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Journalism In Poland

In the year 1041 a Chinese blacksmith named Pi Sheng made the first letters out of baked clay which, when put together, formed a type-face.

In the year 1403 a book was printed in Korea by means of copper letters.

The first European printed book was Johann Gutenberg’s Bible, published in Mainz in 1454-56.

In 1473, seventeen years after the publication of Gutenberg’s Bible, a Latin book Calendarium Cracoviense, an astronomical calendar for the year 1474, was published in Krakow.

In the year 1475 the first known Polish text was printed. In a publishing house owned by Kasper Elyan in Wroclaw, a Latin book was printed called Statuty synodalne biskupow wroclawskich (The Synodal Statutes of the Bishops of Wroclaw) which included three daily prayers — The Lord’s Prayer, The Hail Mary and The Creed, in Polish.

Szwajpolt Fiol of Krakow, a goldsmith and embroiderer, was the first one to have the idea of printing books for the Orthodox Church. The enterprising Fiol ordered a scholar of the Krakow Academy to cut out a new typeface in the shape of the letters of the Cyrillic alphabet and as early as 1491 books were printed in the Russian alphabet.

The art of printing developed in Poland at a very fast rate. What is even more interesting is that specialists educated in this field travelled to other countries to make the new developments in printing known. Jan Adam of Poland worked in Naples in 1478 and Stanislaw of Poland was famous for his skills in Seville in the years 1492-95. Stefan Polak was also active in Seville.

These facts, then, were the seeds of Polish Journalism. For once we knew how to write, we could then decide what to write.

Journalism in Poland began on January 3, 1661, the day when the first issue of the Merkuriusz Polski (Polish Mercurius) was edited in Krakow. It’s a symbolic date in the history of Polish journalism. Its origins date back to the 15th century, when hand-written irregularly issued papers (often in Latin or German) known as notifications, news, reports, newspapers, communications or stories were recorded. They described wars, religious celebrations, international conflicts, court life, commercial news and visits of foreign diplomats.

This form of communication, despite its limited scope of influence, due to it being handwritten and frequently distributed in only one copy, gained much credit in the community, especially in the 16th century. Energetic short stories, lay and clerical, were appearing at royal courts, palaces of princes, bishops’ residences, and also in houses of wealthy merchants throughout Central Europe. The news they had heard and the observations they had made were recorded, set in the form of a newspaper, and sent to their local or foreign protectors. The oldest publications of this type containing the current news from Poland and abroad came from Krakow — in 1525 Hieronim Wietor distributed a letter of Bishop Krzycki.

The development of the regular press did not hinder the “editing” of hand-written letters. They were still in fashion throughout the Enlightenment period. Copying and distribution were mainly the domain of the Piarists, who often charged the recipient as much as 100 ducats by two factors: whether they contained interesting and comprehensive information and, moreover, whether they were subjected to the censorship of the Church.

The Merkuriusz Polski was an editorial enterprise organized under the patronage of the royal court and catering to its particular needs. The direct initiative to edit a weekly periodical came from Lukasz Opalinski, the Court Marshal. Not only did he organize the whole enterprise but also he formulated editorial policy.

The appearance of the Merkuriusz was the result of the aspirations of the court of John Casimir and of his ambitious wife, Marie Louise. They desired to reform the political system, which would increase the efficiency of the executive body and the Seym of the Commonwealth. The main element of the reform was to be an introduction of an election that would take place during the lifetime of John Casimir. The editors did not succeed, however, in achieving their aims. The periodical appeared for a brief time only — from January 3 to July 22, 1661, 41 issues altogether — and soon faded into oblivion. The Merkuriusz was re-discovered at the end of the last century, yet information about it is largely based on supposition.

Other periodicals came and went, sometimes vanishing after a few issues (e.g. the monthly Mercurius Polonicus appeared only three times). There frequently occurred several year intervals when not a single paper was edited (1662-71, 1680-85, 1687-95, 1703-16, 1724-27). Altogether only 28 titles appeared.

After the Merkuriusz had been abandoned, the decline in such work continued till the middle of the 18th century. In the years 1718-19 Jan Dawid Cenkier, a Polish printer from Krolewiec edited the Poczta Krolewicka. This weekly contained not only home news but also articles on the foreign economy and bibliographical notes regarding currently published books. In 1729, King Augustus II granted the exclusive editorial rights for the press to the Piarists from Warsaw. They published the weekly Nowiny Polskie, specializing in local affairs, from January 1729 till the middle of 1737 under various titles like the Kurier Polski or the Gazeta Polska. Its editor was Father Jan Naumanski, a geographer. In 1740 the privilege of editing newspapers was taken from the Piarists and granted to the Jesuits. After that, the Piarists were allowed to print only newspapers in foreign languages — in French (the Journal de Varsovie, 1756-58, and the Gazette de la Campagne, 1758-64) and in German (the Warschauer Zeitung, 1757, and the Wochenblatt, 1762). The level of Jesuit papers, interestingly enough, decreased greatly due to their pandering to the tastes of the gentry and giving priority to family celebrations, gossip and sensational society news.

After 1740, Polish Journalism became more interesting. It was strongly influenced by the political, cultural and educational events of the times — the beginning of capitalism, the reform activities of Stanislaw Konarski, the epoch of the Enlightenment (1764-95), the Four-Year Seym (1788-92), the Kosciuszko Insurrection (1794), the loss of independence (1795), and the times of the Duchy of Warsaw (1807-15).

During that time 23 newspapers emerged. The press was more stable and some titles appeared for several years. The Kurier Polski, a periodical giving current news, was taken over from the Piarists and edited until 1760. During that period the first “learned” magazines emerged, such as the Warschauer Bibliothek, 1753.

In the year 1761 a man named Mitzler published the Patriota Polski, a weekly oriented towards bourgeois ideology. This periodical opened a rich vein of moralistic journalism in the history of the Polish press. And from this point on, journalism in Poland flourished uninterrupted!

    . . . . SEE YOU SOON, GOD BE WILLING . . .