The Newsroom blog

8 posts from February 2014

28 February 2014

St Pancras Intelligencer no. 7

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.  


With You All the Way: This totally charming local newspaper TV advertisement has been produced by  Weekly Independent Newspaper Association (WINA) which represents small independent local publishers, headed by Tindle Newspapers and backed by the Newspaper Society.

The future of the news business: Marc Andreessen's optimistic piece has been much shared and much discussed. "I am very interested to see how Journalism with a capital J can maintain its reputation for truth and accuracy versus upstart blogs and Wikipedia. For Journalism  – big J – the stakes  are very high if that reputation is lost. But it may be that all journalism wins. Maybe we are entering into a new golden age of journalism, and we just haven’t recognized it yet.  We can have the best of all worlds, with both accuracy rising, and stories that hew closer to truth."

Is it 'too trivial' for complex geopolitical stories to use same techniques as for horses that look like Miley Cyrus?: Another much shared piece on the nature of news today from Emily Bell, specifically on how graphic images on social media could be a valuable way to make foreign news more accessible. "A serious challenge to the mainstream press is increasingly coming from new entrants who understand the mechanisms used for conveying mass market trivia and are adapting them to more serious issues. PolicyMic – a New York start-up run by Chris Altchek and Jake Horowitz – Vice and Buzzfeed are bringing a far younger audience to Venezuelan politics, Ukrainian riots and inequality."

Vice News, where video works: And so Dylan Byers at Politico reports on the beta invite-only launch of Vice News, a new video service from Vice, "the CNN for Generation Y".

St. Bride's Thanksgiving Service: To help mark the 150th anniversary of the Journalists' Charity, Sky News' Alex Crawford gave this funny, thoughtful address on her profession and why those like her pursue it. "To make a difference,  to have adventures, to expose lies, to hold Governments to account, to bear witness, to take on authorities all over the world, to educate, entertain, enchant, enthrall ... To have fun ..."

Why are all the House of Cards journalists so bad at journalism?: James Ball at The Guardian pokes fun at his small screen rivals.

The year most news home pages looked the same: The Atlantic notices that Bloomberg looks like NBC looks like New Republic looks like Vox Media looks like The Atlantic...

#newsVANE at BBC News Labs: It may sound like it's for techies only, but the work BBC News Labs is doing on scalable reference tools and semantic referencing of news - essentially making digital news content more discoverable by making the most of the knowledge digital content has about itself - has great importance for how we'll be able to research news archives in the future. The project is called #newsVANE.

Seeking a Lead on News, Network Turns to Data-Mining Media Group: More on the importance of news data, this time for the production of news itself. The New York Times reports on tools that mine the Internet for news, and why major news providers (News Corporation, MSNBC, CNN) are teaming up with some smart digital start-ups (Storyful, Vocativ, Dataminr).

Upworthy details why it fact-checks every post: Upworthy says that it curates news stories rather than produce them, but that it believes in fact-checking for all that. So there's hope for the new news media - and its audiences - after all.

Piers Morgan is a victim of arrogance and his accent: Piers Morgan was sacked by CNN and the knives have been out for for the man for whom no one, but no one, seems to have a good word. Gavin Haynes at Vice may have had the knife that dug the deepest.

Harman and Ed Miliband need to rethink how they handle the Daily Mail: Roy Greenslade offers advice to those Labour politicians who once again have taken on the Daily Mail and lost, this time over a 1970s misalliance with a paedophile advocacy group.

Top tips for searching the newspapers: The British Newspaper Archive published a sensible list of searching tips for those new to newspaper archives in search of family history (or any other sort of history).

Regional dailies lose third of readers as cover price rises hit sales: Hold the Front Page reports on the gloomy picture painted for regional newspapers by the latest ABC circulation figures.

How digital growth is countering print decline in regional press: But looking at the sameABC figures Press Gazette sees digital green shoots of recovery.

And finally, BBC Look North presenter Caroline Bilton went viral this week. It's that sinking feeling:



26 February 2014

10 great online newsreel archives

Last week we published a list of 10 great online newspaper archives. Working our way through the different news media, here's a listing of 10 of the best newsreel sources to be found online, newsreels being the news medium shown in cinemas worldwide from the early 1900s to the 1970s (and beyond in some countries). Newsreels don't always receive the attention they deserve from historians - they were popular, powerful, and had a huge influence on people's perceptions of the world. Their archives are often aimed at the broadcast market rather than the general public or academic audiences, but there is plenty of good material for anyone to find if you know where to look.


An example of a complete issue for Gaumont-British News, issue 197, 18 November 1935 (film from ITN Source via JISC Media Hub)

Archivio Storico

The online archive of the Italian stated-owned Luce company contains seventy years of newsreels, from the late 1920s onwards. The site is in Italian, but is easy enough to negotiate, and there is plenty of material there from around the world, as well as naturally enough having excellent coverage of Italian life and politics (including the period when Luce was the propaganda tool of Mussolini's fascist regime.

British Movietone News

British Movietone News was one of the most familiar and influential of British newsreels. It was the first sound newsreel in Britain, and ran 1929-1979. Its entire run has been digitised and made freely available (to use the site requires registration first), though its primary purpose is commercial sales. The site isn't nearly as well known as British Pathé, but is just as important, with so many important and just as many incidental and quirky news stories from five decades of British life. There are good catalogue descriptions, with low and high resolution videos for viewing.

British Pathé

British Pathé is the dominant force for online newsreels. The Pathé Gazette (later Pathé News) newsreel ran in Britain between 1910-1970. Most of its twice-weekly issues have survived and have been digitised and made available online - some 3,500 hours, or 90,000 individual items. Now run by an independent business with no connection to the original Pathé, the site provies high resolution copies for footage sales and low resolution freely viewable copies for the general public. There are some idiosyncratic catalogue descriptions, thousands of stills taken from the newsreels, and useful thematic collections such as World War One. It is easy to use, engrossing to browse, and provides a wonderful panorama of much of twentieth-century life, in Britain and beyond.

Fox Movietone News: the War Years, 1942 – 1944

The survival rate for American newsreels is not as good as it is in some other coutnries, and research tools such as databases or digitised collections are disappointingly few. An important resource is the Fox Movietone collection held by the University of South Carolina.  200 Fox Movietone News issues for the 1942-44 period can be viewed online, together with digitised newsreel cameramen's dope sheets (records of what they shot during an assignment) and other documentation. The USC's main digital video repository Moving Image Research Collections has further newsreel material available, including stories from the the silent Fox News (1919-1930) . 

Gaumont Pathe Archives

For a century the French Gaumont and Pathé companies (both established  in the 1890s) were the greatest rivals, and it still feels extraordinary that the two should have finally combined (in 2003) to create this huge newsreel archive (which also includes films of the French Éclair Journal). Searching the site is free, and the range of content is stupendous, representing 14,000 hours of historic news film. Unfortunately viewing of the clips themselves is restricted to "broadcasting professionals" i.e. those who have signed up to the site and who have proved to them that they are likely to buy footage from them. There is English language as well as French background text, and even if the clips can;t be viewed by most it's still an amazing resource to browse.

Imperial War Museum

The IWM holds substantial collections of film relating to the First and Second World Wars, among which are British propaganda and service newsreels, such as the War Office Official Topical Budget for 1917-18) and War Pictorial News, Warwork News, The Gen and the German-language Welt im Film for the Second World War and after. Only a small number of the records have playable copies, and searching is easier by subject than it is by series, but the catalogue descriptions are detailed and precise.

ITN Source

ITN is the largest moving image archive in the UK after the BBC, and has much more than just the television news programmes made for ITV and Channel 4. Through its management of the Reuters archive, it has the libraries of the Gaumont, Paramount and Universal newsreels, as they were issued in Britain.  There is newsreel (and pre-newsreel) material here from the 1890s onwards (use the Advanced Search option and tick the Reuters box, though this brings up much non-newsreel maerial as well), with tens of thousands of clips, plus many handy compilations. As with many other newsreel sites, ITN Source is aimed at the commercial footage market, but the site is hugely valuable to the general and academic researcher.

JISC Media Hub

Behind the ugly name is a substantial collection of video, audio and image material licensed for use by UK higher education. Among this material is what was formerly known as Newsfilm Online, a specially-selected collection of 3,000 hours of ITN Source newsreels and television news, including Gaumont and Paramount newsreels, which can be downloaded and re-used by students in licensed HE institutions. For the rest of us, it is still possible search and browse the archive, if not to play the videos.

News on Screen

This is the place to to discover British newsreels. It is a database of nearly every newsreels and news magazine issued in Britain between 1910 and 1983, and is managed by the British Universities Film & Video Council. The database is more accurate when it comes to issue dates and issue numbers than is sometimes the case with the newsreel libraries themselves, and as well as these records there are 80,000 digitised production documents (including scripts) and links through to playable copies at British Pathé, Movietone and (for HE users) JISC Media Online. There is also much background history on the newsreels, including biographies, essays and oral history recordings.


This is an archive of the German Deutsche Wocheschau newsreel. Over 6,000 stories have been made available to date, with additional material going back to 1895 and up to 1990. There is English language as well as German text, but unfortunately little informastion is given on the newsreels and the image quality is very low (and requires Windows Media Player).  It is great that such important newsreel content has been made available in this way, but the site could and should be so much better than it is.

Please note that the British Library does not have any cinema newsreels in its collections.

21 February 2014

St Pancras Intelligencer no. 6

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. 


Before & After - Kiev's Independence Square: A stunning composite image published on Reddit.

You're not going to read this: But you'll probably share it anyway. The Verge points out the huge difference in numbers between what we tweet and what we actually read of what we tweet.

Scientists develop a lie detector for tweets: More on the shakiness of social media, this time on a system - Pheme - which could help determine whether a Tweet contains credible information or not. From the Daily Telegraph.

The Historian and the Home Movie: A nice 5-part set of thoughtful blogs from the Media Archive of Central England on why home movies matter as history. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.

The YouTube War: A fine piece by Amnesty International's Christoph Koettl for PBS on the rise of YouTube videos in reporting on the Syrian conflict, and the opportunities and challenges of using such videos as evidence of human rights violations.

Letter asks for release of Peter Greste held in Egypt: The BBC, ITN, Reuters, Sky, NBC News and ABC News have signed a letter asking for the release of Australian freelance journalist Peter Greste and his two Al-Jazeera colleagues, being held in prison by the Egyptian authorities.

Highlights from the IFLA newspaper conference: A handy blog post from the Oregon Digital Newspaper Program on the International Federation of Library Associations’ (IFLA) Newspaper group's conference held at Salt Lake City. Newspaper history, digitisation and preservation.

Hacked Off to Daily Mail: you are the biggest ethical code offender: The Press Complaints Commission published a list of publications responsible for breaches of the editors' code of practice. The Daily Mail came top. The Mail protested and defended its position. Hacked Off was not impressed. Roy Greenslade refrains from comment.

Anti-“Daily Mail” Signs Appear On Britain’s Rail Network: Talking of which, these signs have been popping up on UK trains (having been handed out by satirical comedian Mark Thomas on his current tour). Buzzfeed dutifully collates a selection of photographs.


On the Ramsgate to Victoria line, photographed by Nicola Branch

How digital weighs up against print for UK magazine circulations: reports on the new data from the Audit Bureau of Circulation which for the first time gives combined digital and print sales for magazines. Print still dominates, for now.

BBC accused of political bias - on the right, not the left: The Independent reports on Cardiff University research which finds that "the BBC has compromised its impartiality by depending too heavily on sources from business, the media, law and order and politics" and that the BBC "was more likely than ITV or Channel 4 to use sources from the right – such as US Republicans or Ukip politicians – than from the left (US Democrats or Green politicians)."

Should UK licence-fee payers still fund the World Service?: More BBC worries - The Observer is concerned that the end of Foreign Office funding for the World Service could put the service in jeopardy when the next round of cuts is made.

Former Colindale periodicals available to order again: Good news for British Library users - the periodicals formerly held at Colindale and embargoed since June are available to order once more.

Readers love Johnston weekly’s UGC: Can a regional newspaper find 75% of its copy from user-generated content, and thrive? Steve Dyson reviews the Pocklington Post for Hold the Front Page and emerges pleasantly surprised by what he reads. "The resulting copy may be a little loose in style, but there seems to me to be finer detail, more names and probably fewer factual errors".

Are quizzes the new lists?: More to the point, are quizzes journalism? Caroline O'Donovan looks at the latest Buzzfeed viral phenomenon.

The case of the poisonous Bath buns: Michelle Higgs' discovery of a shocking tale from Victorian times found when using the British Newspaper Archive.

WikiLeaks now offers a search engine to help you find documents linked to any keyword: And here it is.

19 February 2014

10 great online newspaper archives

The sheer number of digitised newspaper resources out there is astonishing. In a period of not much more than ten years ago when the first newspaper digitisation project got underway, there are now hundreds of millions of pages accessible online. Here's a guide to ten of the best of them (but not the ten 'best' of course), first in a series of 'top ten' guides to news research sources we'll be publishing over the next few weeks.


British Newspaper Archive (£)

The BNA is a partnership between the British Library and DC Thomson Family History to publish 40 million pages from British newspapers over a ten year period (deadline 2020). Built upon an earlier newspaper digitisation project between the Library and JISC, there are currently just under 7.5 million pages available from around 250 British newspaper titles, dating from 1710 to 1954. The focus is on regionals as opposed to nationals, and titles which have not been digitised and made commercially available elsewhere. So you won't find The Times or the Daily Mirror, but you will find the West Kent Guardian, the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, the Bristol Mercury and the Dundee Courier. 19th century nationals represented include The Graphic and the Morning Post. It's a subscription site, with exemplary searching and filtering tools and helpful guides. 

Chronicling America

This is a newspaper digitisation programme sponsored jointly by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress as part of the National Digital Newspaper Program. It covers newspapers published 1860-1922 for the following states: Arizona, California, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Washington. Papers available include The San Francisco CallThe New York SunThe Washington TimesThe Colored American, and The New York Evening Times. Currently there are some 7.2 million pages from 1,270 titles.


Gallica is the digital library of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Established in 1997, today it contains nearly 3 million digital documents - books, manuscripts, maps, images, sound recordings and newspapers. The library has 1.3 million newspaper and periodical pages to date, including Le Figaro and L’Humanité, with new content being aded all the time. The content is all French, of course (but there are English-language searching tools), and is a mixture of free and paid-for content.  You can search by title, author, text, date, language, broad subject, document type and access type (i.e. free versus paid-for content), and there are useful filtering tools.

NewspaperARCHIVE (£)

The American site NewspaperARCHIVE calls itself the world's largest newspaper archive, and in online terms that may be the case. It boasts over 130 million pages (newspaper and periodicals) dating from 1607 to the present day, with papers from all American states and eleven other countries, including the UK (some 800 titles). It claims to be adding 80,000 images per day, or 2.5 million per month, such is the relentless demand from the geneaology market, to which the site is strongly directed. There are various subscription offers available, and you can have a 3-day trial of the full database for $1.95.

Newspapers SG

A plain but helpful online resource of digitised historic newspapers from Singapore and Malaya. The site allows you to search the National Library of Singapore's digital archive of papers published between 1831 and 2009 and includes The Straits Times 1845-1989. You can also find information about the National Library of Singapore’s microfilmed newspapers. All images are watermarked and the image and OCR quality are variable, but none of it is illegible. The advanced search option allows you to narrow down researches by date, newspaper (there are 26 on offer ranging 1836-2006) and content type (article, advertisement, letters etc.). The newspaper titles are in English, Chinese or Malay. Only the historical titles can be viewed online, but do note that the British Library holds most of the digitised titles on microfilm for access in our reading room.

Nineteenth Century Serials Edition (ncse)

King's College's the Nineteenth-Century Serials Edition is a free, online edition of six nineteenth-century periodicals and newspapers. It includes full runs of the first five titles, and a decade only of the Publishers' Circular. Titles are represented as completely as possible, including multiple editions, advertisements, wrappers, and supplements where these could be found. Titles are:
Monthly Repository (1806-1837) and Unitarian Chronicle (1832-1833), Northern Star (1838-1852), Leader (1850-1860), English Woman's Journal (1858-1864), Tomahawk (1867-1870), and Publishers' Circular (1880-1890). All six journals are segmented to article level, and can be downloaded freely.

Papers Past

This excellent site from the National Library of New Zealand contains over  three million freely-available pages from 83 digitised New Zealand newspapers and periodicals covering the period 1839 to 1945. The search and presentation tools are a model of their kind. Australian and New Zealand newspapers from this period carried a great deal of British news, so this and the Trove site below are great resources for searching British subjects as well as Australasian.


Trove is a discovery tool for information on Australia and Australians. It is the digital library par excellence. The newspaper section of the site presents the results of the on-going Australian Newspapers Digitisation Program: to date there are 12.3 million pages covering a range of titles from every state and territory, from the earliest newspaper published in Australia in 1803 through to the mid 1950s. The remainder of Trove covers books, journals, pictures, photographs, films, music, sound, manuscripts, maps and archived websites, its cross-searching making it the model example of a research resource that does not discriminate between the different media.

UKpressonline (£)

This commercial site provides text searchable access to full page facsimiles of over 2 million pages from some of the UK’s biggest selling popular newspapers of the 20th and 21st centuries. The archive is still being built up but already complete are the Daily Mirror 1903 to date, Sunday Express May 2000 to date, the Daily Star May 2000 to date, the Star Sunday September 2002 to date and The Daily Express 1900 to date. It is easy to use, with search bringing up every relevant page as a thumbnail. Searching is free (one you register);  if you subscribe you can view, download and print pages at full size.

Welsh Newspapers Online

Welsh Newspapers Online is a free online resource from the National Library of Wales which currently lets you search and access over 630,000 pages or 6.8 million articles from nearly 100 newspaper publications from years 1804 to 1919. It is easy to use, with snippets of text appearing as search results, linking to the article image and the OCR text alongside it, a particularly welcome feature as it lets the researcher gain a clearer picture of the accuracy of their searches.

We provide a list of all the many full text, word-searchable electronic newspaper resources (free and commercial) to which we provide onsite access in the British Library reading rooms, with descriptions of each of the services. They include all of the above (with the exception of NewspaperARCHIVE).

14 February 2014

St Pancras Intelligencer no. 5

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. 


A note to the staff of Libération in France: Perhaps the most eye-catching news about news story of the week was the front page of French left-wing journal Libération, which was hijacked by staff protesting at the paper's shareholder group's plans to turn it into a social and cultural hub. Their call to be left alone to be a newspaper and to do journalism "couldn't be more wrong", according to Mathew Ingram.

17 Things That Would Only Get Reported In British Local Newspapers: Patrick Smith of Buzzfeed's regular round-ups of British local newspaper stories are always an irresistible treat. "Police launch appeal after mystery tea pot found near Cambridge ..."

News you can lose: Richard Sambrook on US cable TV news networks' strategy of diversifying programming to keep hold of shrinking audiences. " More and more, news channels will depend on dinosaurs and killer whales."

Georgia Henry obituary: The Guardian's deputy editor and creator of its Comment is Free section has been much mourned.

Iraqi newspaper bombed after Ayatollah caricature: Index on Censorship reports on the struggle to survive of the Al-Sabah Al-Jadeed independent newspaper.

You can see right through News Corp's transparency: Peter Preston analyses Mike Darcey of New UK's defence of pay walls and argues that one model does not fit all.


Europeana Newspapers: The portal for digitised European newspapers has produced a sassy promo video which shows just how inventive you can be in promoting newspaper archives for research.

Welsh Newspapers Online – 27 new publications: It's been a good week for newspaper archives. The National Library of Wales' Welsh Newspapers Online has added 27 new publications and now has over 630,000 pages from pre-1919 newspapers freely available.

125,000 extra pages now searchable on the British Newspaper Archive: In what has been a busy month for the BNA (which moved from Colindale to Boston Spa in January) they managed to add an extra 125,000 British Library newspaper pages to their online archive.

Periodicals return: The periodicals collection held at the (now closed) Colindale newspaper library was embargoed in June. From Monday February 17th it becomes available once more at the British Library's St Pancras site.

What is Google Newsstand and how can publishers make the most of it?: Press Gazette's Dominic Ponsford analyses Google's mobile app for news.

Video journalism: Former newsreel cameraman Terence Gallacher runs an excellent blog on the history of his profession. Here he asks whether camera operators have become journalists or the journalists become camera operators.

Why it matters that LBC is going national: LBC, the talk news radio station for London, went national on February 11th. Gillian Reynolds looks at why it's an important move.

13 February 2014

Periodicals return

We're delighted to be able to report that from next Monday (February 17th) the former Colindale periodicals collection, which has been in embargo since June 2013, will become available again in the British Library's reading rooms at St Pancras.

The majority of the periodicals that were formerly held at Colindale (which closed to the public in November 2013) have been transferred to storage facilities in Boston Spa, Yorkshire, from which access can be provided in any St Pancras reading room within 48 hours. A number of high-use periodicals are stored at St Pancras itself, and these can be ordered within 70 minutes.

Periodicals can be ordered online in advance by using Explore the British Library which will have improved information about the titles and volumes that we hold. You will also be able to track the progress of your requests via My Reading Room Requests. Records for microfilm and print newspapers that are currently being moved will become visible at the same time. Although these items remain unavailable for the time being, the records will link to digital versions where these are available, all part of ongoing work to make the connections between the print and access copies of our newspaper and periodical holdings clearer to users.

Microfilm newspapers and periodicals will become available at St Pancras when we open the new reading room at the end of March. The final stage in the transference of the old system to the new will be when print newspapers become available for ordering from Boston Spa, in Autumn 2014, where there is no microfilm or digital access copy that is otherwise available. It is well worth noting that a third of our newspaper and periodicals collection is available through microfilm access copies, which greatly helps us to preserve the fragile print originals.

We have more information on periodicals, our collection moves programme, and the background to why these changes are taking place, here. Our aim is to ensure the long-term future of our newspaper and periodicals collection, and to provide the optimum service for anyone who needs to do research.

07 February 2014

St Pancras Intelligencer no. 4

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.  


The year Facebook blew past Google: Peter Kafka notes how Facebook is now outstripping Google when its comes to referrals for Buzzfeed, which could have important implications for how web journalism works. Anyway, it's a great graph.

How I learned to stop worrying and love bite-sized news: Josh Stearns looks at short-form news services like Instafax, Circa and NowThis News and reckons they have their part to play in how we find news - "sometimes small pieces loosely joined can add up to more than the sum of their parts".

How the BBC and Guardian are innovating on Instagram: More on the use of Instagram by news outlets, with Rachel Bartlett reviewing Instafax and GuardianCam.

Help us improve the British Newspaper Archive: The BNA has a survey, asking you how you use the historical newspapers site and what you would like to see more of.

News Archive Connected Studio: Interesting things are being plotted at the BBC to open up its news archives. Peter Rippon reports on ways they might connected news archive to audiences.

UK Parliament considers allowing secret courts to issue orders to seize reporters' notebooks: The Deregulation Bill could lead to the seizure of journalists' notebooks, photographs and digital files in secret hearings, as opposed to open court as is the case now. Cory Doctorow is alarmed.

The secret to having a successful paywall around your news is simple - it's about community: Mathew Ingram looks at the success of Dutch crowdfunded journalism site De Correspondent, which is bringing in almost $2M per year in subscriptions.

News UK boss critical of Mail and measurement: It's been a week where those who see paywalls as the future of news journalism have been having their say. The Media Blog reports on Mike Darcey, CEO of News UK, criticising the Mail Online business model:

The Mail Online is the embodiment of the school of thought which says flooding the internet with tacky clickbait to attract huge audiences can be profitable while Darcey is clearly a man who believes in ringfencing smaller, more identifiable audiences behind paywalls, such as those imposed on The Sun and The Times.

Tim Franklin, incoming president of the Poynter Institute likewise praises the paywall models of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

Have 24-hour news channels had their day?: This Guardian piece by Richard Sambrook and Sean McGuire makes some familiar arguments against 24-hour TV news (filling time when there is no news, becoming out-dated by social media, not really 'live' etc). Sky News' Adam Boulton tweeted angrily in response: "@sambrook's @mediaguardian blog on 24hr news: shoddy inaccurate generalizations timed for @SkyNews 25th but can hardly bear to mention us".

The Syrian opposition is disappearing from Facebook: Facebook's decision to shut down some pages of Syrian opposition has "dealt  significant blow to peaceful activists who have grown reliant on Facebook for communication and uncensored—if bloody and graphic—reporting on the war’s atrocities", reports Michael Pizzi at The Atlantic.

How do hyperlocals contribute to local democracy and what do they need?: Those watching new news trends in the UK are excited by the hyperlocal trend for community-based websites. The Creative Citizens project at at Cardiff University and Birmingham City University has launched a survey aiming to learn more about the pratice and needs of neighbourhood websites.

Over one million TV and radio programmes now available for education: Previously we used to be thrilled when thousands of items were released online - now everyone seems to deal in millions. So one million TV and radio programmes are now available from the UK higher education service BoB National, thanks to collaboration with the BBC. Not available to general users though, alas.


01 February 2014

Charlie's debut

100 years ago, on 2 February 1914, the film Making a Living was released by the Keystone Film Company. It was a comedy, one reel long (1,000 feet, or around 10 minutes), directed by Henry Lehrman. The star was a British comedian, newly arrived in Hollywood, whose first film it was. The actor was Charles Chaplin.


Charlie Chaplin (left) and Henry Lehrman in Making a Living (Wikimedia Commons)

The Charlie Chaplin who appears in Making a Living is not in the tramp costume that would make him famous. In his first film Chaplin is dressed in top hat, waistcoat and cravat, with a monocle and sporting a long drooping moustache. His character is a seedy chancer who tries to steal the girl and then the job of a rival. There are some small bits of adroit comic business that show Chaplin's potential, but in general the film was a run-of-the-mill Keystone slapstick comedy, made quickly and cheaply, with a star who knew nothing as yet of how films were made. Chaplin disliked the film, and disliked Lehrman directing him. He was puzzled by the filmmaking process (he did not understand why films were shot out of sequence), but rapidly learned the business and took over the direction of his own films within months. 


Surviving copies of Making a Living lack the original descriptive intertitles. The main title and music  on this Internet Archive copy are later additions. 

Making a Living is worth a second glance, however. It is not nearly as bad a comedy as Chaplin held it to be, but what makes it of interest for this blog is that it is a film with a newspaper setting. Chaplin's rival (played by Lehrman) applies to be a reporter. Chaplin's character joins him in the profession (he spots a handy 'Reporter Wanted' sign) and does his best to scoop his rival. In what feels like a remarkably modern plot development, there is a car crash in which Lehrman photographs the car and interviews the victim trapped beneath while doing nothing to rescue him, before an equally cynical Chaplin steals his camera to claim the scoop as his own. It all ends, inevitably in a crazy chase, with the two rivals eventually scooped up by a cow-catcher on the front of a passing tram.


Frame grab showing Chaplin's character with the newspaper typesetters

The film has several shots of a row of newspaper Linotype operators at work, and shows bundles of newspapers being thrown out into the street for distribution by news boys on bicycles. According to Glenn Mitchell, in The Chaplin Encyclopedia, the newspaper featured is believed to be the Los Angeles Times, and a sign in the background towards the end of the film which reads 'Largest City Circulation' suggests that it is the paper in question.


Advertisement for Making a Living and Chaplin's next two films, Kid Auto Races and Mabel's Strange Predicament, from Moving Picture World, 7 February 1914, p. 701 (from the Media History Digital Library)


Moving Picture World, 7 February 1914, p. 678, reviews Making a Living (from the Media History Digital Library)

The world took a little while to notice Chaplin. There are listings for Making a Living and other early Chaplin releases in the film journals of the period, several of which can be traced through the excellent free resource, the Media History Digital Library. The Moving Picture World was prescient in declaring Chaplin from his debut to be to be "a comedian of the first water", but in general it was only a few months later that the first notices of praise can be found. In those British newspapers on the British Newspaper Archive, the earliest to note Chaplin by name would appear to be the Manchester Evening News on 6 June 1914, which reminds British audiences that they previously would have seen Chaplin on stage performing with Fred Karno's troupe, and how his films were going to be as popular as those of 'Bunny' (John Bunny, the most popular film comedian before Chaplin, now almost completely forgotten).


Manchester Evening News, 6 June 1914. Image © D.C.Thomson & Co. Ltd. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

Making a Living was not the first newspaper movie. As early as 1900 the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company made the comic sketch Horsewhipping an Editor, in which a man attack an editor for reasons unexplained, and there were at least half a dozen short comedies and dramas made about newspaper reporters, as well as some actualities showing newspaper production, that were produced before Chaplin's debut film. In Essanay's Tapped Wires (USA 1913), for instance, rival news agencies tried to scoop one another with photographs of a train wreck, a scenario not dissimilar to Making a Living, only played as drama not for laughs (the film is believed lost).


Tapped Wires (USA 1913), from Motography, 12 July 1913, p. 7, available from Media History Digital Library

Other  early newspaper films included Dan Leno and Herbert Campbell Edit 'The Sun' (UK 1902), Seymour Hicks Edits 'The Tatler' (UK 1907), Cretinetti re dei giornalisti (Italy 1910, a film which survives), Gallegher: A Newspaper Story (USA 1910), The Reform Candidate (USA 1911), The Grafters (USA 1913), The Reporter's Scoop (USA 1913),  A Newsboy's Christmas Dream (UK 1913) and Her Big Story (USA 1913). Reporters would either be portrayed as daredevil characters questing after the truth (The Reform Candidate and Her Big Story both featured women reporters exposing corruption) or a hapless comic figure overhelmed by events. Playing a reporter was standard comic guise for European film comedians such as Robinet (Marcel Fabre), Cretinetti (André Deed) and Tontolini (Ferdinando Guillaume), and Chaplin's first role fits into this comic tradition.

There were early actuality films about newspaper production too. The Seymour Hicks film mentioned above was an 'industrial' film (a film showing an industrial process of some kind) with interventions from the comic actor. The Making of a Modern Newspaper (USA 1907), a copy of which survives, shows the Philadelphia Record being produced. Other newspaper actualities (probably all now lost) included Delivering Newspapers (USA 1903), Newspaper Making (UK 1904), Making of a Modern Newspaper (UK 1908), The Newspaper World from Within (UK 1909, on the production of the Morning Leader), The Dundee Courier (UK 1911, sponsored by D.C. Thomson), and The Production of a Newspaper (UK 1913). British film companies of the period were clearly keen on filming newspapers (or the newspapers were keen to have their product promoted in the cinemas).

Soon after Making a Living was produced, Chaplin made another film, Mabel's Strange Predicament (Mabel being Mabel Normand). It was for this film that he decided to pick out a hat, shabby suit, cane, donned a toothbrush moustache, and magically a character was born - the little tramp. However, the first time audiences saw the costume was in Kid Auto Races in Venice Cal., made after the Mabel film but released in America as Chaplin's second film just five days after Making a Living, on 7 February 1914 (it too has a news theme, as the children's soap-box derby that Chaplin's character interrupts is being filmed by the newsreels, which he spoils by standing in front of the camera). The look, the gestures, the individuality, the iconic representation of the down-at-heel little Everyman with only his wit to save him from a harsh world, were all in place. His future encounters with newspapers would be as an object of fascination, as he swiftly became the most famous person in the world.


Kid Auto Races in Venice Cal. (Wikimedia Commons)