Martin Luther And The Birth Of Mass Media
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Politics and Activism

Martin Luther And The Birth Of Mass Media

How the German friar used the printing press to ignite a mass media revolution

Martin Luther And The Birth Of Mass Media

Almost anyone with a basic background in European history knows the story of Martin Luther, the friar who nailed his "Ninety-Five Theses" on a local church in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517. Disillusioned with the corruption within the Roman Catholic Church, Luther wrote the "Ninety-Five Theses," which condemned the Church's selling of indulgences. His questioning of the Catholic Church led to the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century.

What people may not know about Luther, however, is that he played a major role in the development of mass media. A new book, "Brand Luther," by British historian Andrew Pettrgree details Luther's unique use of the printing press to disseminate information to a large number of people, which had not been done before. During the 16th century, only an elite group of scholars, nobility, and clergymen used the printing press. The type of works that were being printed, Pettegree explains, were usually long, expensive, and in Latin. I

Luther published a 1,500-word essay in response to criticism he received for his "Ninety-Five Theses." Luther's essay was in German, the local language, instead of Latin, so that local people could read it. Furthermore, his essay was cheap to produce since it could be printed on a single sheet of paper and folded into a pamphlet. People who had never previously owned printed book could now purchase and read Luther's writings. Luther's innovative use of the printing press, Pettegree remarks, became "an instant publishing sensation."

Over the next two years, Luther printed over a hundred writings that attacked the corruption within the Catholic Church. He used the printing press to spread his ideas to a wide audience efficiently and inexpensively. Because it was so cheap to produce Luther's work, the debate of indulgences and papal power quickly spread throughout Germany. Both Luther and the printers profited from his writings as a result.

Along with his contributions to publishing, Luther became one of the first well-known writers. Before Luther published his countless essays, authors were rarely important. But because Luther was so prolific, however, his name became a selling point. As a result of his innovative use of the printing press, Luther ignited the Protestant Reformation, as well as a mass media revolution.

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