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53. The History of Town Criers

53. The History of Town Criers

The idea of the town crier dates back to ancient Greece, when criers would scream out the news about locals events to all who would hear it.

Town Criers continued to be used throughout the Middle Ages. At the time, many people were illiterate and the town crier held the highly regarded position of herald, when he spoke he spoke with the voice of the King.

The position of town crier continued until it was eliminated by the newspaper in the early 20th century.

What happened? As Philip Meyer put it,

The town crier’s audience was limited to the number of people who could be assembled within the range of an unamplified human voice. Printing changed everything. It made the size of the audience theoretically limitless and, by the creation of multiple records, enabled more reliable preservation of knowledge.

Now, in the early years of the 21st century the question is whether newspapers will be displaced by the web as they once displaced the town crier. If you look at the arguments, you will see the similarities between the two situations.

Unlike the web, printed newspapers are limited by geography, printing speed and production costs. The web also allows for a nearly unlimited number of records to be kept and for those records to be amended, shared and commented on in a way that print simply does not allow.

It’s hard to imagine how and more importantly why the paper should continue to visit under these conditions.

While the role of the town crier is being revived in some area as a historical artifacts, their place of prominence within society is largely a matter for history. The question now is whether print will soon follow down this path, and if not, what the difference is.

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