The Newsroom blog

5 posts from May 2020

20 May 2020

Three favourite newspaper books - chosen by Steve Tate

We are publishing a series of posts on favourite books about newspapers. We have asked members of the British Library's news collection team and some outside experts each to name three books about newspapers that they treasure and would recommend to others. The books can be wholly or partly about newspapers, they can be fact or fiction, they can be familiar or unfamiliar. No book can be picked twice, and no one taking part can choose one of their own books.

We hope readers will enjoy the series and seek out some of the recommendations. The choices below have been made by Dr Stephen Tate, Blackburn College University Centre.

Catling200My Life’s Pilgrimage, Thomas Catling. London. John Murray, 1911.

The recollections of Thomas Catling provide a welcome insight regarding the practicalities of nineteenth-century newspaper journalism. Catling spent most of his working life on Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper in London, rising from compositor to editor. He joined the Sunday newspaper in 1854 and retired in 1906. It is a book with a rich seam of enlightening anecdote and opinion.

All three books in my selection are memoirs of newspaper journalists. They would not have been published had the authors not tasted success. But all three experienced work at the humdrum level of journalism before talent and luck saw their careers advance. In my endeavour to rescue the world of the workaday reporter from a surprising neglect in contemporary press historiography, books like Catling’s have opened up avenues of research and moments of understanding.

The author touches upon the pounds, shillings and pence of his trade; the career path from composing case to the editorial room; the role of the sub-editor; the interaction of the press with the worlds of theatre, fiction-writing, the law and politics; the mechanics of production; the practicalities of reporting crime; edition structures. The narrative is piecemeal, discursive, meandering . . . but there are dates, names, events and situations. What a feast!

Watson200Memoirs of Robert Patrick Watson: A Journalist’s Experience of Mixed Society, Robert P Watson. London. Smith, Ainslie and Co, 1899.

For a historian researching the trade of the sporting journalist, the above title offers few clues as to its worth. But its 500 pages are packed with detail outlining the at times rambunctious, disorderly world of sport in the second half of the nineteenth century.

Watson was born in 1848 and the book covers his reporting assignments for Sporting Life, Bell’s Life in London, Sportsman and Sunday Referee, covering pugilism, pedestrianism, water sports, wrestling, cycling, billiards, endurance feats and much else besides. His dalliance with sports periodical proprietorship is also covered.

Watson worked at a time when the reporter was often called upon to act as referee and stake-money holder in prize contests and he foregrounds his role as event judge and occasional organiser, nowhere hinting at any pride in writing style or journalistic prestige. For the author and his paymasters the role of reporter is subsidiary. It is an unwitting testimony to the uncertain status of the sports reporter before the adoption by the cheap popular press of codified team games as part of its editorial agenda.

Macadam200The Macadam Road, John Macadam. London. Sportsmans Book Club, 1957 (originally published London. Jarrolds, 1955.)

This is a fragmented, anecdotal stroll through the author’s career as Greenock shipyard apprentice, provincial newspaper telephone boy, drama critic, sub-editor and, eventually, leading Fleet Street sports reporter. Its leitmotif is perhaps best summed up in a sense of drift through the 1920s to the 1950s and that drift captures, I think, the essence of the stories of many journalists’ working lives.

Macadam suggests his book, and thereby his career, ‘. . . goes nowhere in particular from nowhere very important’, with ‘. . . accidents and divergencies along that road’. But (despite a concluding element of whimsy) it provides a valuable understanding of how some careers take shape, together with the pinched circumstances of weekly paper existence, the happenstance of job moves and the excitement and pressure associated with the quest for sports story exclusives to fuel the national newspaper juggernaut. He describes the ‘harrowing experience’ of being among the press pack on an England football international tour, the newsmen ‘. . . watching each other like cats for fear of the unconsidered trifles of news that might have escaped their own eyes’.

Steve Tate

17 May 2020

Three favourite newspaper books - chosen by Paul Gooding

We are publishing a series of posts on favourite books about newspapers. We have asked members of the British Library's news collection team and some outside experts each to name three books about newspapers that they treasure and would recommend to others. The books can be wholly or partly about newspapers, they can be fact or fiction, they can be familiar or unfamiliar. No book can be picked twice, and no one taking part can choose one of their own books.

We hope readers will enjoy the series and seek out some of the recommendations. The choices below have been made by Dr. Paul Gooding, Lecturer in Information Studies, University of Glasgow.


Curranseaton200Power Without Responsibility: Press, Broadcasting and the Internet in Britain, James Curran and Jean Seaton, London: Routledge 2018 (8th edition)

This book borrows its title from a scathing attack on the press barons Lord Beaverbrook and Lord Rothermere, by then leader of the opposition Stanley Baldwin in 1931. I think it’s fair to say that these polemical undertones permeate a book that serves two valuable purposes. First, it provides a wide-ranging history of the press and broadcasting in Britain from around 1800 to the present day. Second, it provides a series of proposals for the reform of the contemporary institutions of the press. The value of these complementary parts is underlined by the fact that the book is now in its eighth edition and translated into several languages.

That said, the part that still chimes with me is the way that Curran and Seaton force us to reconsider not just the institutions of the press since the digital turn, but our own thinking around the underlying technologies. Vincent Mosco described technologies as entering a state of “powerful banality” – here, the authors describe the awe-struck state that is expressed by our continuing capitalisation of the Internet, and the impact that this wonderment has upon our ability to effectively critique its related institutions and technologies.


DeeganTransferred Illusions: Digital Technology and the Forms of Print, Marilyn Deegan and Kathryn Sutherland, Farnham: Ashgate 2009.

Deegan and Sutherland write at length about the pasts, present and future of historical newspapers, but in reality the scope of the book is much broader. It explores the forms and institutions of print, and it spans newspapers, books, publishers and libraries. Each of these is considered through the lens of large-scale digitisation of library collections, allowing the authors to explore how digital remediation redefines our interaction with the diverse forms of print.

What really stood out for me is that this is a book written by, and for, scholars and practitioners of information, and the links it draws between the material history of forms such as historical newspapers and the curatorial decision involved in contemporary digitisation practice. It recognises the way that digitisation recovers the textual legacy of materials such as historical newspapers, while also providing an account of the ways in which the resultant digital facsimiles reformulate those texts. In short; come for the chapters on the nineteenth century press, stay for the interventions into digitisation theory and practice.


Truth200The Truth, Terry Pratchett, London: Doubleday, 2000

I’m generally of the view that most lists of book recommendations can be improved with a liberal dose of Terry Pratchett, and the world of newspapers is no different. The Truth tells the story of William de Worde, a professional scribe and exiled son of nobility, who inadvertently creates and becomes the editor of the Ankh Morpork Times, the first newspaper in the Discworld’s history. It’s a tale of investigative journalism in the highest echelons of society, of the challenges of speaking truth to power, and of a vampire photographer who turns to dust whenever he uses the flash.

Pratchett’s books became increasingly satirical throughout his career, using fantasy to shine a light on the social and political hierarchies of our world. The Truth explores the challenges posed by those who try to hold the powerful to account, in the face of a printing press characterised as a beast that is constantly, terrifyingly hungry for words. Pratchett’s understanding of the human condition means that so much of his writing remains relevant: right now, as we process the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on our lives, the misspelt motto of the Ankh Morpork Times is particularly pertinent: “The Truth Shall Make Ye Fret.”

Paul Gooding

11 May 2020

Three favourite newspaper books - chosen by Ed King

We are publishing a series of posts on favourite books about newspapers. We have asked members of the British Library's news collection team and some outside experts each to name three books about newspapers that they treasure and would recommend to others. The books can be wholly or partly about newspapers, they can be fact or fiction, they can be familiar or unfamiliar. No book can be picked twice, and no one taking part can choose one of their own books.

We hope readers will enjoy the series and seek out some of the recommendations. The choices below have been made by Ed King, former Head of Newspapers at the British Library.

Hamilton200Editor-in-Chief. The Fleet Street Memoirs of Sir Denis Hamilton. Denis Hamilton. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1989.

Denis Hamilton trained as a journalist before war broke out in 1939. It was his war service that gave him a lifetime’s experience in six years. Demobbing as a Lieutenant-Colonel in 1946, he had the good fortune to be recruited as a personal assistant to Lord Kemsley, the owner of the largest group of newspapers in the UK at that time, including The Sunday Times. He made himself indispensable, re-vitalising The Sunday Times in the process. He showed formidable courage and negotiating skills when Kemsley sold the newspaper group in 1959 to Roy Thomson, securing contracts for himself and key colleagues. When the sale of The Times and The Sunday Times to Rupert Murdoch was forced by disputes with print unions, Hamilton knew he could not work for Robert Murdoch, and resigned in 1981.

In this memoir, I was struck time and again by Hamilton’s great capacities: for dealing with people successfully, for being able to take criticism, for delegating work and responsibilities, for learning, for sustained hard work, for seizing the moment, for his incorruptibility. Above all, he had the (constantly exercised) ability to reflect on gaps in the newspaper market, to think ahead, to plan a campaign of action for the future. For many years, Fleet Street was a sufficiently large canvas for his abilities to show at their best.


Griffiths200Fleet Street. Five Hundred Years of the Press. Dennis Griffiths. London: British Library, 2006.

Dennis Griffiths was well qualified to undertake this subject, having himself spent a lifetime in printing and newspaper publishing, achieving the status of production director for the Express Newspapers group. We are swept along across the centuries. The profit motive has always been present: without it, newspapers will fail. Publishers/ owners never had time for those who failed to last. So, perhaps inevitably, it is the proprietors/ owners, or publishers, or editors who capture the most attention, for their outstanding qualities were often the difference between success and failure. Thirteen chapters out of the twenty-one in all are devoted to events of the twentieth century. However, the main features of the London newspaper scene were laid out by the 1780s, with London being served by nine daily newspapers, with ten more appearing twice or three times a week, and one evening newspaper being started in 1788 – The Star and Evening Advertiser.

Griffiths enumerates many new titles established, from 1800, onwards, and whilst London titles predominate in the Index, he mentions successful provincial newspapers as well. He charts the move towards greater, more rapid penetration of sales throughout the UK, which gathered pace from the 1890s. Chapter 21, ‘The Electronic Future’, is devoted to new Technology. It offers plenty of examples of change driven by the development of the world wide web. Griffiths believes that the value of quality journalism will remain, but may be diluted by the myriad of outlets that can create news. The internet has much greater potential to enable a small number of businesses to dominate the provision of any information, including ‘the news’. Whatever happens, the phenomenon that was Fleet Street has passed into history.


Cranfield200The Development of the Provincial Newspaper 1700-1760. G.A. Cranfield Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962.

For anyone interested in eighteenth century studies, this book, published in 1962, remains an absorbing one. The justification for the work was simple: ‘there was no country newspaper in existence in the year 1700; but by the end of 1760, no less than one hundred and thirty different newspapers had been started…’ Cranfield covers the growth, the development of provincial newspapers, together with analysis on their content, the nature of their circulation, and of their distribution. At the end of chapter 8, ‘Circulation’, Cranfield summarises the influence of provincial newspapers: ‘ All too often, it was the only printed matter that was available to its readers, and was something to be read, and re-read, discussed and argued over, passed from hand to hand, and finally carefully preserved and bound into annual volumes. In the process many people who could not afford a paper and who perhaps could not read, would become acquainted with its contents.’ Chapter 10 on Advertisements takes us into the lives of the advertisers: tradesmen, quack doctors, sales by auction, property and many more. Although not much local news was reported in newspapers, the advertisements offer us real insights as to what sellers locally thought buyers wanted, by way of material comforts. Chapter 12 ‘Maturity’ discusses the role of provincial newspapers in forming opinion about national events, bringing as they did information from London on a regular basis, they assisted people to think in a similar way.


Ed King

07 May 2020

Three favourite newspaper books - chosen by Nick Foggo

We are publishing a series of posts on favourite books about newspapers. We have asked members of the British Library's news collection team and some outside experts each to name three books about newspapers that they treasure and would recommend to others. The books can be wholly or partly about newspapers, they can be fact or fiction, they can be familiar or unfamiliar. No book can be picked twice, and no one taking part can choose one of their own books.

We hope readers will enjoy the series and seek out some of the recommendations.  The choices below have been made by Dr Nick Foggo of the University of Liverpool.

FrostReminiscences of a Country Journalist, Thomas Frost, London: Ward and Downey, 1886

I’ve chosen to begin with what was probably the first book I read about the newspaper world. Serendipitously, it was both informative and, unlike so many Victorian memoirs, a good read. What makes this book (and my other choices) stand out is the humanity of the author, Thomas Frost (1821-1908). Dry and self-aggrandising works by distinguished proprietors and editors abound, but here we have the voice of a middling journalist, who spent =iomost of his working life trying to make ends meet. He achieved little, if anything, of lasting impact in the news business and was never a household name but it would be unfair to characterise him as a hack or penny-a-liner. He occupied the middle ground, populated by large numbers  of fallible journalists, who fed the newspapers with their staple commodity – reports of events and speeches, sometimes  filled out with leaders and commentaries. Frost worked up and down the country as employment opportunities permitted. His unwavering commitment to Chartism will not have helped his prospects for advancement when the press was dominated by Liberal and Conservative proprietors.


SessionHistory of the Session 1852-3, Edward Michael Whitty, London: Chapman, 1854 [Google Books].

The author of this anthology of innovative parliamentary journalism, Edward Whitty (1827-1860),  was an enfant terrible of the mid-19th century, whose fervour and family misfortunes led him to an early, alcohol-fuelled death abroad. His Irish-born father, Michael James Whitty, proprietor of the Liverpool Journal, sent him to London in 1846 to learn parliamentary reporting with The Times and also write for the Journal. The young Whitty was both an Irish nationalist and a follower of his father’s patron, the parliamentary reformer Sir Joshua Walmsley. It was always likely that he would see the Imperial  Parliament through jaundiced eyes but not that he, more than anyone, would transform the traditional weekly summary into a genre of its own, which we recognise today as the parliamentary sketch. In this collection of articles from 1852-3, first published in The Leader and the Journal, Parliament, warts and all, is portrayed in graphic language, well-laced with incisive comments. ‘Nobody supposes, when Mr Disraeli suggests an argument, that he is hinting at his own convictions.’ This work made Whitty’s name and was soon followed by another anthology, The Governing Classes of Great Britain: Political Portraits (1854), which popularised the term ‘Governing Classes’, and a bitter, satirical novel Friends of Bohemia (1857), which laid into London society and his own stamping-ground.    


ClarkeFrom Grub Street to Fleet Street
, Bob Clarke, Brighton: Revel Barker, 2010.

This revised paperback edition is everything public history should be: affordable, knowledgeable, informative, lavishly illustrated and inspirational. The exuberance that you only really get from a lifelong collector like Bob Clarke is readily evident. What makes this broad survey of newspapers over three centuries so appealing is that it does not take the ‘Kings and Queens’ approach to history and major on the achievements of proprietors but instead serves up a wonderful diet of newspaper content. The reader soon gets a good feel for what historic newspapers looked like and what sort of news and journalism might be found in a very broad range of titles. It is gratifying to people such as myself that provincial newspapers get a lengthy chapter of their own. The book is greatly enhanced by over 50 illustrations (most, I suspect from the author’s collection) and countless meaty quotes from papers. The central portion is a particularly enjoyable examination (with appropriate comment) of perhaps the most tasty aspects of a newspaper: the advertisements, crime reporting and wars. It’s a good way to read all about it!    

Dr Nick Foggo, University of Liverpool

06 May 2020

Ten years of Broadcast News

Ten years ago, at 22:00 on 6 May 2010, the polls closed. Five minutes earlier, because that is when the all-night news programmes began, we officially threw open the switches on the British Library’s Broadcast News service. The UK General Election felt like an appropriate start for what was an exciting new venture for the Library. We were going to create an archive of UK television and radio news broadcasts, recorded live.


ITV's election night coverage, 6-7 May 2010

The reasons for setting up Broadcast News (for that was what we ended up calling the service) were two-fold. Firstly, the British Library wanted to establish a distinctive moving image archive that would fill a gap in existing provision for researchers. News was an ideal choice. Although there were television news collections available to academic researchers, they were limited to selected programmes from the main terrestrial channels, and our goal was to preserve and provide access to a far wider range of news broadcasts.

Secondly, the Library needed to respond to a changing news world. Its vast newspaper collection was a bedrock of British research, but in a digital age the form of news was changing. A more inclusive approach was required, once which encompassed print and web, TV and radio.

We started cautiously. On that first day we recorded four programmes: the BBC One and ITV all-night-election broadcasts, Channel 4’s Alternative Election, and BBC Radio 4’s all-night coverage (radio being part of the Broadcast News plans as well). The following day we recorded 15 programmes, widening coverage to include CNN, Al Jazeera English and BBC World Service.


The Green Party's 'boy band' party election broadcast from 2015

Ten years on, and we now record from twenty-two channels, taking in around 30 hours of TV and 50 hours of radio each day. The total collection is just over 160,000 recordings, of which 102,000 are TV. We are recording television on a daily basis from Al Jazeera English, BBC One, BBC Scotland, BBC Two, BBC Four, BBC News, BBC Parliament, Channel 4, Channels 24 (Nigeria), CGTN (China), CNN (USA), Euronews (European Union), France 24, ITV1, NHK World (Japan), RT (Russia), Sky News, and our most recent addition, TRT World (Turkey). We record news programmes, documentaries, party political broadcasts, satirical news programmes, interviews, debates, news specials – anything that reflects the news in its broadest sense.


NHK World coverage of the Japanese tsunami, 11 March 2011

With programmes recorded from channels in America, China, France Japan, Nigeria, Qatar, Russia and Turkey, we have good international coverage, but strictly speaking they are all British news, which is why we record from them. Al-Jazeera English, CGTN, CNN, NHK World and the others each have offices in the UK, and are all licensed with Ofcom. That broader sense of what comprises British news is an important part of the Broadcast News mission.


Donald Trump is elected President of the United States, Sky News, 9 November 2016

Over those ten years we have built up an archive of extraordinary news events. The UK has had four general elections and three referendums (on changing the voting system, Scottish independence and Brexit). We have seen the ‘Arab Spring’, the UK riots of 2011, the Olympic and Paralympic Games of 2012 and 2016, the Japanese tsunami, the death of Nelson Mandela, the Euro crisis, the rise and fall of Isis, the Syrian conflict, the era of Donald Trump, and now the coronavirus pandemic.

The latter story, ongoing of course, has demonstrated how television still governs our world of news. Newspapers (increasingly in digital form) and social media play their part, of course, but in a crisis we turn to television. It speaks to us individually yet seemingly connects us with everyone else. It is both public and private, live and yet composed. The social experience of television news, as well as its content, is why we archive it.


The first daily government update on Coronavirus, BBC One, 16 March 2020

However, these are also remarkable times for radio. Radio, particularly community radio, has come into its own during the coronavirus pandemic, bringing together information, entertainment and a reassuring, local voice. As part of the British Library’s Save our Sounds programme we have established a pilot off-air radio archiving pilot, which greatly extends the number of radio programmes we are able to capture. There will be more news on that particular venture in due course.

Broadcast News is normally available in the British Library’s St Pancras and Boston Spa reading rooms. These are closed for the time being. There is no online access to Broadcast News, for reasons of copyright, but records of the programmes we have recorded up to the middle of 2019 can be found on the Explore catalogue. But the archive continues, hour by hour, day by day, turning live news into permanent record of our extraordinary times.