It’s some 600 years since Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg was born in the historic German city of Mainz. After moving to Strasbourg, dabbling in a few trades and getting caught up in a marital legal case we don’t know much about, the son of a merchant took out a loan for a contraption that would revolutionise communications and, in truth, change the world. By 1450 Gutenberg’s printing press was up and running, and five years later his most famous output, the 42-line Gutenberg Bible, was published.
The modern-day outcome of the invention credited to Gutenberg couldn’t be much further from the 180 or so Latin prints that appeared in the mid-15th century. They say the morning papers have replaced morning prayers, and today’s media — save for the brief Thought for the Day the BBC puts out to silence the traditionalists — suffers the odd indictment or two, or seven, for being an amoral and godless defamer. The British press are as fierce as they come. Tony Blair’s send-off to the media was a calculated stab in a speech to Reuters journalists, singling out the The Independent as an “impact” paper and branding the industry a “feral beast” — the title of this series of posts from the home of mass printing. He may well be right.
The aim of this blog is to study how the modern press fares in its own spiritual stomping ground, and how all the stereotypes we had of the Germans are completely and entirely accurate. Germany has its tabloids to match The Sun, but its broadsheets are dull in appearance, so I’ll report back to you on whether they’re actually any fun to read, how they portray things and where they stand on political spectra. I’ll share with you the best (and worst) of the German media, giving you links for the benefit of the German speakers reading this. For those of you who don’t speak German — not a problem now, but there’ll be a test at the end. And of course I’ll translate anything important for the sake of the Little Englanders. Expect brief updates every couple of days and more substantial weekly contributions once a week. Please post your comments too — I want to know your views on the blog and the subject of it.
Just a few miles to the east of Gutenberg’s birthplace is the financial hub of Frankfurt am Main, where I’m blogging from on my year away from Oxford. Frankfurt is to Mainz what today’s fierce press is to Gutenberg’s Bible — the fast-paced outcome of a capitalist 21st century. I like to see Frankfurt and Mainz as symbols of this change. One has a high-speed present, the other an engaging past which spawned the forefather of the information superhighway. Next time Blair wants to set the record straight, he knows where to lay the blame.