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The Newsroom blog

News about yesterday's news, and where news may be going

Introduction

Whether you are studying history, politics, society, international relations, economics, media history, sports history or family history, our collections will have something for you Read more

02 August 2018

Wanted - a curator for newspaper data

We are currently advertising for a Curator, Newspaper Data to join our news curatorial team. This is a fixed-term post until March 2020, based at our St Pancras site in central London. The post is being advertised as part of the British Library's Heritage Made Digital programme, a major part of which involves digitising 19th century British newspapers, with a special focus on newspapers in a poor or unfit condition.

Thenews

We are looking for someone who will help us to apply data journalism thinking to this historical news material. The person we are looking for will be responsible for the analysis and creative interpretation of data derived from Heritage Made Digital and related British Library newspaper digitisation projects. They will prepare derived newspaper data sets and promote these for use by researchers. They will work with researchers to develop projects using newspaper data.

In particular we want them to help us produce stylish visualisations using historical newspaper data, working with third-party designers as necessary. A couple of years ago on the Newsroom blog we wrote about the art of the news visualisation, and how this particular branch of data science was helping to illuminate the themes behind the news. We also said that it would be a good idea if such thinking, and with such outputs, could be applied to historical news data. Now we want someone to put those thoughts into action.

The post-holder will need to have a strong background in computer science and data science. They will have experience of working with or developing tools for large content and data volumes, and an interest in nineteenth-century history and/or news and current affairs. It's a terrific opportunity for the right person. Information on how to apply is on the British Library's vacancies site. The deadline for applications is 9 September 2018.

 

17 November 2017

The artist-reporter

Newspaper art, by its very nature, is an ephemeral art form, sprawling in number and fleeting in effect, so it is no easy task to research the field of Victorian Graphic Journalism. The role of Special Artist – or artist-reporter – as a recognized profession came into existence in the mid-nineteenth century. The seminal event in its early history was the founding of the Illustrated London News in 1842, and that of its chief rival, the Graphic, in 1869.

Simpson

William Simpson, 'H.R.H, The Prince of Wales at the School Children’s Fete Bombay, 10th November 1875', 1875, pencil with grey wash and white, ©CSG CIC, Glasgow Museums and Libraries Collection: The Mitchell Library, Special Collections

The critical innovation that made it possible was the discovery of a wood engraving technique by Thomas Bewick, back in 1791, which enabled images to be printed simultaneously alongside text.  But it was not until Herbert Ingram, the founding editor of the ILN, seized on its potential, that the pictorial press came into its own. Ingram formalized the practice of publishing images to accompany newsworthy events.  As one of the leading Special Artists, William Simpson, would reflect, you did ‘not hear of the Special Correspondent during the wars of Napoleon, but between 1815 and 1854 a great change had taken place in the character and position of the newspaper press. It was this change that evolved the “Special” (Notes and Recollections of My Life, 1889, National Library of Scotland).

Acknowledging that historical events had previously been illustrated, Simpson identified that the key distinction was that the artist was now expected:

‘to be always on the spot, jotting down in his sketch-book what he saw with his own eyes. … [he] sees what takes place, and his work is immediately given forth to the world, so that its accuracy can be tested even by the actors in the historical event.’

Convinced of the importance of the new profession of which they were part, because it meant accurate, visual records existed of all the most newsworthy events of Queen Victoria’s reign and – most importantly – had been communicated back to the British public through the medium of the press, Simpson and his journalistic colleagues, all household names in their day, believed that their work would be highly prized by ‘future historians’.  However, contrary to their expectation, they, and the imagery they produced, have been largely forgotten. If they are remembered, it is as pioneering war artists – rightly so, as the Crimean War of 1854 marked the point at which the fledgling profession truly took off. Yet my research into their work over the past decade has revealed that the scope of what they achieved is even greater. I now share their conviction that they deserve to be celebrated - in tandem with their counterparts, the special correspondents - as the progenitors of our modern media world.

Part of the reason for their neglect comes back to the relative inaccessibly of the art form they created, the sheer scale of its production and the wrongful assumption that the original sketches were destroyed in the process. However, pockets of the original artwork do still exist, such as this evocative sketch by William Simpson of the Prince of Wales presiding over the School Children’s Fete in Mumbai in November 1875, now in the collection of the Mitchell Library in Glasgow (see above).

It is the digital innovations of the twenty-first century that are providing the means for us to look back and reassess the advances of the nineteenth – not only in terms of locating the images in digital form, but also by providing platforms in which to group, analyze and ultimately represent them as a reconstituted body of work.  Picturing the News: the Art of Victorian Graphic Journalism, the online exhibition I have co-curated with Cathy Waters, is one result. Professor Waters and I will be talking about ‘Rediscovering the Art of Victorian Graphic Journalism’ as part of the AHRC’s Being Human Festival in the Foyle Room at the British Library on Thursday 23 November. If you cannot get there but are interested in learning more about the subject, please visit https://research.kent.ac.uk/victorianspecials/.

Ruth Brimacombe, Freelance Curator and Art Historian

23 October 2017

Rediscovering the art of Victorian graphic journalism

Writing in the Guardian earlier this month, Roy Greenslade queried what it is about ‘fake news’ that draws such widespread public attention: is it ‘a wilful desire to reject “boring” reality and choose its “exciting” opposite?’ he asks. The question of how to picture the news in a compelling way – so that it remains accurate as to the facts, while imaginatively transporting newspaper readers to the scenes and events described – goes back to the emergence of the first special correspondents and special artists who worked for the metropolitan press in the second half of the nineteenth century. Who were these newspaper pioneers and how can they help us to understand continuing debates about the media today?

Russell

Image courtesy of the British Cartoon Archive, University of Kent, www.cartoons.ac.uk

William Howard Russell is probably the only one of the first generation of special correspondents who is now widely remembered, largely as a result of his famous reports from the Crimean War for the Times. Russell’s despatches from the front were gripping, eye-witness accounts that brought the war home to British readers and galvanized public opposition to the Government’s mishandling of the campaign. His narratives of spectacle, heroism and suffering established him as the Times’s leading ‘special’.

Reporting from the seat of war was undoubtedly the assignment that most tested the special correspondent’s mettle. However, when no war was afoot, they had to turn their hand to cover all manner of events in any location at home or abroad as required by their newspaper. Their versatility was key; and at least equal in fame to Russell on this score from the 1860s onwards was George Augustus Sala: ‘the chief of travelled specials’, as he was later described. Sala’s potential as a ‘travelling correspondent’ was first demonstrated in 1856-7 when Dickens sent him to St Petersburg to obtain material for a series of papers on Russian life and manners for his weekly periodical, Household Words. Sala’s colourful, descriptive style, cultivated as a contributor to Dickens’s journal, flourished when he began work as a special for the fledgling Daily Telegraph in 1857. Although he reported on a number of wars, including the American Civil, Austro-Italian and Franco-Prussian wars, special correspondents were also required, as he wrote in 1871, to ‘be Jack of all trades, and master of all – that are journalistic’: ‘to “do” funerals as well as weddings, state-banquets, Volunteer reviews, Great Exhibitions, remarkable trials, christenings, coronations, ship-launches, agricultural shows, royal progresses, picture-shows, first-stone layings, horse-races and hangings’.

While not all of the journalists who worked as specials became so famous in their own day as Russell and Sala, what distinguished their correspondence was its mobility, versatility and descriptive power: an ability to observe and seize upon events wherever they happened, rendering them for the press in sufficiently graphic prose so as to transport readers through vivid eye-witness accounts. These qualities were also features of the New Journalism – a development famously criticised by Matthew Arnold in 1887 as part of a commercially driven press deploying sensational reportage to sell newspapers (a debate that remains familiar today).

Picturingthenews

https://research.kent.ac.uk/victorianspecials

But for its proponents, special correspondence was a new technology – like the railroad or the telegraph, with both of which it was closely associated – that brought the world closer, shrinking space and time and conveying readers to distant places. In fulfilling the often arduous demands of their role, these journalists sometimes became newsworthy in their own right. Indeed, speaking at an anniversary dinner of the Newspaper Press Fund in 1878, Lord Salisbury described the special correspondent as one who ‘seems to be forced to combine in himself the power of a first-class steeple-chaser with the power of the most brilliant writer – the most wonderful physical endurance with the most remarkable mental vigour’.

Some of the remarkable achievements of this forgotten breed of journalists will be rediscovered as part of Being Human: A Festival of the Humanities on Thursday 23 November from 6-8 pm when Dr Ruth Brimacombe and I discuss our online exhibition, Picturing the News, in the Foyle Room of the British Library.

Booking for this free event is available here.

Catherine Waters

c.waters@kent.ac.uk

@vicspecials

www.facebook.com/VictorianSpecials/