January 01, 2013

The News that Peter Saw Fit to Print



The News that Peter Saw Fit to Print

Like it or not, we live in an information age, one in which we are inundated with news – some designed to inform, some to deceive, promote, or entertain. We are often left struggling to keep our heads above water in this never-ending torrent. But everyone knows that it was not always this way. Some of us can even remember life without mobile phones, constantly updated internet news, and social networks.

In bygone days, news traveled slowly, transmitted by word of mouth, gaining, losing, and changing details along the way. Royal decrees were spread by the tsar's messengers faster than ordinary news, but even here there was no getting around Russia's vast expanses. Back in the seventeenth century, for example, when the people of Irkutsk wrote to complain to the tsar about the corrupt and ruthless voyevoda who had been appointed to govern them and who was making their lives miserable, their petition took three years to reach Moscow. Additional time was needed to consider the matter, and then the response took more years to reach Irkutsk. In short, it was an eternity before the petitioners heard that the tsar chose to leave the voyevoda where he was.

Even though the country's rulers had a relative advantage when it came to disseminating news, it was they who were most frustrated by how long it took to get information to the populace. After all, in order to firmly integrate its territories and instill a sense of patriotism, a government needs to be able to publicize successes and circulate the official version of events. With the march of time, Russia's rulers increasingly wanted to influence the hearts and minds of their subjects. They gradually realized that newspapers could be a key tool in this effort.


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