair and respectable reporter.

Benjamin Harris: Benjamin Harris started the first American newspaper in 1690 in Boston. Although he intended to publish Publick Occurrences monthly, his first issue was also his last. The governor and other authorities shut down the newspaper because they didn't like some of the things that Harris printed. It was 14 years before someone else started a newspaper in Boston.

Marchamont Nedham: In addition to his long and colorful writing career, Nedham is know for often changing sides. He wrote for both the Parliamentarians and the king's supporters, and later had stints writing in favor of Oliver Cromwell before switching his allegiance to Charles II.

  • Why do you think that journalists have a Code of Ethics to "seek the truth and report it" today?

Making the News: Newspaper Publishers

Journalism allows its readers to witness history; fiction gives its readers an opportunity to live it.
–John Hersey

Producing a newspaper required several different kinds of skills and, because the type was set by hand, took much longer than it does today. Often, each person in the printer's shop had a special job to do.

Help Wanted: Jobs Needed to Publish a Newspaper

The Master Printer: The master printer was the boss. Because of his knowledge and experience, he supervised the other workers.

Journeymen and Apprentices: Journeymen and apprentices worked with a master printer to learn how to operate a printing press and run a print shop. Journeymen were paid for their work and had already completed their apprenticeship, but were not yet considered "masters" and did not have their own shops. They might help set type, correct the author's manuscript, and operate the press.

Printers' apprentices were often teenaged boys. Apprentices mixed inks, helped take finished sheets off the printing press, and ran errands. In England, apprentices had to work with a master printer for at least seven years—and they didn't get paid!

Operating a printing press took strong arms. Often, two men worked together: one printed the sheet, while another put more ink on the type form to get it ready for the next piece of paper.

Compositors: Compositors placed the letters together to lay out the words as they should appear on the printed page. First, they picked out each letter from a box called a type case. Compositors used a tool called a composing stick to arrange the letters into words and sentences. Compositors had to arrange the letters upside down and backwards in order for them to print correctly on the page! When finished, the compositor tied all the sticks together and placed them in a frame, which went onto the printing press.

Cool Printing Facts

Did You Know?

The printing press was a very important invention that changed the ways people communicated with each other and shared ideas. Printers could make books faster, which meant that knowledge could be spread more widely, and more people learned how to read.

Here are some cool facts about printing:

  1. It took almost two years to produce Shakespeare's First Folio. The First Folio was printed in 1623 and was the first time that Shakespeare's plays had been published together.
  2. Johannes Gutenberg adapted a wine press to make the first printing press in about 1439. Instead of pressing grapes, the equipment pressed metal letter forms onto sheets of paper, parchment, or vellum. Gutenberg was a professional goldsmith who used his metalworking skills to make the first set of movable type in Europe!
  3. When books were made by hand, scribes used water-based inks; these inks did not stick to printed pages very well, so printers had to invent oil-based inks. The oil-based inks spread over the metal type more evenly. Printers sometimes used ingredients from their homes to create inks. Soot, for example, made a good homemade black ink.
  4. Mexico had a working printing press in 1534—before Ireland, Russia, or America! The first American printing press was started in Cambridge, MA in 1639. Jose Glover came from England with his family to open the first print shop, but he died either on the journey or very soon after his arrival. His widow and one of the assistants, Stephen Daye, successfully started America's first printing press.
  5. Each piece of movable type, including letter forms, punctuation, and blank spaces, was originally made by hand. Some printers created their own typefaces, also called fonts. Some of these fonts are still used today. Garamond, for example, is on many computers and is named after the French printer Claude Garamond.

Making Your Own Ink & Paper

Check out Easy Fun School for a modern ink recipe you can make at home. Ink like this was also used for letterwriting in Renaissance England.

Check out these instructions to learn how to make your own paper using old newspapers.

Be sure to ask your parents for help!

News Websites for Kids

Check out these websites for more games, activities, and news, just for kids!

News for kids by kids from Scholastic.
Take a look at what makes the front page of newspapers around the world.
News from The Washington Post, with stories especially for kids.
Current events, vocabulary words, online resources, and even a crossword puzzle are featured in this site for middle and high schoolers. There are lesson plans for teachers, too.
Get news, play trivia games, learn about other countries, and more. Teachers can download worksheets, lesson plans, and other resources for kids K-6.