Neue Zur, den 12. Januar 1780. Photo/Bild: Wikipedia.

Europe’s best newspaper 240 years

On January 12, 1780, the first copy of the Zürcher Zeitung was published. Since then it has appeared without interruption. That makes it one of the oldest newspapers in Europe. And one of the best. At the time of publication, it was one of the many periodicals. The printing press, pamphlets, books and newspapers flourished in Europe at the time of the uprising of American settlers against the United Kingdom, the Industrial Revolution, the salons and societies, the Enlightenment, the educated citizen (Bildungsbürger) and on the eve of the French Revolution. The printing press became a counterpart to the established sources of information, such as the (Reformed or Catholic) Church, the monarchs and the aristocratic (city) regents. Censorship was the order of the day, however, also in Zurich. The publishing house Orell, Gessner, Füssli & Co also experienced this.

The newspaper soon appeared twice a week in an edition of 1,000 copies. It reported not only on the usual subjects (monarchs, war and peace) but also on revolts, forbidden books, slavery and the lives of other peoples. In Protestant Zurich, the Catholic Church was also a popular subject of criticism; however, criticism of the Protestant Church or allies was not tolerated. Several editors were dismissed at the insistence of the city council. After 1815, the newspaper went through difficult times, but it continued to appear, although its circulation dropped to 400. In 1821, a new beginning was made under the current name of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung. A liberal medium that is independent, informs, has a vision and concept, and also propagates it, but relies on facts, research and above all respectful of other opinions and people. 

The current newspaper does not regard itself as a God on the journalistic Olympus who looks down on the ordinary people. This mentality and paternalism no longer function in times of digitization. The readers are no longer just the recipients of news, but give shape to the press. Confidence in the journalism of what used to be quality newspapers has been damaged in recent years, in the Netherlands, Germany,  America and the United Kingdom. These media have also become part of fake news, indoctrination, manipulation and ideology. In this respect, the situation is not so different from 1780, when the new media challenged he information monopoly of the old rulers. It often seems that the so-called and self-proclaimed quality media nowadays behave like these rulers who cannot and do not want to deal with criticism, self-reflection and the changes in society. They are the new regents. The Neue Zürcher Zeitung has earned not only a congratulation for its 240th anniversary but also a compliment for its integrity and consistency. By the end of 2021, the contents of this journalistic  monument will be available online from its first edition in 1780.