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On this day: Russia in a click

2 January

On January 2, 1703, Vedomosti, the first Russian printed newspaper came out on order of Peter the Great.

Peter the Great found it essential to have printed media to lobby for his reforms among the population and saw it as an effective tool of asserting his power throughout the Russian state. In his decree, he ordered that all news coming from throughout the country and abroad be collected and published to be accessible to a wide audience for a modest fee. The Vedomosti was an official medium and Peter took an active part in selecting materials for publication, checking the quality of the translations and making corrections.

Vedomosti became the first printed newspaper in Russia, though the Courants, its hand-written predecessor, had been regularly issued since 1621, while separate single issues had been distributed even earlier, in 1600.

The hand-written Courants was published with only enough copies being written for the specific customers. Such a system significantly assisted the work of journalists as they, knowing their target-readers practically by sight, could easily select the appropriate news to report on. However, the advent of the printing press placed journalism on a different level: writers were now forced to investigate the preferences of their target-audience and select the content for their newspaper accordingly. If before the major circulation was distributed between the crème-de la-crème of the society and high state officials, now the paper was accessible to any literate citizen.

Emperor Peter, a notorious fan of all foreign innovations, had originally planned for the new edition to basically repeat a similarly published German print newspaper. However, setting aside structural semblance, Vedomosti had its individual character from the beginning, as, unlike the somewhat dry German copy, the Russian version was a lot more relaxed and reader-friendly.

Vedomosti normally contained articles about the military, industry, science and technology along with a special section featuring Russia’s valor displayed in the Northern war of 1700-1721, in the battles at Poltava, Cape Gangut, and the Baltic region. Aside from the purely military issues, the newspaper also covered a lot of social news, such as the construction of St. Petersburg, other cities and fortresses, as well as trade development. The major sources of information were official documents and reports from ambassadors. Also, the news was gathered from regional and foreign reports, coming into the so-called Ambassador’s Office, the predecessor of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. The Office also provided translators for articles from foreign media.

By 1719 the newspaper was significantly changed in content, leaning toward politics as the miscellaneous reports were replaced by literature and analysis, feature articles and correspondences. The important history and political events were commented about by experts in a writing style that was easy for common people to understand. Vedomosti was also the first newspaper to include overviews of recently released books. Further, Peter ordered that the newspaper include a glossary of little-known words – which was a sensible decision since the newspaper was to be an important educational source for the public.

Vedomosti was published in the form of a pocket book, having a smaller format than a modern newspaper. Normally, a copy consisted of four, and on rare occasions eight, ten, or sixteen pages. Sometimes the newspapers were only printed on one side – to allow for being glued to lamp posts, fences and walls. The largest circulation was registered in March 1722 at 4000 copies. However, the optimal circulation was figured to be around 1000 paid copies.

Vedomosti, in its original format, ceased to exist at about the time of the death of its creator, Peter the Great, in 1724. The total number of issues published was 509, which came to approximately 25 issues per year. In the 18th century there was no concept as monthly or quarterly issues, so newspapers were published only on certain holidays or to mark an anniversary.