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Pope story has no journalism precedent

February 11, 2013 - Art Smith
It seems a lot of times the importance of news stories is measured against the last time a similar event occurred.

I think news organizations were taken for a loop this week when Pope Benedict XVI, the spiritual leader of a billion Catholics, announced that he was stepping down.

It’s been a while since this has happened; 598 years to be precise. There is no precedent for how news organizations cover a pope resigning because there was no mass media the last time it occurred.

We live in an era of 24-hour news, Twitter, Facebook, Apps, cable, email, the Internet and more. The last time a pope resigned, of course, none of this existed.

Most people in 1415 couldn’t read, and those who could would have to wait for a scribe to copy the information. Information would pass from village to village, from ships to ports, and from one neighbor to another.

That would, of course, change some 40 years later when Johannes Gutenberg helped to perfected moveable type and printed his famous Bible in Latin. The movable type allowed for the production of books and later newspapers. The information age has been building exponentially every since to today when many feel they are bombarded with more information than they can handle.

It seems fitting the 85-year-old pope announced his decision to a small group of people. Reportedly, many failed to understand what he had said because he announced it in Latin, the language of the first printed Bible. Though popular in 1415, most people, including some of the cardinals in the room, no longer understand it.

Big stories are interesting to watch as they develop. It will be interesting to see how the world’s press cover a story where the precedent pre-dates journalism.

 
 

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