THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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7 posts from July 2014

25 July 2014

St Pancras Intelligencer no. 28

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.

Bukmap

 

Map showing evidence of Buk surface-to-air missile position in Donetsk region of Ukraine, with geo-located links, created by Storyful

How social sleuthing uncovered evidence of surface-to-air missile systems in eastern Ukraine: News about news has been dominated this week by the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine. This powerful blog post from the NewsCorp-owned verification service Storyful shows how effective it has been at analysing information from social networks, YouTube and other sources to get at the truth behind the claims and counter-claims.

There have been a number of other pieces this week which focus on the verification of information, particularly images and videos, with a focus on Ukraine. The title of Julie Posetti's piece for PBS MediashiftWhen Good People Share Bad Things: The Basics of Social Media Verification picks up on the worry people have about sharing false information and explains the verifcation process, which involves the source of a piece of content, and the content itself. Jihii Jolly at Columbia Journalism Review offers help  on How to check if that viral video is true, steessing that the rise in user-generated contents makes it imperative for journalists to question before using. Kevin Loker at American Press Institute gives us How to find out if a photo your friend posted online is fake, and at Gigaom Mathew Ingram says Want to help fact-check breaking news like the Malaysian airplane disaster? Here's how and where you can do it, providing a handy a guide to verification communities and tools.

Graphic content: when photographs of carnage are too upsetting to publish: Roger Tooth, The Guardian's Head of Photography, explains the decision-making process behind selection or otherwise of news images from stories such as Gaza and MH17. (Warning: graphic content).

RT “Covers” the Shooting Down of MH17: Adam Holland at The Interpreter (an online journal presented translated material from the Russian press and blogosphere) offers a scathing analysis of how RT, aka Russia Today, the state-owned TV channel, reacted to the downing of MH17.

Russia Today London correspondent resigns in protest at 'disrespect for facts' over Malaysian plane crash: Press Gazette piece on Sarah Firth who declared that RT's coverage of the air crash was the last straw. "[I]t’s the level of disrespect for the facts that really bugs me." she says. RT commented:

Sara has declared that she chooses the truth; apparently we have different definitions of truth. We believe that truth is what our reporters see on the ground, with their own eyes, and not what’s printed in the morning London newspaper. In our coverage, RT, unlike the rest of the media, did not draw conclusions before the official investigation has even begun. We show all sides of the story, even if everyone else has already decided which side is to blame.

From outrage to recrimination: How the media covered the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash: Chris Boffey at The Drum looks at how the British news media reacted to the immediate news of the MH17 crash.

MH17, my error of judgment: Sky News' Colin Brazier has been roundly condemned for a live news broadcast, lunchimte July 20th, when he briefly looked through the content of the luggage of one of the victims of MH17. Here he apologies via The Guardian in a sincere and interesting piece of how a journalist faces up to horror, while live on air.

South Sudan humanitarian crisis: The poor media coverage highlights the flaws in news gathering: Perhaps the most powerful piece about news production this week has come from Ian Burrell at The Independent, looking at how the absence of media coverage in South Sudan has had a tragic impact on people's lives:

The tragedy of South Sudan highlights a number of basic flaws in modern news. Despite the breadth of online information, the major news providers still play an essential role in bringing humanitarian stories to the public’s attention. It is the misfortune of the starving and homeless in South Sudan that their agony coincides with the appalling turmoil in Syria, Gaza and Ukraine.

Minus proper archives, news outlets risk losing years of backstories forever: Another essential read, this time from Columbia Journalism Review, looking at the possibility and dangers of losing news archives in the digital area.

The 'Fake Sheikh' Mazher Mahmood’s extraordinary career: The career of The Sun and The News of the World's notorious entrapment specialist, Mazeer Mahmood - the 'fake Sheikh' - may have come to an end after the collapse of the trial of singer Tulisa Contostavlos. Ian Burrell tells his story.

High value, low income: report reveals trends in hyperlocal publishing: A handy summary from Journalism.co.uk of the key points from the recent academic report The State of Hyperlocal Community News in the UK.

Readers, viewers, browsers: it's time to count them all and unify the ratings: Peter Preston at The Observer calls for the unification of audience research.

Ashley Highfield - interview: InPublishing interviews Ashley Highfield, CEO of regional newspaper publisher Johnson Press, on the digital revolution he is bringing about.

I don’t want cannabilisation of what is our biggest source of revenue (print). The great thing about the regional press is it’s not like the Guardian where people stop buying print and consume online. Actually we have pretty much created a new audience online who never bought us in print.

Newspapers begin to challenge broadcasters in video storytelling: Douglas Grant at World News Publishing Focus explains how newspapers are marking their mark with online video.

Reddit Live is now official, lets anyone create their own breaking news live blog: This could could be a major step in the growth of alternative news publishing. The hugely popular social networking and news service Reddit has launched Reddit Live, which lets anyone create their own breaking news service (including tweets, videos etc).

The Sun says farewell to Wapping with special souvenir staff issue: The staff of The Sun left Wapping on 18 July, as they set up home in London Bridge. Roy Greenslade looks at the souvenir issue produced for staff to mark the momentous occasion.

18 July 2014

St Pancras Intelligencer no. 27

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. 

Hyperlocalmap

http://hyperlocal.uk

Hyperlocal map: Talk About Local has produced a 'heat map' of the hyperlocal sites around the UK, based on data from the Openly Local database. Delve in and see how the local news made locally revolution has spread.

Report around the clock: Fascinating piece by Joseph Lichterman at Nieman Journalism Lab on how news organisations use time zones to their advantage to operate a 24/7 service, including Bild, The Guardian and Wall Street Journal.

Hey, Publishers: Stop fooling us, and yourselves: David Boardman says too many newspaper companies says too many newspapers executives (in the US) are deluded about the financial future and maybe ought to stop printing newspapers altogether.

Robots are invading the news business, and it’s great for journalists: So here's a piece of journalism for you:

Alcoa Inc. (AA) on Tuesday reported a second-quarter profit of $138 million, reversing a year-ago loss, and the results beat analysts' expectation. The company reported strong results in its engineered-products business, which makes parts for industrial customers, while looking to cut costs in its aluminum-smelting segment.

It was produced by a robot (a piece of software anywhere) which is generating business news stories for AP. Kevin Roose at New York magazine reckons this bright new future will give human journalists more time to concentrate on less humdrum stories.

The Daily Mail's 'historic 1914 edition' is not quite as billed...: The Daily Mail produced a First World War facsimile issue. Roy Greenslade takes in to task for not being up front about the fact that the 'paper' has been set like a modern newspaper.

Latest ABCs show newspaper market decline running at 8% a year: More from Greenslade, reporting on the latest ABC figures for newspapers, which show a general market decline, though some times (The Times, The Guardian) and beginning to buck the trend.

I100

About i100: First there was The Independent, then there was i, now we have i100, a Buzzfeed-style news site launched this week by ESI Media with a list of numbered stories (called The List), the top one being the most popular (there's a voting system with each story having an 'upvote' button). The top 5 for today are all on the shooting down of MH17 over Ukraine.

BBC News to cut a further 415 jobs: BBC News currently employs 8,400 people. 415 jobs are to be cut as part of cost-saving measures. 195 new jobs will be created. Net loss = 220.

The tale of the women who turned vigilante: the BBC News Magazine has been running a series of entertaining pieces by Jeremy Clay on bizarre stories culled from nineteenth-century newspapers. Entitled 'Victorian Strangeness', this example from the series retells an incident from 1878, the moral of which is don't mess with the women of the Forest of Dean.

British blogger Brown Moses launches new site to train others in crowdsourced reporting: Self-taught investigative journalist Brown Moses (aka Elliott Higgins) is looking to pass on his skills to others through a new site called Bellingcat. The admiring Mathew Ingram at Gigaom tells the story.

If newspapers are dying, no one's told the Farnham Herald: Peter Preston agrees with local newspaper publisher Sir Ray Tindle's optimism that print's not dead, yet.

Journalism that matters: Jon Slattery at InPublishing writes in praises of the many examples of serious journalism practised in the UK that make a real difference to the communities that they serve.

The reading experience: This blog writes admiringly of the excellent Reading Experience Database, which reproduces written testimony of reading 1450-1945, including newspapers, and asks what sort of a newspaper history we have if it doesn't consider the readers.

17 July 2014

The reading experience

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

11 July 2014

St Pancras Intelligencer no. 26

Welcome to the latest edition of the St Pancras Intelligencer, our weekly round-up of news about news. It may be summer holiday time, but there is so much going on - George Clooney taking on Mail Online (and winning), the fallout from the phone hacking trial, BBC TV news at 60 (supposedly), the rise of hyperlocal news, and lots of digitised newspapers being added online.

Clooney

Via USA Today

Exclusive: Clooney responds to 'Daily Mail' report: This week's news lesson is that there are some things in this world that wield greater power than Mail Online, and one of those is George Clooney. The American actor reacted furiously to a story about his future mother-in-law via USA Today with a strong critique of its newsgathering ethos. An apology from Mail Online followed swiftly after, and the story was removed  from its website (it still exists, in reduced form, in the separately edited print version).

'Yes journalists have broken the law, and we should be pleased and proud that they did': An impassioned post-Coulson piece from Mick Hume for Press Gazette, on how journalists have broken the law or broken rules in the past to uncover the truth, from John Wilkes in the 18th century, to WT Stead in the 19th, to the Sunday Times investigative team in the 20th.

Of course journalists are "not above the law". But neither should they be subject to special prosecution and persecution, as has happened in the UK over the past three years with the arrest of more than 60 tabloid journalists. Strangely, few of those high-minded media types at the BBC or Channel 4 news now protesting about the jailing of journalists in Egypt have offered a peep of protest about the criminalisation of tabloid journalism in Britain – and not because anybody has taped over their mouths.

BBC TV News reaches 60-year milestone: BBC News celebrates the sixtienth anniversary of its first TV news bulletin  on 5 July 1954., with Richard Baker reading the headlines (he wouldn't be seen on screen for another three years). Strictly speaking, BBC TV news started in January 1948 with Television Newsreel, unmentioned in this anniversary piece, which is otherwise a great summary of how its news has developed into the age of 24-hour channels and the Internet.

Sun on Sunday editor Victoria Newton on Rebekah, Rupert, paywalls and filling the gap left by the News of the World: A great interview in Press Gazette with Victoria Newton, editor of Sun of Sunday, on thriving in a changing world:

Obviously in terms of print it’s a declining market ... A huge chunk of readers went out of the market with the News of the World. About 800,000 readers just went, which is devastating because you find it very hard to get them back – especially in the digital world.

Newspaper industry to review audience count metrics: Interesting. The Drum reports that Newsworks, the marketing body for UK national newspapers is to conduct a review of audience measurement metrics for the industry to reflect the changing ways in which we now read the papers, from print and laptops to tablets and mobile. 

The New Yorker alters its online strategy: and while it does so, the magazine will be making making all the articles it has published since 2007 available free for three months before introducing a paywall for online subscribers. The offer starts 21 July.

Punch Historical Archive goes online: The Punch Historical Archive has gone online, with 7,900 issues (200,000 pages) from all volumes of the satirical magazine published between 1841–1992 now available via the Gale NewsVault to subscribing institutions.

Whitstabletimes

The Whitstable Times, 23 December 1950, Image © Local World Limited

240,000 extra newspaper pages from 1752-1954: Keen-eyed newspaper archive watchers will have noticed that the number of pages being added to the British Newspaper Archive is double or more per month what it used to be. 240,000 extra pages were added in June for the period 1752-1954, including the Lichfield Mercury, Selkirk’s Southern Reporter, the Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald and the Illustrated Times.

Diving into newspaper archives: Chronicling America: We're big on digitised newspaper archives this week, which is great. Here's a really useful Europeana Newspapers interview with Deborah Thomas from the Library of Congress' online newspaper archive Chronicling America.

Newspapers in Europe and the Digital Agenda for Europe: Yet more on digitised newspapers: the British Library is hosting a Europeana Newspapers workshop 29-30 September, which will be in  two parts: What is the value of newspapers? and Barriers to improving access to digitised newspapers.

The state of hyperlocal community news in the UK: Two AHRC-funded projects at the universities of Cardiff, Birmingham City and Westminster have combined to produce this clear, useful and timely report into the state of hyperlocal news (including asking such pertinent questions as How local is hyperlocal?).

Press freedom is being frustrated as privacy becomes new libel: Thought-provoking piece in The Standard from Roy Greenslade on the threats to journalism he sees in the European Court of Justice's 'right to be forgotten' ruling and the UK's Data Protection Act:

Privacy has become the new libel, and the loser in the long run will be the people who misguidedly think of “the media” as some kind of homogeneous evil institution. In fact, it is there for them, not against them.

A $52 million loss, but a good year for The Guardian: Columbia Journalism Review looks admiringly at how The Guardian's ownership by the Scott Trust has enabled it to paper to experiment and expand digitally across the globe. On the same theme, Gideon Spanier at The Independent interviews Andrew Millar, chief executive of the Guardian Media Group in a post strikingly titled The death of the newspaper has been exaggerated (which is not the same thing as the print newspaper, please note). Having an £843M investment fund certainly helps.

Sir Ray Tindle 'totally convinced' of almost complete return to 'full viability' for local press: More from the newspaper optimism corner. Ray Tindle of publishing group Tindle Newspapers sees the turning of the corner for the local press.

Why you can no longer expect that the news will find you: Tom Krazit at Gigaom warns us on how corporations such as Facebook and Google control the flow of news they think we want to see. Talking of which, All Tech Considered looks at searching for news stories on the World Cup and discovers that in Google Newsroom, Brazil defeat is not a headline.

Beacon Reader's crowdfunding platform now lets supporters fund topics as well as journalists: There are crowdfunded journalism startups that let you fund specific journalists; now how about funding individual topics you'd like to see covered? Mathew Ingram at Gigaom looks at one example, Beacon Reader.

Rolf Harris sentencing made Saturday a good day to bury bad news about the jailing of a national newspaper editor: How Rolf helped bury Andy, with Press Gazette asking why.

 

10 July 2014

Newspapers in Europe and the Digital Agenda for Europe

Europeana Newspapers is a three-year project (running to Jan 2015) which aims to 

  • Aggregate 18 million historic newspaper pages for Europeana and The European Library
  • Convert 10 million newspaper pages to full text
  • Create a special content viewer to improve online newspaper browsing
  • Build tools that will allow professionals to better assess the quality of newspaper digitisation in relation to level of detail, speed and costs

 

As part of the British Library's contribution to the Europeana Newspapers project, we will be hosting a workshop entitled Newspapers in Europe and the Digital Agenda for Europe, 29-30 September 2014. Registration for the event is now open, and here's the agenda:

29 September: What is the value of newspapers? 

13.00 – 13.15 Welcome
Caroline Brazier (The British Library)
Marieke Willems (LIBER)

13.15 – 13.30 Europeana Newspapers Project
Hans-Jörg Lieder (Berlin State Library, Coordinator of Europeana Newspapers
Project)

13.30 – 13.45 The Digital Agenda for Europe
Krzysztof Nichczyński (European Commission DGCONNECT)

13.45 – 15.30 Panel discussion: What is the value of newspapers?
Tim Sherrat (Trove), Toine Pieters (University of Utrecht), Alastair Dunning (The
European Library), Clemens Neudecker (Berlin State Library & Coordination of
Europeana Newspapers Project), Max Kaiser (National Library of Austria)

15.30 – 16.00 Coffee

16.00 – 16.45 Break-out session: What is the value of newspapers?

16.45 – 17.15 Reporting back from break-out groups

17.15 – 17.30 Wrapping up

19.30 Dinner (participant’s own expenses)

30 September: Barriers to improving access to digitised newspapers

9.00 – 9.30 What helps the Europeana Newspapers project and its partners to improve access to
digitised newspapers and what stops them?
Marieke Willems (LIBER)

9.30 – 10.15 Break-out session: Roadmap for policy makers

10.15 – 10.45 Coffee

10.45 – 11.00 Reporting back from break-out groups

11.00 – 13.00 Panel Discussion: How to overcome barriers to improving access to digitised
newspapers
Kristiina Hormia-Poutanen (National Library of Finland and LIBER president), Lucie
Guibault (University of Amsterdam), European Newspaper Publishing Association,
Patrick Fleming (The British Library), Krzysztof Nichczyński (European Commission
DGCONNECT, Henning Scholz (Europeana)

13.00 – 13.15 Wrapping up

13.15 – 14.00 Brown bag lunch

Hope to see you there.

04 July 2014

St Pancras Intelligencer no. 25

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. 

Peston_blog

Forgotten, but not gone

Google Removes Robert Peston's BBC Article Because Someone Wanted It 'Forgotten': The European court decision allowing individual to request that Google remove links to historical articles which have personal information that they would rather was forgotten may have backfired in this case. The request to have a 2007 BBC News article on former Merrill Lynch boss Stan O' Neal by economics editor Robert Peston taken down has caused the article in question to go viral, as Huffington Post reports. On the same subject, David Meyer at Gigaom looks at other examples of news stories that have been taken down and asks Why is Google really removing links to news articles in Europe?

Former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan named most influential UK journalist on social media: Press Gazette's Social Media Awards have named @PiersMorgan as the most influential UK journalist on social media. The former Daily Mirror editor was hotly followed in the top 50 names by @CaitlinMoran, @PaulWaugh, @JohnRentoul and @fleetstreetfox.

How to build a healthy news diet: Columbia Journalism Review draws an intriguing parallel between food consumption and news consumption. There's too much to eat so we get overweight; there's too much information out there so we get overwhelmed and fail to show discrimination. But what is a 'healthy' news item?

Welcome: our website is now open to the world: Good news for international journalism students - the BBC's College of Journalism site is now free to use for anyone worldwide (previously there was a paywall for non-UK users), at least for a trial 12-month period.

Once humbled, but now risen: the Murdochs march ahead: How badly do you think things have been going for the Murdochs recently. Peter Preston looks at the numbers - three years ago News Corps' value was $35Bn. Today it is $88Bn.

Attorney General backs down on plan to censor news archives to avoid contempt risk: Attorney General Dominic Grieve has withdrawn clauses in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill that would have given him powers to order the removal of online archive news stories in the run-up to a criminal trial, reports Press Gazette.

AP will use robots to write some business stories: The future is now. Poynter reports that AP is to start using automation technology to produce stories about earnings reports. "Instead of providing 300 stories manually, we can provide up to 4,400 automatically for companies throughout the United States each quarter", says the managing editor.

Newssources

Source: Ofcom data, Guardian visualisation

 

How popular are the internet and apps for news consumption?: Guardian DataBlog looks behind the figures from the recent Ofcom report into news consumption in the UK, whose headline finding was that 41% of UK adults get their news from the internet or apps, just ahead of those who do so through newspapers (40%). Where is Mail Online on the above graphic? Is it not viewed as a news source?

In Philadelphia, the Internet Archive is assembling a new way to monitor campaigns on TV: The Internet Archive is documenting congressional elections in Philadelphia through the mass capture of television broadcasts and web sites. Nieman Journalism Lab reports: 

The goal: to provide data for journalists and researchers interested in tracking the media landscape and understanding how political messages — and dollars — move through the system. Using text from closed captioning as well as metadata organized by volunteer viewers, the Philadelphia archive will be searchable by region, station, and date, as well as by campaign issue or ad sponsor.

Citizen journalism pioneer Brown Moses is launching a site for crowdsourced reporting: Brown Moses (aka British blogger Elliot Higgins) has built up great expertise and reputation through his sifting of social media and YouTube to concover information on the war in Syria. Now he's planning a site to be called Bellingcat which will be a home for other citizen journalists, with tools to teach them his trade.

News reference workshops: The British Library is setting up a series of regular workshops for anyone who wants to know how to use our news research services. They're free, and we hope useful.

Why is this lying bastard lying to me?: This blog traces the history of the news interview from the mid-19th century through to Twitter.

'A concrete box full of stories...a building packed with life' - Yorkshire Post's Leeds HQ is razed to the ground: Jill Parkin, a former Yorkshire Post writer, writes wistfully about the demolishing of the newspaper's old home and a lost era of newspaper production.

On-the-run prisoner contacts newspaper over ‘mistake’: We all want our newspapers to tell the truth, even if we are a prisoner on the run contacting the Sheffield Star to tell them they have got details of our home area wrong. Hold the Front Page has the heartening story.

02 July 2014

Why is this lying bastard lying to me?

Jeremy Paxman, who recently hosted the BBC's Newsnight for the last time, has cited the words attributed to Times foreign correspondent Louis Heren that make up the title of this post as inspiration for his method as an interviewer. It says a great deal about the news interview as it is now understood, and the function of the news producer. News may in part be about holding those in power to account, but should its starting point be the belief that its subjects are liars? How did the news interview become so inquisitorial, and will it remain so?

 Newsnight

Jeremy Paxman interviewing Michael Howard, Newsnight, tx. 13 May 1997

It is interesting that in the same week Paxman stood down, with many commentators discussing his contribution to the art of interviewing, some of the first ever filmed interviews were honoured with an inscription on the UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register. The Hepworth Cinema Interviews are a series of 36 filmed interviews with UK public figures (Lloyd George, Herbert Asquith, Bonar Law and others) made by film producer Cecil Hepworth in 1916. The subjects were invited to give comments on the war and what would follow after it. This was the era of silent films, so the subjects mouth their answers to the camera, with their words being reproduced through intertitles. There is no onscreen interviewer - these are just statements made to the camera. Rather than being any sort of radical development, they are interviews in the tradition of nineteenth century newspaper interviews - pronouncements from the elite, with the media serving as the willing vehicles for such pronouncements.

Lloydgeorgewords

Lloyd George's words as intertitles from the Hepworth Cinema Interviews, courtesy of National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales

Interviews in newspapers are generally accepted to have appeared in the USA in the 1860s and in the UK in the 1880s, where they were often viewed - often with suspicion - as an American innovation. The American journalist James Gordon Bennett is credited in some quarters with having 'invented' the newspaper interview in 1836 with his verbatim transcript of a conversation he allegedly had with Rosina Townsend, a witness in the trial of the murderer of a New York prostitute Helen Jewett, which was published in the New York Herald. Other cite the interview conducted by Horace Greeley with Brigham Young, leader of the Mormon religion, and published in the New York Daily Tribune of 20 August 1859 as being the first interview as we would now recognise it.

NYtribune

Part of Horace Greeley's interview with Brigham Young, New York Daily Tribune, 20 August 1859, p. 5, from Chronicling America

But newspaper interviews were not 'invented' - they grew out particular changes to the medium. The process of interviewing is as old as journalism itself, so one can trace it back to the 17th century at least. Journalists find the information they require often by asking someone questions, and then using the replies they receive as the substance of their report. That is interviewing, and Daniel Defoe employed it as a news reporter for his Weekly Review much as today's journalists do 400 years later. Interviewing is integral to how news is understood - see how often news readers on TV and radio ask questions of reporters, experts and other interviewees, extracting what we need to know through that dialogue.

The interview as a formal newspaper feature emerged in the mid-19th century, as newspapers turned from being vehicles for partisan standpoints to broadly factual reporting. This included the use of direct quotation. The evidence became all the more important, and what better evidence could there be than the words spoken by the subjects themselves, in answer to the questions put by trustworthy journalists? Of course, it was also part of that process by which "news gathering turned into news making", as Daniel Boorstin writes in The Image, where he labels the interview as one of his 'pseudo-events' - events artificially created in order that they may be reported. The interview is not what happened but rather what the media has caused to happen.

Lily_langtry

Interview with Lily Langtry (in which she complains about being interviewed so often), Pall Mall Gazette, 29 October 1892 p. 3. Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

However, the nineteenth century newspaper interview was a far cry from the investigative and combative interviews of today. The interviews that British journalists such as William Howard Russell (The Times), George Augustus Sala (Daily Telegraph) and W.T. Stead (Pall Mall Gazette) produced were the pronouncements of the great and the celebrated who had reason to use the press for self-promotion. Stead undoubtedly helped establish the interview as a standard newspaper device by his enthusiastic adoption of the form, part of the 'New Journalism' revolution of the 1880s which placed great emphasis on the personal, through devices such as the interview. As well as his own interviews with figures such as Tsar Alexander III and Pope Leo XIII, Stead employed Hulda Friederichs as 'chief interviewer' at the Pall Mall Gazette from 1882 (women journalists were considered to have a particular aptitude for interviewing). Unfortunately interviewers are seldom named in newspapers from this period, making it difficult to trace the work of particular reporters.

Interviewing

The subjects of late nineteenth century newspaper interviews give their opinion on the experience in this piece from Pall Mall Gazette, 31 December 1890, p. 3. Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Interviews in newspapers in the late 19th century tended towards celebrities from the world of entertainment. Politicians were wary of the practice, and saw little advantage in indulging requests to give interviews, when what they had to say could be heard on public platforms or read in Hansard. As A.J. Balfour says in the quote above, "this channel of communication must be rarely required by English politicians considering the great increase in platform speaking which has taken place during the last twenty years." Instead the interview became primarily the feature of journals such as the 'Illustrated Interviews' in George Newnes' Strand Magazine - light reading for those who wanted some personal insights into the lives of the famous. Interviews in newspapers were to become more searching as the new century began, particularly in America, but it would be new technologies that would help transform them.

Phonograph

The first sound interview (probably). Interview by Phonograph with Edison agent Colonel George Gouraud, as recorded by the Pall Mall Gazette, 24 July 1888, p. 1. Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

A startlingly early intimation of how thing could change occured in July 1888 when the UK agent for Thomas Edison's Phonograph sound recording machine was 'interviewed' by the Pall Mall Gazette, boasting of how a sound recording would provide a 'faithful report of the conversation' (intimating that not all newspaper interviews were so faithful to the words spoken). This was in all probablity the first sound interview, but although the Phonograph and later technologies such as the Dictaphone were used to record famous voices and as dictation devices in the early 1900s, it would be decades before they were adopted for news reporting.

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Colonel Gouraud (left) being interviewed by an unidentified journalist from the Pall Mall Gazette, with the Phonograph recording the meeting, July 1888. From British Library Sound Archive collection.

Projected film appeared in 1896, but it proved a medium ill-suited to interviews. Attempts were rare and seldom successful, even after films gained sound in the late 1920s, with the few efforts from the cinema newsreels being short statements delivered in stilted fashion that offered little advance on the Hepworth interviews of 1916. What gave the news interview new life was radio, which began in the early 1920s. This gave the interview greater credibility, through the chance it gave the public to hear the subject's voice, through the live nature of radio, and because the interviewer's questions gave the sense of a process of interrogation, a driving towards the truth. BBC radio interviews of the 1920s-50s were seldom adversarial, being more in the way of civilised conversations, but the greater power had now been offered to the public to judge what was delivered to them, be it the words spoken or the ways in which those words were spoken. 

It took live television to make the news interview come into its own, a process not for delivering statements but instead a contest for the truth. 

 

Leslie Mitchell interviewing Anthony Eden for a Conservative party political broadcast, BBC tx. 16 October 1951. From University of Sheffield's Department of Journalism Studies' YouTube channel

Television's first news-related interviews were a disappointment. The BBC's Leslie Mitchell's pre-planned interview with prime minister Anthony Eden for a Conservative party election broadcast in 1951 has become notorious for its stilted obsequiousness, even if it was viewed as a technical success at the time. Mitchell asks:

Good evening. I would just like to say that, as an interviewer, and as I what I hope you will believe to be an unbiased member of the electorate, I'm most grateful to Mr Anthony Eden for inviting me to cross-question him on the present political issues ... Well now, Mr Eden, with your very considerable experience of foreign affairs, it's quite obvious that I should start by asking you something about the international situation today, or perhaps you would prefer to talk about home. Which is it to be?

Supine as this was, it did show at least an understanding of how television was ideally suited to the question-and-answer format, counterbalancing formality with informality. The first step on the road from here to Paxman came in 1955, when Robin Day brought a new forthrightness to television interviewing at ITN, two notable highlights being his sharp questioning of President Nasser in 1955 and his interview with prime minister Harold Macmillan in 1958, where what might now seem a fairly tame question asking about criticism that had been made of the foreign secretary Selwyn Lloyd was seen by some as shockingly intrusive, not least because you could see Macmillan thinking about his answer before delivering it. The interview was letting the viewer be the judge, exposing what might be the truth between the lines.

The adversarial quality of the television news interview grew throughout the 60s and 70s, in tandem with the emergence of a less deferential, more determinedly democratic society. Television was becoming the forum for public debate. The medium delighted in getting the upper hand, as demonstrated by David Frost's interrogation of the fraudster Emil Savundra and the revelations that he coaxed out of Richard Nixon. The goal of the interview came to be the revelation of the truth, hoping by a process of seeking out weak points to lead the subject into revealing something they would rather not have made public. The interviewee was no longer someone who had deigned to share some selected information with us all. They were now lying bastards, and their lies had to be exposed.

Interviews on radio likewise became less polite and increasingly forensic. BBC programmes launched in late 1960s/early 70s such as The World at One, Analysis and It's Your Line (a programme hosted by Robin Day, in which the public phoned in questions to ask of the interviewee) made the interview central to a process of burrowing beneath the headlines to uncover what was really happening. The Today programme moved away from its cosy beginnings to become the programme opinion makers had to listen to and had to appear on. This was particularly on account of presenter Brian Redhead's refusal to doff his hat to anyone in power, as in his famous response  (in a 1987 interview) to  Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson accusing him of bias through being a supporter of the Labour party:

Do you think we should have a one-minute silence now in this interview, one for you to apologise for daring to suggest that you know how I vote, and secondly perhaps in memory of monetarism, which you've now discarded?

Politicians accountable to an electorate had little choice but to appear before the cameras and microphones, but as television became bolder so they responded through increasingly sophisticated media training. The art of not answering, or of turning the interview to your advantage arose. Margaret Thatcher was well trained in interviewing techniques and image management, through the guidance of former TV producer Gordon Reece, but it was the Labour government of 1997 that turned control of message into an artform (guided by another former TV producer, Peter Mandelson).

A power game arose between politicians and the news media over the communication and interpretation of the message, with the interview as the battleground. There was an increased desire on the part of the media to use the interview to extract revelations, matched by an increased determination from their subjects to reveal no more than they had been instructed to reveal. Sharp interviewers such as Paxman for Newsnight and John Humphrys for Today gained praise for their tough questioning and refusal to be hoodwinked, but the praise was sometimes more for the stance than any illumination obtained about the subject discussed. Paxman's celebrated 1997 interview with Michael Howard in which the interviewer asked the same question twelve times did little to inform its audience, for whom the point that the subject was not going to answer the question could have been made after two or three attempts.

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Jon Snow and Alastair Campbell, Channel 4 News tx. 27 June 2003

Interviews turned into theatre, perhaps most famously when Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's Director of Communications, turned up unannounced at Channel 4 News on 27 June 2003 and was interviewed by Jon Snow on the Iraq 'dodgy dossier'. The result was a tour de force on both sides, a great interview of sorts but primarily a startling display of political passion. Politicians understandably prefer softer rides  - Margaret Thatcher's interviewer of choice was Radio 2's Jimmy Young, for example. Equally, one of the marks of a successful politician has come to be how well they can deal with the toughest interviews. It is a trial of strength, as much as anything.

Interviews on television and radio flourish on non-news programmes of course. From Face to Face to Parkinson, to Piers Morgan's Life Stories there has been a consistent focus on celebrity and the personal revelation, teased out through a bonding between interviewer and subject. Interviews continue to be a mainstay of newspapers, or their associated magazines, where some of the dangers inherent in a live interview are lost and both sides have greater control over what is said. The interviewee will have their press adviser by their side, determining what can or cannot be covered; the interviewer can fill out the verbal testimony with background impressions, barbed or otherwise. Both sides have control, though it is still a battlefield, a game of attack and defence.

Hardtalk

HARDtalk interviews, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/n13xtmdc/clips

A good example of the news interview programme of today is the BBC World series HARDtalk, first broadcast in 1997 with Tim Sebastian as the interviewer and now Stephen Sackur asking the questions, is a model of how two intelligent minds, with good preparation, can discuss issues of the day in a form that is a genuine questing for the truth. This is not news manufactured as pseudo-event - it is rational and vital extension of what is news. Nor is it a question of exposing liars (usually) - it is using the time-honoured process of question and answer to come to an understanding. 

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Tweets from a Twitter interview with US Vice President Joe Biden, 26 January 2012

Where next for the news interview? HARDtalk is a good programme, but quite traditional in format. Newspaper interviews continue, but seem more about drawing out character than setting the news agenda. The online world is developing new ways in which subjects can be interviewed, which involved the general public much more, such as Twitter discussions, while BuzzFeed's interview of 29 May 2014 with Ed Miliband (the one in which he said it was a good idea not to read the newspapers) transfers the magazine-style interview with illustrations to a web format in a way that resfreshes the interview form. Al Jazeera's web/TV programme hybrid The Stream is an example of how engagement through interviews is being adapted for a multi-platform world, and television interviews can feature questions posted by social media (see, for example, Glenn Greenwald's interview for NBC on 18 May 2014). The growth of citizen journalism may make anyone into a potential interviewer, with all of the hazards as well as the advantages that suggests.

In such a world, the traditional confrontation between interviewer and interviewee begins to look like it belongs to another age, an age when current affairs television (and radio) served as the forum for public engagement with the issues of the hour. That forum is increasingly located elsewhere, and the interview will have to adapt accordingly if it is to continue to be meaningful. It may not be so combative or theatrical as it has been in the past; it will undoubtedly be more social. It will be less constrained by space (as is the case with newspapers) or time (as is the case with television and radio). Consequently it may either be freer in form or hampered by a lack of discipline. The questions demanding answers remain the same; just who will be asking them looks certain to change.

More information

  • The Hepworth Cinema Interviews are held by the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales - a press release on the UNESCO recognition is here, and a catalogue record for the films is here
  • Michael Cockerell's Live from Number 10: The Inside Story of Prime Ministers and Television (1988) is insightful and full of great anecdotes and quotations (such as the Eden-Mitchell interview quoted above)
  • On interviewing in Victorian newspapers, see Lucy Brown, Victorian News and Newspapers (1985) and Laurel Brake, Marysa Demoor (eds.), Dictionary of Nineteenth Century Journalism (Gent/London: Academia Press, British Library, 2009)
  • The Pall Mall Gazette for the period 1865-1900 has been digitised and is available online via the British Newspaper Archive
  • On Hulda Friedrichs and other women journalists of the nineteenth century, see F. Elizabeth Grey (ed.), Women in Journalism at the Fin de Siècle: 'Making a Name for Herself' (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012)
  • On the technique of modern interviews, see Steven Clayman and John Heritage, The News Interview: Journalists and Public Figures on the Air (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002)
  • The Radio Times has a list with links of 'the greatest broadcast interviews of all time', including Campbell v Snow, Paxman v Howard, Frost v Nixon, and John Nott walking out on Robin Day