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I am specifically interested in the period right before the beginning of the newspaper era (which I'm broadly defining as the 18th century) so let's say 1600-1700. Was there a phenomenon like our present day "current events" that people, ie commoners, would be aware of? Or, were the going ons of royals, and sovereigns mostly the province of the elite?

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3 Answers 3

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It probably depends on where. One important social meeting place at which news would be exchanged was actually coffeehouses. This holds true for the Ottoman Empire, which originally popularised the drinking of coffee after the taking of Yemen. From there it spread to Europe, where coffeehouses also became an important focal point for the transmission of information.

Even after newspapers emerged, coffeehouses had an important role as few people were actually literate and their price could still be prohibitive. Instead newspapers would be read aloud for the patrons of coffeehouses.

I wouldn't be surprised if similar public places (perhaps serving tea or tobacco) existed in other parts of the world.

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I would also add markets, especially in rural areas. Traveling merchants would bring the news from cities to the countryside. –  vsz Jan 21 '13 at 15:07

I imagine the town crier would have been an important source of news prior to mass-literacy.

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One must also mention the pamphlet, which was mighty popular back then. Here is what the Britannica has to say about the 16th century:

Pamphlets were among the first printed materials, and they were widely used in England, France, and Germany. The first great age of pamphleteering was inspired by the religious controversies of the early 16th century. In France so many pamphlets were issued in support of the Reformed religion that edicts prohibiting them were promulgated in 1523, 1553, and 1566. In Germany the pamphlet was first used by the leaders of the Protestant Reformation to inflame popular opinion against the pope and the Roman Catholic church. Martin Luther was one of the earliest and most effective pamphleteers. The coarseness and violence of the pamphlets on both sides and the public disorder attributed to their distribution led to their prohibition by imperial edict in 1589.

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