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News Letter celebrates 275 years

News Letter

News Letter

THE Belfast News Letter has not moved far in terms of the geography of its offices over the last 275 years.

The paper was founded by Francis Joy in September 1737 in the Bridge Street/High Street part of Belfast city centre, illustrated above left later that century.

Now it has an office on the south side of the City Hall, only a few hundred metres from where the newspaper’s immense history all began.

And yet, while the distance between our first and current offices is small, the distance in terms of culture and history and time is vast.

The News Letter was launched into a world in which cars and trains and planes were unthinkable. Even photographs were more than a century in the future.

Now the News Letter operates in the age of Twitter and Facebook and digital images and internet.

Even people on modest incomes can fly around the world.

And yet, as our montage of front pages shows, in one respect little has changed.

People in 1737 wanted to read about what was happening in the world around them.

People today want the same, both on pages and on screens (such as the one on which I write this).

Those words may be accompanied by photographs and videos, but they are still words.

Indeed, it seems that if anything mobile phones and the internet is making people in a way more literate. Those who might once only have talked, are now writing and reading constantly.

This 32-page supplement is a brief journey through the News Letter’s extraordinary history.

Of all the English written daily newspapers printed in the world today, it is the oldest.

The first paper was probably printed on September 6 1737 (the exact date is unclear, and is often cited as September 1 of that year but it seems more likely it was published on Tuesday the 6th of that month).

The first surviving News Letter is from the following year. You will find it as a pull-out souvenir in the centre of this supplement.

Also on these pages, you will read a detailed history by Colin Armstrong.

The history deliberately focuses on the first 100 years, because that is the more unusual part of our history. There are very many other newspapers that have been around since the late 1800s. But there are almost none anywhere on earth as old as us.

Don’t be put off by any notion that a history of the 1700s is dry — it isn’t. Ulster was a remarkably vibrant place at that time, with revolutions in France and America and the threat of one here. This is why the distinguished historian Paul Bew can credibly claim, inside, that the News Letter, which reported on these upheavals in detail, is the most important paper in the world in the 1790s.

It has been both a fundamental part of Ulster life, and a chronicler of that life, for 275 years.

Today’s supplement also includes more recent recollections from people who have worked here in recent decades, including all six of the living ex editors.

You will see many names mentioned of people who have helped produce the papers. But many more names will have been inadvertently overlooked.

The story of the News Letter is a cast of many thousands, reporting on a cast of many millions.

 

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