An exhibit of early American journalism wraps up today at a DC museum, and among its gems is the first edition of the colonies' first paper: Publick Occurrences, from 1690. It's "no small treasure," notes Ned Desmond in his One Last Question blog, because the newspaper's first edition also happened to be its last. Occurrences' most tantalizing sin before authorities shut it down: alleging that the king of France cuckolded his own son.
Desmond credits that tidbit to Jill Lepore's survey of early newspapers in the New Yorker. The first ones, far from bastions of objectivity, were the weapons of rabble-rousers bent on upsetting the political or social status quo. Purveyors often found their lives in danger, making today's economic travails tame by comparison. "In the early days of journalism, if we can call them that, it was plainly important to be ready to run for one's life and start anew in safer abodes," writes Desmond. "There's a modern lesson there."