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At a time when the future of newspapers is as bleak as late-era Silvia Plath, plenty of journos get misty-eyed over the unremembered halcyon days of hard-drinking editors presiding over sprawling metro sections. In “Breaking News: Renaissance Journalism and the Birth of the Newspaper,” the Folger Shakespeare Library looks further back, to the turn of the 17th century, when ascendant pamphleteers brought a sensationalist sensibility to the revolutionized dissemination of gossip and, yes, news. Drawn almost entirely from the Folger archives (notable exception: an operational replica of a late-16th-century printing press, which the library used to create handouts for the exhibit’s opening), these yellowed materials from journalism’s formative years are humorous in their discrepancy from, and sobering in their similarity to, our modern news media: While the orthographic irregularities and engraved illustrations bring to mind the quaint pillorying of Daniel Defoe, these proto-tabloids sport familiar themes—violent crime, political scandals (the trial of Charles I), and natural disasters (the eruption of Mount Etna in 1669). In 300 years, look for an equally picturesque exhibit on the vicissitudes of Twitter.

THE EXHIBITION IS ON DISPLAY UNTIL JAN. 31 AT THE FOLGER SHAKESPEARE LIBRARY, 201 EAST CAPITOL STREET, SE. FREE. (202) 544-4600