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Roman contributions to journalism: the gossip column

Posted by: | March 1, 2016 | No Comment |

In today’s world saturated by media, we can hardly go anywhere without encountering some form of journalism. If you go to a Starbucks you will undoubtedly find copies of the Washington Post and New York Times. If you go to a grocery store, as you check out you will see hundreds of magazines clamoring for your attention.

Examples of gossip magazines

Examples of gossip magazines

As a result of this saturation, nearly every topic imaginable has a publication dedicated to covering it. Though many see this as a benefit of today’s media landscape, there are others who would argue that the prominence of gossip news or tabloid journalism is negative because it distracts people from more important topics.

Today with reality television and a different award show for musicians or film celebrities almost weekly, the popularity of tabloid journalism has reached an all time high. In spite of it’s popularity, many are beginning to question whether there is too much gossip news.

A 2007 report by the Pew Research Center shows 40% of people surveyed agreed there was too much coverage of celebrity news and Hollywood gossip. However, this is not the first time the effects of tabloid journalism have been condemned by society or its members.

Even as Rome was just beginning to spread its form of news, the acta, back in 51 BCE regular readers like Cicero were already complaining about the content, “… reports of ‘the gladiatorial pairs,’ ‘burglary by Chrestus,’ and such tittle-tattle as nobody would have the impertinence to repeat to me when I am at Rome?”

Bust of Cicero

Bust of Cicero

A statesman who loved Rome but was sent to far away Cicilia as a proconsul, Cicero relied almost exclusively on copies of the acta reaching him for his news. Other forms of spoken news were too unreliable, so Cicero needed the acta to stay up to date on Roman affairs in spite of his complaints about the gossip.

He explains this dilemma well in a letter to Caelius, “… you must pick out of them what is noteworthy. There is much which you must skip, especially the detailed accounts of the games and funerals, and all the rest of the tittle-tattle. But the great part is useful.”

So though some of us may blame reality television and the glorification of celebrities for tabloid journalism, we can see in the example of Cicero that gossip has been a part of even the earliest newspaper. The key for good journalists, and for consumers in news in general is to follow the advice of Cicero: search for the useful information, and ignore the tittle-tattle.

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