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3 posts categorized "Audiences"

17 July 2014

The reading experience

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On 18 February 1814 Lord Byron got up and read his morning newspaper, a fact that we know because he recorded the action later that day in his journal:

Got up - redde the Morning Post containing the battle of Buonaparte, the destruction of the Custom House, and a paragraph on me as long as my pedigree, and vituperative, as usual.

George Gordon Lord Byron, Leslie A. Marchand (ed.), Byron's Letters and Journals, (London, 1974), 3, p. 242, http://www.open.ac.uk/Arts/reading/UK/record_details.php?id=2113, accessed: 16 July 2014

Sure enough, in the Morning Post for that date is a column attacking the poet, just as he would have read it:

Byron

Morning Post - Friday 18 February 1814. Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

The history of newspapers is usually written from the point of view of their producers, being a tale of owners, editors, writers, money and politics. What gets less attention is the history of newspapers viewed through its consumers. We are told about which classes bought which papers, we know about prices, and we know that newspapers in past centuries were read both privately and out loud to others. But of the readers and the actual experience of reading newspapers there is too little. How different sections of society have found their news, how they read it, understood, paid for it, shared it, and acted upon it, are hugely important, but many newspaper histories and reference books pay scant attention to those whose news it ultimately was (Andrew Pettegree's recent The Invention of News is a notable exception). We have circulation figures and statistics, but it would be good to see people too.

So where to find out information on how people read newspapers in the past? A terrific resource is the Open University's Reading Experience Database, from which the Lord Byron quote above comes. The Reading Experience Database (RED) is a project documenting the history of reading in Britain from 1450 to 1945 (there are allied databases tracing the history of reading in Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and New Zealand). The database contains some 30,000 records containing verbtatim texts taken from published and unpublished sources, including diaries, commonplace books, memoirs, sociological surveys, criminal court and prison records. Its aim is to document the "recorded engagement with a written or printed text - beyond the mere fact of possession".

The fully-searchable database has been built up by both the project team and around 100 volunteers who have volunteered examples from their own reading and areas of interest (anyone can contribute if they wish). Each record gives the text that documents the reading experience, the date, country, time of day, place, type of experience (e.g. solitary or in company), the reader and their personal details, the type of text being read, and details of the source itself. Much of the evidence gathered relates to the reading of books, but there is also a substantial collection of testimony relating to reading newspapers.

Here, for example, is Thomas Carter, remembering his newspaper-reading and sharing habits in 1815:

Thus I became their [workmates] news-purveyor, ie. I every morning gave them an account of what I had just been reading in the yesterday's newspaper. I read this at a coffee shop, where I took an early breakfast on my way to work. These shops were but just then becoming general... The shop I selected was near the bottom of Oxford Street. It was in the direct path by which I made my way to work... The papers I generally preferred to read were the "British Press", the "Morning Chronicle", and the "Statesman". I usually contrived to run over the Parliamentary debates and the foreign news, together with the leading articles. ...My shopmates were much pleased at the extent and variety of the intelligence which I was able to give them about public affairs, and they were the more pleased because I often told them about the contents of Mr. Cobbett's "Political Register", as they were warm admirers of that clever and very intelligible writer.

Thomas Carter, Memoirs of a Working Man, (London, 1845), p. 186, http://www.open.ac.uk/Arts/reading/UK/record_details.php?id=7619, accessed: 16 July 2014

This comes from Carter's Memoirs of a Working Man (1845) and is a relatively rare example of working class testimony. Memoirs, journals and accounts in newspapers themselves were generally the preserve of the wealthier classes in the 17th to 17th centuries, so Carter's account of how he read and the re-transmitted intelligence from a range of newspaper to his work colleagues is precious. However, the RED's advanced search options allows one to refine searches by social type (servant, labourer, clergy, gentry, clerk / tradesman, professional, royalty / aristocracy), so here is a servant in an 1839 trial revealing his newspaper reading habits while giving evidence:

On Saturday morning, the 26th of January, I was reading in the newspaper of the loss of Mr. Platt's plate, in Russellsquare - I went up to my master, and pointed it out to him; and, in consequence of his directions, I went down to the pantry to bring up the spare plate, and found it was gone - I suspected the prisoner, and gave information to the police.

Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, 27 April 2009), 4 Feb 1839, Trial of William Smith (t18390204-682), http://www.open.ac.uk/Arts/reading/UK/record_details.php?id=24962, accessed: 16 July 2014

Nineteeth-century newspapers were read not only for news of public affairs, but for social affairs and gossip. On 24 October 1808 Jane Austen wrote from Southampton to her sister Cassandra:

On the subject of matrimony, I must notice a wedding in the Salisbury paper, which has amused me very much, Dr Phillot to Lady Frances St Lawrence.

Jane Austen, Deirdre Le Faye (ed.), Jane Austen's Letters, (Oxford, 1995), p. 151, http://www.open.ac.uk/Arts/reading/UK/record_details.php?id=10383, accessed: 16 July 2014

From the previous century, here is James Boswell recalling how he was obliged to read out from the newspaper to Samuel Johnson, under the latter's strict instructions:

"The London Chronicle", which was the only newspaper he constantly took in, being brought, the office of reading it aloud was assigned to me. I was diverted by his impatience. He made me pass over so many parts of it, that my task was very easy. He would not suffer one of the petitions to the King about the Middlesex election to be read.

James Boswell, R.C. Chapman (ed.), Life of Johnson, (Oxford, 1980), p. 424, http://www.open.ac.uk/Arts/reading/UK/record_details.php?id=21084, accessed: 16 July 2014

From a later period, here is Harriet Martineau  in a letter dated 1 March 1866, while residing in the Lake District, noting comments made about Matthew Arnold in the press:

Of course you have seen the squib on him in the "Examiner" ("Mr Sampson"). I saw it in a Liverpool paper. One sees him in almost every newspaper now. "D. News" rapped his knuckles a month since... and I see the "Times" did it yesterday.

Harriet Martineau, Elisabeth Sanders Arbuckle (ed.), Harriet Martineau's Letters to Fanny Wedgwood, (Stanford, 1983), p. 266, http://www.open.ac.uk/Arts/reading/UK/record_details.php?id=9211, accessed: 16 July 2014

Here we see, as with Thomas Carter, how common it was to gain intelligence from a range of newspapers, as well as how the national titles were diffused across the country.

We gain from such accounts an idea of how newspapers were read, who read them, what information they expected to gain from them, how they analysed such information, and how they passed on such information. We see newspapers as a habit, and how they operated as part of the daily round. We see how public knowledge was communicated and how people understood their place in the life of the nation. We see the importance of newspapers as something experienced - which is crucial to understanding their function and history.

The Reading Experience Database is an excellent resource: clear, rigorous and easy to use. It is limited to actual evidence of newspaper reading. It does not include fictional accounts, which can be just as revealing of how newspapers were received. It is of course limited by what documentation is available and what its project team and host of volunteers have been able to find. It is selective evidence. Such accounts do not usually record how a newspaper was read, how it was handled, even how much time was spent in reading it. We do not see the visual relation of the reader to the newspaper. For that you need paintings or photographs. Which might be another project, at another time.

Readers

Some images of people reading newspapers, from British Library Images Online

13 June 2014

St Pancras Intelligencer no. 22

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Welcome to the latest edition of the St Pancras Intelligencer, our weekly round-up of news about news - stories about news production, publications, apps, digitised resources, events and what is happening with the newspaper collection (and other news collections) at the British Library.

Antisocial

Stop sharing this photograph of antisocial newspaper readers: This much retweeted and shared photograph of a train carriage full of newspaper readers has been viewed by many as a comment on an anti-social past age. Medium makes a strong argument why this is a complete misunderstanding of how a newspaper is consumed.

... what you are seeing in that picture of “antisocial” people reading newspapers is actually an eminently social activity: citizens keeping themselves informed so they can participate in the civic discourse of their community.

Enabling access to digitised historic newspapers: We held a Europeana Newspapers event here at the British Library, on assorted issues relating to the digitisation of newspapers, with interesting contrasts between traditional browsing and big data analytical approaches, and between free and paid access services. The link is to a Storify collection of tweets, links and slideshows from the day (fun to put together - will be doing more of these).

Broadcasting D-Day: The BBC's recreation of radio broadcasts from D-Day by using digitised scripts and actors (Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Jones, Patrick Stewart) made a powerful impact and was a fitting tribute on the 70th anniversary of the landings. The BBC radio scripts come from the British Library, and this post gives the background.

 

Digital News Report 2014: Eagerly devoured and much commented upon has been the latest annual Reuters Institute Digital News Report, the result of a survey of digital news consumption in UK, US, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Denmark and Finland. Among the key findings are:

  • The use of smartphones and tablets has jumped significantly in the past year, with fewer people using their computers for news
  • More than a third of online news users across all countries (39%) use two or more digital devices each week for news and a fifth (20%) now say their mobile phone is their primary access point
  • US social sharing news sites like Huffington Post and Buzzfeed are beginning to make inroads around the world, with new formats and a fresh tone of voice aimed at younger people
  • Even so, traditional brands remain strong in most markets, with cross-platform newspaper reach averaging 75% in most countries
  • The number of people paying for digital news (11% average) has remained stable over the past 12 months, although there is a significant switch to more valuable ongoing digital subscription in most countries 
  • Of those paying for news in all countries, 59% are paying for an ongoing subscription (43% 2013). Of those who are not paying, 15% say they are likely to pay in the future
  • Facebook is by far the most important network for news everywhere
  • Although Twitter is widely used in the US, Spain, and the UK, it is far less influential in many other European countries. Google+ is emerging as increasingly important for news, along with messaging application WhatsApp

Robert Peston’s speech: Hotly discussed all week has been Robert Peston's British Journalism Review Charles Wheeler lecture, where he queries James Harding's statement (given in his WT Stead lecture at the British Library), "I think this is the most exciting time to be a journalist since the advent of television". Peston is not so sanguine, seeing threats in online culture, reader power, and the power of the public relations industry. He concludes:

...we don’t yet have what you might call a stable ecosystem in news. The poll-tax funded BBC is one kind of news-media model. The loss-making Guardian, funded by vast private-equity capital gains, is another. The Daily Mail another still. And Quartz, Huffington Post and BuzzFeed something different again. There is diversity – which all ecologists would tell you is vital to long-term survival. But there is also pollution, from a dangerous elision between news that pays and news that matters.

Why would anyone want to be a journalist?: But then there's Sarah Hartley at Contributoria, who speaks to several journalists about the hazards and frustrations of their occupation, and finds the answer to her question in these words from photographer Giles Duley (a triple-amputee after stepping on an IED in Afghanistan):

It’s about storytelling for me. There are these incredible stories out there and I think I follow a tradition that started around camp fires, in caves around ten thousands of years ago and there’s an innate need for people to tell stories and to hear stories and I just love being part of that tradition and so I’ll carry on doing it.

The Sun Launches A £4.2 Billion Marketing Campaign?: The Sun is delivering a free special World Cup issue to 22 million UK homes over a 48-hour period (avoiding Hillsborough). Chris Brace at the Brown Moses blog notes that the giveway lacks the imprint that identifies the publication as a newspaper. The fine for breaching this legal requirement can be up to £200 per copy. 200 x 22M = £4.4Bn. That's a quite fine...

Not Everyone Is Happy About The Sun’s “This Is Our England” Front Page: Patrick Smith at Buzzfeed rounds up some less than complimentary reactions to the great free Sun giveaway. There's even a @PostTheSunBack campaign.

Internet not responsible for dying newspapers, new study finds: Riding against the general trend of argument is a paper by University of Chicago Booth School of Business Professor Matthew Gentzkow, which says that comparisons between the internet and newspaper are based on some false assumptions. ScienceDaily summarises these.

A year on Guardian continues to face derision from Fleet Street rivals over Edward Snowden revelations: Press Gazette reviews the opinions expressed about Edward Snowden in other British newspapers, which are distinctly unimpressed.

Time Inc. Has a Big Problem - So Does Digital Journalism: Derek Thompson at The Atlantic feels that the future looks bright for digital journalism as a product, but dim for large-scale digital journalism as a business.

 

Victorian Meme Machine: Bob Nicholson of Edge Hill University is one of two winners of our BL Labs competition for innovative ideas to use digital collections. His Victorian Meme Machine will create an extensive database of Victorian jokes, drawn from newspapers etc, and pair them with an appropriate image drawn from BL and other digital collections. 

Annotating the news: Intriguing piece by Jihii Jolly for Columbia Journalism Review on student news literacy and annotation tools.

The BBC was impervious to the launch of Sky News. Now they have to take notice: Ian Burrell at The Independent interviews Sky News editor John Ryley, who is full of plans, is disparagaing of ITV's attitude towards news, and states firmly: “The future for news is on mobile.”

European newspapers search for ways to survive digital revolution: A Guardian survey of how newspapers in Spain, France and Germany are struggling (belatedly) to find ways to make money as print sales plummet.

16 Pictures Of Beyoncé Where She’s Not Sinking In Quicksand: The Onion has launched Clickhole, its parody site for 'clickbait' viral sites like Buzzfeed and Upworthy. Not super-funny yet, but we have hope.

Why banish words from the front page?: The sharply opinionated Grey Cardigan on The Spin Alley blog is critical of sloppy front page design in some UK regional newspapers, and thoughtful on the reasons why.

Newspaper printed with ink that repels mosquitoes: This is such a heartening story - a Sri Lankan newspaper has come up with Mawbima Mosquito Repellent Paper, printed using bug-repelling ink, as part of campaign to help prevent the spread of Dengue fever. Probably a bit of a preservation challenge though...

Chatting with bots: How Slack is changing how newsrooms talk amongst themselves: Nieman Journalism Lab on Slack, a chat application being used in the newsrooms of  The Times, BuzzFeed, The Atlantic, Quartz, Slate, NBC News, The Guardian and more.

Kevin Turvey investigates ... the media: RIP Kevin Turvey, peerless investigative reporter from Reddtich, aka Rik Mayall.

28 March 2014

St Pancras Intelligencer no. 11

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Welcome to the latest edition of the St Pancras Intelligencer, our weekly round-up of news about news - stories about news production, publications, apps, digitised resources, events and what is happening with the newspaper collection (and other news collections) at the British Library. 

  

Journalism matters: Mark Austin and Julie Etchingham of ITN; Christiane Amanpour from CNN, Mark Ferguson from Channel 7 (Australia) ; and Shiulie Ghosh of Al-Jazeera English participate in this 40-second video in support of the #FreeAJStaff campaign, protesting against EWgypt's placing in custody for the past three months of three Al Jazeera journalists for "spreading false news".

The LBC Leaders' Debate: It was fascinating to see the debate on immigration between the LibDems' Nick Clegg and UKIP's Nigel Farage, not for the topic but for how radio station LBC is pushing its brand. Recently launched as a national service, they broadcast the event live  on radio, with simulataneous video stream on the BBC News website, followed the moment it ended by the BBC News channel showing the debate with reaction afterwards. LBC's name was prominent, on the lecterns, the walls and in the name of the event itself. Look out for further LBC brand-building in the future, no doubt.

The Times 'moving towards profit' since paywall launch: Guess what, Times Newspapers has moved from a £72 million loss in 2009 to £6 million for trading year ending June 2013.

Will readers pay for journalists?: An interesting twist on the question of whether readers will pay for digital news content - American start-up news site The Beacon is asking its readers to sponsor a journalist for $75,000 for a year to report on the American prison system.

The problem with data journalism: The hot topic of the hour is data journalism. All well and good, says Allison Schrager at Quartz, but the problem with it is that it's not science. "Empirical researchers spend years learning how to apply statistics and countless hours dissecting data. And then even the most experienced, well-intentioned researcher might end up with biased results."

Facts are sacred: Meanwhile, this extract by Simon Rogers from his book Facts are Sacred, lists ten things that you should know about data journalism e.g. "It may be trendy but it's not new".

Before the "explanatory journalism" craze started to catch fire, there was Syria Deeply: The other, related journalism vogue is 'exploratory journalism'. Mathew Ingram at Gigaom tells the story of Lara Setrakian's topic-based site Syria Deeply to show how none of these ideas are new.

Reddit plans to offer embeds for breaking news discussions: Mashable reports that hugely popular 'notice board' site Reddit is planning to offer embeds for breaking news threads, something which could help news organisations tap into instant live blogs of newsworthy events. Could be big.

The week when Mick Jagger found the true cost of fame: Catherine Bennett at The Guardian muses on the papers' treatment of the L'Wren Scott suicide story, calls some of the coverage shameful (while repeating some of this) but says that it shouldn't be used as anrgument for curbs against the press.

London Live: The 24-hour entertainment TV channel for London, backed by The Evening Standard, goes live on March 31st, but its website is already active.

Checking out the NSB: This blog visits the British Library's vast Newspaper Storage Building at Boston Spa, and muses on robots, metadata, and what digital means.

As news reporters get measured by clicks, there are lessons to be learned from unlikely sources: Interesting piece from Poynter on page-view metrics and how the numbers can't determine what's journalistically important.

Trinity Mirror North East unveils plan for digital-first newsroom: The Newcastle and Teesside publisher's  new editorial structure, called Newsroom 3.1, will put digital first, print second, evidence of how newspapers are finding their audiences being drawn ever more to their websites. The Drum reports.

Twitter - hot damn!: Not everyone in the news world gets Twitter as yet. Jon Slattery tells them in detail why they should. "Not being on Twitter leaves print journalists as out of touch as the judge who asked: ‘Who are the Beatles?'".

Can Twitter hashtags work in print?: Talking of which, the Media Blog muses interestingly on how newspapers are introducing hashtags into print stories, and whether this has much of an impact at all.