When Amazon founder and soon-to-be Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos visited the newsroom this week, he highlighted two threats to the newspaper business: “the Rewrite Problem and the Debundling Problem.”
“How,” he asked us, “do we get back to that glorious bundle that the paper did so well?”
Instantly, “bundling” was the industry term of the hour.
But my mind, as usual, was back in the 18th century.
I first ran across the word “bundling” when I was studying early American literature in graduate school. In Colonial times, it was a common courting practice: A young man and woman would wrap themselves in separate blankets and then settle in for an evening of chaste conversation. Something like what we used to call “making out.”
In his witty “History of New York” (1809), Washington Irving wrote: “This ceremony was likewise, in those primitive times, considered as an indispensable preliminary to matrimony; their courtships commencing where ours usually finish, by which means they acquired, that intimate acquaintance with each other’s good qualities before marriage.”
As you might expect, fiery Jonathan Edwards raged against bundling in his sermons. But later clergymen were more tolerant. An Anglican minister in Connecticut named Samuel Peters wrote, “It is certainly innocent, virtuous and prudent, or the Puritans would not have permitted it to prevail among their offspring.” All things considered, he went on, bundling is certainly safer “than the sitting on a sofa.”
(Rest assured, there are no sofas in our newsroom.)
An 18th-century song “In Favour of Courting” ends with these encouraging lines:
Go on young men and bundle then,
But keep your bodies pure.
Not bad advice for journalists in the Internet era.