Did Benjamin Franklin Invent Infotainment?

USA TODAY, April 2000 | Go to article overview

Did Benjamin Franklin Invent Infotainment?


Benjamin Franklin, one of our nation's Founding Fathers, also was the founding father of infotainment, that ever-popular blend of information and entertainment, according to Tom Leonard, associate dean of the University of California, Berkeley's North Gate Graduate School of Journalism. Even as a youngster, Franklin was writing ballads that incorporated details from daily newspaper reports about events such as the pirate Blackbeard's beheading. He then would hawk copies of the songs on the streets of Boston.

The 13-year-old Franklin wrote and helped his brother James publish a ballad, "The Downfall of Piracy," in 1719. The Franklin brothers later used their newspaper to advertise broadsides--sheets of paper on which was printed a song on a topical subject. The young Franklin's ballad recalls the last day in the life of Captain Edward Teach, commonly known as Blackbeard, the pirate who plundered the Atlantic coast.

Such ballads "are among the earliest indicators of what news would be, who would control it, and how it could support a business," Leonard notes. He also links specific details in the ballad with historic fact, explaining that the song predates by three years the "Silence Do-good" letters of 1722, which scholars have long considered the earliest surviving writings of Franklin. …

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Did Benjamin Franklin Invent Infotainment?
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