From 1694: ‘News too extraordinary to be believed without farther confirmation’

Letter to Romenesko

From JASON FEIFER: I’ve been poking around NewspaperArchive.com recently, and just came across this great nugget from a 1694 dispatch called Account Of The Publick Tranasctions in Christendom.

Feifer

Feifer

I call your attention to the second page, the last paragraph before Advertisements [image below], where the reporter announces “no considerable News, except that the Emperor of China, his Court, and a great Part of his Kingdom have embraced the Christian Religion; but this is too extraordinary to be believed without farther Confirmation.”

It got me thinking about the media conversation in the wake of the Newtown shooting—about how, like during so many breaking stories, reporters were too quick to report details that turned out to be incorrect. As we look at what went wrong, we often blame technology like Twitter, and reporting protocols that haven’t caught up to our instant news cycle. And yet, the Account reminds us that there has long been an instinct to report before confirmation. Though, the writer in 1694 did at least hedge the news. Who knows how fast it spread before he could issue a correction.
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