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Is there someone who is paid to distribute news in Middle-earth? Is someone, for example, reporting about politics? ("Hey Rohirrim, Theoden is going nuts") Are there some local journals? ("Hobitton weekly")

Is there any sign of such things in Tolkien's world?

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  • Before the printing press, the closest thing to journalists were travelling storytellers and minstrels who told tales and sung songs about events elsewhere. Though no such appear in any stories of Middle Earth (to my knowledge), it is logical that they should exist. Jun 29, 2021 at 9:48
  • @KlausÆ.Mogensen unless you discount the Lament for Gandalf
    – OrangeDog
    Jun 29, 2021 at 9:53
  • @OrangeDog: It is not uncommon in Middle Earth that songs are sung for the dead - consider also The Lament for Boromir. However, in the known examples (known to me, at least), they are not performed by professional travelling minstrels, but by people who knew the departed (and possibly later by others who heard the songs). Jun 29, 2021 at 10:02
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    @OrangeDog: Yes, but were the news spread by anything like professional "journalist" storytellers or minstrels? Or just peer-to-peer as people picked up the news and songs? That is the core of the issue. Jun 29, 2021 at 10:17
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    The Dale-y Mirror? (It's summertime here in the UK, so I won't be needing to get my coat.) Jun 30, 2021 at 19:22

2 Answers 2

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Basically no.

I don't think we ever learn of printing with movable type. Books seem to be rare, and people who spend a lot of time reading them are also rare. It sounds like everything is copied by hand. "The Red Book of Westmarch" seems to be a unique artefact rather than the title under which copies are distributed.

News and reporting are modern inventions and require a fair amount of industrial infrastructure (mass production of paper and ink, rapid transport to get the news to places that haven't heard it yet, mechanical printing presses). For Tolkien such things were aspects of Mordor.

News in the Shire was transmitted as rumour and stories by travellers (consider the scene in the Prancing Pony). Everywhere else we principally see aristocrats who communicate with other aristocrats by formal letters or by conversation in person (except for palantirs, but they were special and rare objects).

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  • 1
    The appendix notes there was at least one copy of the Red Book made in Gondor, but it certainly wasn't mass produced. Jun 29, 2021 at 12:30
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    Moreover, working-class hobbits seem to have been largely illiterate. Sam is noted to be an exception, having been taught to read by Bilbo (Sam’s father’s employer).
    – Buzz
    Jun 29, 2021 at 18:03
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    And yet the Shire has a regular postal service and letters and invitations and so forth seem to have been something of a commonplace. There could well have been bills or broadsheets posted in public places.
    – elemtilas
    Jun 29, 2021 at 21:45
  • @elemtilas England had an established post system when it had 20% literacy, too -- and people could and did send letters across a continent even when literacy was virtually only seen in nobility and religious (priests and nuns).
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Jul 1, 2021 at 17:48
  • @ZeissIkon -- Yet the Shire has no royalty, no nobility, no clerics or monastics. Hobbits were fairly insular, even parochial, and undoubtedly never sent letters to Bree, a relatively short ride away, to say nothing of Gondor across the continent. In fact, Hobbits seem to be fairly literate leastways in their own language and sufficient to the needs of husbandry & agriculture. If we take the Shire to be something like 19th century rural England, basic literacy should be high enough to allow most Hobbits to read an almanac or a local gazette. Also, do note that mail was delivered twice a day!
    – elemtilas
    Jul 1, 2021 at 20:24
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I should mention the ancient Roman acta diurna.

Acta Diurna (Latin: Daily Acts sometimes translated as Daily Public Records, poetically Daily Gazette) were daily Roman official notices, a sort of daily gazette.1 They were carved on stone or metal and presented in message boards in public places like the Forum of Rome. They were also called simply Acta. In many ways, they functioned like an early newspaper for the Roman citizenry. The Acta were begun in 59 BC and continued until AD 222.2

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acta_Diurna[1]

So I can imagine that in any advanced societies in Tolkien's world, such as Gondolin, Numenor, Gondor at its height, the ancient dwarf kingdoms, etc., there could have been counterparts to the ancient Roman acta diurna.

Large communities with low literacy also hadtown criers or "bellmen" to spead news.

Prior to widespread literacy, town criers were the means of communication with the people of the town since many people could not read or write. Proclamations, local bylaws, market days, adverts, were all proclaimed by a bellman or crier.

In ancient Rome, they typically proclaimed public business during the market days that formed a kind of weekend every eight days.2

In medieval England, town criers were the chief means of news communication with the townspeople, since many were illiterate in a period before the moveable type was invented. Royal proclamations, local bylaws, market days, adverts, even selling loaves of sugar were all proclaimed by a bellman or crier throughout the centuries—at Christmas 1798, the Chester Canal Company sold some sugar damaged in their packet boat and this was to be advertised by the bellman.[citation needed]

The term "Posting A Notice" comes from the act of the town crier, who having read his message to the townspeople, would attach it to the door post of the local inn. Some newspapers took the name "The Post" for this reason.

A copy of a royal proclamation announcing the dissolution of the Parliament of the United Kingdom is delivered by hand from the Privy Council Office to Mansion House in the City of London. It is then read out by the Common Crier of the City on the steps of the Royal Exchange in the heart of the City, having been handed to him by the Common Serjeant of the City, ahead of the proclamation also being read out in the London boroughs.

And there are examples of village criers in small communities all over the world.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Town_crier[2]

The London Gazette is one of the official journals of record or Government gazettes of the Government of the United Kingdom, and the most important among such official journals in the United Kingdom, in which certain statutory notices are required to be published. The London Gazette claims to be the oldest surviving English newspaper and the oldest continuously published newspaper in the UK, having been first published on 7 November 1665 as The Oxford Gazette.note 1 This claim is also made by the Stamford Mercury (1712) and Berrow's Worcester Journal (1690), because The Gazette is not a conventional newspaper offering general news coverage. It does not have a large circulation.

The London Gazette is published each weekday, except for bank holidays. Notices for the following, among others, are published:

Granting of royal assent to bills of the Parliament of the United Kingdom or of the Scottish Parliament

The issuance of writs of election when a vacancy occurs in the House of Commons

Appointments to certain public offices

Commissions in the Armed Forces and subsequent promotion of officers

Corporate and personal insolvency

Granting of awards of honours and military medals

Changes of names or of coats of arms

Royal proclamations and other declarations

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_London_Gazette[3]

I believe that when the Hobbits return to the Shire they find that the new rules of "Sharkey" are publicly posted.

And what about societies ruled by Morgoth (Angband), and Sauron (Mordor)? Do they have any sort of official notices or town criers?

As absolute monarchies or dictatorships they might not do very much informing the public. On the other hand, someone who wants to conquer the world should desire to have the most technologically and administratively advanced society in the world. So it is quite possible that Morgoth's and Sauron's posssibly complex governments had things analogous to the acta diurna, and/or town criers, and/or The London Gazette.

I also note that in the Second and Third Age Sauron extended his power east and south beyond the borders of the maps of Middle-earth, conquering, annexing, and directly ruling many lands in Harad ("the South") and Rhun ("The East"), and/or making them his vassals, tributaries, protectorates, or allies, and making himself worshippped as a god in those lands.

And since Sauron had large armies sent from various lands in Harad and Rhun to reinforce his Mordor armies in the War of the Ring, Sauron presumably would have wanted the various kingdoms and other states in Harad and Rhun to be advanced enough to recruit, equipp, and supply very large armies in his service.

Thus it is possible that many of the kingdoms and other states in Rhun and Harad were at least as administratively advanced as Gondor, and thus could have had their own equivalents of the acta diurna, and/or town criers, and/or The London Gazette.

So I think that journalism is probably not a big thing in Middle-earth, but there could be various activies more or less equivalent to the acta diurna, and/or town criers, and/or The London Gazette.

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