The Newsroom blog

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

19 posts categorized "Events"

21 May 2014

The concept of news

'The Concept of News' was the title of a symposium organised by The Newsreel Network and held over 20-21 May at the Danish Film Institute in Copenhagen. The Newsreel Network is a collection of scholars interested in newsreel research, convened by the University of Lund in Sweden, newsreels being  a common feature of cinema programmes in many countries between the 1910s and the 1960s. I was there

  1. because I have a particular interest in newsreels
  2. because the theme touched on all news media and I am interested in how newspapers, television news, radio news, newsreels and other media have interoperated
  3. because it was a gathering of some fine scholars from several countries
  4. because I was giving a talk on archiving news at the British Library
  5. because they paid me to go

The purposes of research networks such as these is to bring together scholars with interest in a common theme, to learn from one another’s research through the presentation of short papers, and to discover through discussion practical ways in which to further research in the field. Despite all the social interaction that goes on online, it still helps hugely to meet actual humans face-to-face, and a two-day symposium for fifteen or so people can be more productive in helping to shape an agenda and construct practical plans than a formal conference.

The full title of the symposium was ‘The Concept of News: Scandinavian and Global Perspectives’, and there were several short papers on newsreel research in the Scandanavian countries, as well as Belgium and East and West Germany, focussing on the subjects of the Cold War and the Suez Crisis. The latter was chosen as a useful example for cross-comparing how different national newsreels treated the same topic, often with the same footage – there were few camera teams on the spot  during Suez and what was filmed was pooled to other news organisations – but with dramatically different interpretations of that footage in the respective commentaries.

A paper I particularly liked was given by Tore Helseth of Lillehammer University College. He has found paper records of what international newsreels were shown in one small Norwegian town during the 1950s, and contents lists for those newsreels. This is a precious discovery, because for many countries barely any records survive that document what the contents were of the newsreels and when they were issued. In the UK we are fortunate that a huge amount of newsreel documentation survives. In America, by contrast, a vast amount of documentation has been lost, and the survival rate of the films themselves is sadly poor.

Most of the remainder of the symposium was given over to broader issues about news archives and the definition of news itself. These issues matter for us at the British Library, not simple because we what is probably the world’s largest news archive, but because we are looking to move from being a newspaper archive to becoming an archive for news in all its forms. This raises interesting issues of definition. How far does the idea of news stretch? Does it include any kind of information delivered to an audience at a particular time, or does it lie specifically in those media which identify themselves as being carriers of news, such as newspapers?

Professor Brian Winston of the University of Lincoln, talked about news vs information in his paper, which was a response to the recent book by Andrew Pettegree, The Invention of News, a history of the production of news 1400-1800 (previously covered by this blog). For Winston, Pettegree has failed to distinguish between a history of the delivery of plain information and a history of news, which is something mediated, always biased in one way or another, propagandist in the broadest sense, and never – in an absolute sense – true. He called on many early examples of news as an emerging form, starting with Galbert of Bruges, a lawyer driven to write a report on the assassination of  Charles the Good, Count of Flanders on 2 March 1127, to a 1499 woodcut of Vlad the Impaler to show how news is a political tool, to Ben Jonson’s 1625 play The Staple of News, a satire on  the proto-newspapers (corantos) being published in London, which includes these striking words:

We not forbid that any News be made,
But that't be printed; for when News is printed,
It leaves, Sir, to be News...

Act 1 Scene V

Winston concluded with the eternal truth, attributed to New York Sun editor John B. Bogart, “When a dog bites a man, that is not news, because it happens so often. But if a man bites a dog, that is news”.

I enjoyed Winston’s provocative analysis, but for me the definition of news lies not in its producers but in its consumers. News is something that we seek out when we want to understand what is happening in our world, and plays a vital role in how we understand our place in that world. We seek it out from multiple newsforms, be that newspapers, TV, radio, web, pr mobile apps, and in past times from a medium such as the newsreels. Newsreels are important to this multimedia sense of the news, because they were the first news medium that consciously positioned itself as one link in the chain of news provision. Newsreels were issued once or twice a week, so they were always late with the news, but they understood from when they first emerged in the 1910s that their audience already knew what the news was – be that from newspapers or later radio. They added more to the understanding people had of what was news to them by providing it in motion pictures. They were built on choice. They played a key part in what it is to be modern: we the audience being given the tools with which to pick and choose how we build up the picture of our world. This applies many times over today, with the multifarious news (and information) outlets available that threaten at times to overwhelm us. The news is made by us.

 The symposium included some papers on radio news, which provided useful comparisons across the two news media. There was an interesting tension throughout the two days, between viewing the newsreels as a news medium (one which often fell short when it came to reporting ‘hard’ news) and viewing them for their own sake, as a distinctive product of the cinema entertainment industry rather than the news industry, as Sara Levavy of the Cortauld Institute argued. In truth, both definitions apply. Newsreels entertained, and they informed. That they informed best by their dependence on other news media, notably newspapers, to set the agenda, makes them interesting for news history itself, and helps illuminate how newspapers themselves worked for their public throughout much of the twentieth century.

02 May 2014

St Pancras Intelligencer no. 16

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.  


Robert Peston speaking at the launch of the Newsroom

Open for business: Well, we've been busy this week. The British Library's Newsroom was officially launched by the Secretary of State for Culture, Sajid Javid, on Monday 28 April, with a star turn from the BBC's Robert Peston,  before a gathering of journalists, media commentators, educationalists, British Library staff and ordinary users of our newspaper collection and other news services. There was a promotional video, a TV news package that appeared on many regional newspaper sites, and widespread media coverage (I think my favourite was Us vs Th3m's breathless 'The British Library is now improved with ARCHIVE ROBOTS'). The Newsroom's own blog post looks behind the scenes at the manufacutring of our own news event.

A strategy for news: On the day of the Newsroom launch we published a summary of our news content strategy for 2014-2017. It points the way for turning a world-class newspaper service into a world-class news service, by collecting (or connecting to) not only newspapers, but television news, radio news and web news.

Sajid Javid: Hacking down to 'bad apples' - press freedom 'cornerstone of democracy': The new Culture Secretary says it is up to press industry to decide how to proceed with regulation following the phone hacking scandal, reports Press Gazette.

Announcing FB Newswire, Powered by Storyful: Facebook and social news agency Storyful (owned by News Corp) have launched FB Newswire, which describes itself as "a resource for journalists that aggregates newsworthy social content shared publicly on Facebook by individuals and organizations" and could be a significant development in (social) news gathering. Facebook's Newsroom explains the background.

Local TV plan on the rocks as funding frozen, while London Live head quits: Oh dear. Plans for a network of local TV stations appear to have hit the rocks, while the chief programmer of London Live (which shares an owner with the Evening Standard, which has liberally promoted the channel) quit following terrible viewing figures, including near zero for some news programmes.

Nate Silver’s advice to young journalists: Learn to code now: Emily Bell gave a scintiallating lecture at the British Library on automated journalism, which we'll be blogging about in due course. One of the themes she raised was the advantages of journalists being able to code, and others have raised the same issue this week. US news media star Nate Silver tells Geekwire that “If you’re an aspiring journalist who knows how to code really well, you are in a very hot market”, and Richard Sambrook argues that "journalists can learn lessons from coders in developing the creative future".

Ofcom should be looking again at Putin's TV news channel: Steve Bloomfield at The Guardian is appalled by the news coverage from RT (formerly Russia Today), which is readily available to UK viewers (and programmes from which are recorded daily for the British Library's Broadcast News service).

Anyone who has tired of Sky News's endless reporting of the Oscar Pistorius trial or CNN's down-the-rabbit-hole coverage of the hunt for Flight MH370 would accept that the world of 24-hour TV news could do with an alternative voice. But propaganda for an autocratic government and conspiracy theories linked to antisemitism are not an alternative anyone should be comfortable with.

Paying for online news: Dominic Ponsford at Press Gazette considers the mixed lessons to be learned from the Telegraph's metered paywall, one year on from its introduction.

Journalists' sources are no longer safe in Australia: Paul Farrell at The Guardian worries how Australia's Telecommunications Interception and Access Act 1979 could permit government agencies instantaneously to track down journalists’ sources.

ITV’s new breakfast show divides opinion: Four presenters at a single desk (plus weather reporter standing awkwardly by), fast pace, US feel, and star acquisition in Susanna Reid: ITV's Good Morning Britain launched on Monday and has had mixed reviews so far, as in this Metro report. But no one is saying bring back Daybreak.

Print is not the future, but it's not the past either: Peter Preston at The Observer thinks print's not dead yet - not while the industry has yet to work out how to make money from digital.

Revealed: The top 10 regional papers on Twitter: interesting list from Hold the Front Page of the top ten UK regional newspapers with the largest number of followers on Twitter. The Liverpool Echo's @LivEchonews comes out top with 136K followers. But what do they mean by saying that 77 newspapers in the UK are using Twitter? Our figures here suggest well over 350 do so...

Fears grow that the BBC News Channel could become online only: Could the BBC News 24-hour channel go online-only (as has been suggested will happen to BBC30 as part of BBC cost-cutting plans. Ian Burrell at The Independent asks the questions.

The Onion sets its sights on BuzzFeed, Upworthy: At last, The Onion is to set its sights on the listmania of quasi-news sites like Buzzfeed and Upworthy with a new site to mock the whole concept called Clickhole (launches in June). Unless the news about this is a spoof itself...

Max Clifford has finally got some of his own medicine: Max Clifford has been found guilty of eight counts of indecent assault, and schadenfraude reigns in the media world. At The Drum one "master of spin" Richard Hillgrove considers the downfall of another.

An incomplete list of things which are going to shape the next journalism: George Brock's latest wise overview of how journalism is changing, with seven issues that all in the industry need to be asking themselves.

BBC hacks – tweet the crap out of the news, cries tech-dazzled Trust: You can trust The Register to have taken a less than deferential apporoach to the BBC Trust's report Getting the best out of the BBC for licence fee payers: BBC Trust Review, BBC Network News and Current Affairs.

Once the BBC was un-ignorable, whatever age you might be. Today, half of under-25s and two thirds of under-20s ignore it completely. And even online, apathy reigns: the corporation's digital share has increased from only 24 per cent of adults in 2012 to 26 per cent today.

We haven’t even scratched surface of explainer journalism: Adam Tinworth at looks at the US phenomenon of explainer/exploratory/data/call-it-what-you-will journalism and argues that we need to "rethink our content models to make our journalism relevant for a digital age".

Jeremy Paxman to step down as presenter of Newsnight: The nation's favourite torturer of politicians is standing down in June.

30 April 2014

Open for business

On Monday April 28th the British Library officially launched the Newsroom, its new reading room for news. It was a long day, the fruition of much organisation to ensure everything went just right (the British Library strives very hard to make sure that everything always goes just right), as well as the culmination of seven years of planning for the proper preservation of the UK's newspaper collection. Here's a record of some of what happened over the day, from your blogger's perspective.


An empty Newsroom

07.15 - A bleary-eyed news curator stumbles into the Library, heads up to the Newsroom on the second floor, and joins the head of press (a man who may not actually sleep at all) whose job it is to manage our messages. We set up two of the 40 digital microfilm readers that we have installed. We choose The Times from the late 19th century and a News of the World from the 1920s, one displayed 'landscape', the other 'portrait', to show off how the screens can be manipulated to fit the shape of the newspapers they show. Before the TV company comes in, I take a quick phone snap of the empty room.

07.30 - A camera operator and a journalist from TNR, a Press Association off-shoot, arrive to film a short piece about the Newsroom, to be sold on as a package to TV news providers. They work out camera angles, position me by a wall with a long display of newspaper front pages, pin a microphone to my lapel and get me to give my name and so forth to check sound levels. They shine a bright light in my face. I have a crib sheet telling me all of the messages that I have to get across. I stutter my way through the interview, surviving somehow. Try as I might I cannot say the words "Secretary of State for Culture" without stumbling. They say nice things, which means that my gloomy assessment of how I appear on camera is probably spot on. They go off to shoot some background shots, and I head for my desk.

09:00 - I publish a blog post (written two days beforehand) on the British Library's news content strategy. It seemed timely to do so.

10:00 - Checking through the advance news coverage of the launch. An excellent, thoughtful piece in The Independent by Ian Burrell, that gets where we are coming from and going to, lifts the spirits. The Guardian has a shorter piece full of all the facts and figures we sent to them - the online version unfortunately states that the reading room itself cost £33M. It's very hard for anyone to spend that amount of money on a room (the money was mostly spent on the preservation store for newspapers that we have built at Boston Spa in Yorkshire). I review my list of newspaper collection facts and worry about what our earliest, still published newspaper title might be. Is it the Stamford Mercury or Berrow's Worcester Journal? The London Gazette (first published 1665) trumps them both, but is it strictly speaking a newspaper?

11:00 - Another TV crew, this time from ITV London. They are much quicker about things, letting me talk more freely about things. I show off the microfilm readers, the Broadcast News television service, the archive of web sites, throw in mentions of the preservation centre and say how pleased we all are. The interviewer is somewhat smaller than me and I wonder how it will look on screen with me looming over him. Odd, is the answer. Odder is the near-empty Newsroom. Where are they all? The place has been packed for days, and the moment we bring in cameras, everyone disappears. He-who-never-sleeps boldly invites a researcher sitting blamelessly at one of the microfilm readers if he would be willing to be interviewed for the news piece. Certainly, he says. It turns out he has no TV but he talks to camera like a trouper.

12:00 - Lunch, then coffee while reading The Independent piece.

13:00 - He-who-never-sleeps has been in touch with Newsnight. They have a great idea for when the programme signs off by showing tomorrow's papers - why not do so with tomorrow's news from 1914, 1814, maybe even 1714? It's going to be a bit pot luck, but I scour the British Newspaper Archive and find some uninspiring front pages. Our friends at DC Thomson Family History join in and do rather better at finding good stories. I redeem myself by looking at our Burney collection of early newspapers and finding a couple of good items for 29 April 1714. Fingers crossed.

13:30 - BBC London want to do a radio interview with me. It will be on my home phone, but at 06:25 tomorrow morning. I agree to this, somehow cheerfully.

14:00 - News about the launch has spread all over Twitter, or at least the bits of Twitter that I know. There is some confusion out there (no, the room did not cost £33M; no, we haven't digitised all 750 million newspaper and magazine pages in the collection) but huge enthusiasm. It's a good news story.

14:30 - We have the final project board meeting for the Newsroom. Nothing gets done at the British Library without a project team, project plan, work packages, risk register, budget, lessons learned log and such like. Everything is meticulously thought through, though we all have issues that we don't think have been properly resolved as yet. But we are pleased with the reaction there has been from researchers so far (we actually opened the room on April 7th), both new and the old hands who used the Colindale newspaper library that we closed down in November.

15:30 - I fret over the slow loading of videos in the Newsroom and check the display for live TV and live web sites in the networking area of the Newsroom. Everyone is bothered by the archive videos that we show there because they aren't captioned as such, and people have been spooked by seeing footage of London riots and not realising it's 2011. I say that making adjustments to the display is not as straightforward as they might think. This is true, but doesn't sound convincing.

16:30 - We have a team meeting in the Library foyer to make sure everyone knows what they have to do for the evening. Screens have been put up (two show newspaper pages, one for video), there is a platform for the speakers that looks amusingly like a trampoline, and there is an extraordinarily large amount of audio equipment for what will be three speeches at one microphone and a video. 

17:00 - The Newsroom is closed early. The newspaper curator and I carry newspaper volumes into the Newsroom and display them on rests or lecterns. We have chosen four titles from four centuries that are each all still in print - The London Gazette (17thC), Stamford Mercury (18thC), Manchester Guardian (19thC) and Daily Mail (20thC). The Manchester Guardian does not sit steadily on its lectern so wisely we lie it flat instead. The print copies of the newspapers won't start to become available in the Newsroom until Autumn, but we had to display some. I test the videos - they are still taking an age to load. I make contingency plans.

17:30 - I put on a tie. It looks terrible. I take it off then put it on again. It looks worse. I repeat this action several times. I resign myself to my fate.

18:15 - The first guests arrive for the launch of the Newsroom. The party is taking place in the foyer. The great, the good, former Colindale users and staff past and present have their names ticked off the list and pick up coloured cards which say which of the tours of the Newsroom we have organised with our elegantly-attired newspaper reference team they will be going on. Despite some chaos behind the scenes, the visitors all enjoy their tours, not knowing that they might have enjoyed them even more had we been able to organise them as we have dreamed we would do.

18:25 - The ITV London piece is broadcast. The TNR team are here for the party, to film the event and the minister's tour of the Newsroom.

18:30 - The place is packed and we humans do what humans do best and talk animatedly at one another. The canapés include fish and chips in newspaper - just the one chip and a sliver of fish in a newspaper-ish cone, but a neat idea all the same. I say hello to many friends.


Robert Peston in full flow

19:15 - The minister has arrived, and the speeches begin. The Chief Executive of the British Library thanks everyone for coming and praises the achievements of the Newspaper Programme which has worked so had to ensure the long-term preservation of the newspaper collection. The recently-appointed Secretary of State for Culture, Sajid Javid, then gives his first speech in his new role. He talks engagingly about his nerdish adolescent fondness for newspapers at his local library and says all the right things. Then the BBC's Robert Peston gives a most charming speech, keen in tone and theme, with a most touching reference to his late wife's great fondness for the Colindale library where she researched regularly.


The Newsroom launch video

19:30 - We play a promo video that we shot a couple of weeks ago which introduces the Newsroom and the Boston Spa store. The conceit of having the opening images move up and down as though being viewed on a microfilm reader is probably lost on most (I didn't get it until a third viewing), but it has cheery music, says what it needed to say, and the Newsroom looks great, if populated by some familiar faces from our press office (filming mostly took place before the room opened to the public, and you have to get your 'users' from somewhere). I cringe as the video ends with me giving the cheesy pay-off line - "We're open for business". They clap anyway.


Roly Keating, chief executive of the British Library, Sajid Javid, Culture Secretary, and a curator inspecting the Stamford Mercury

19:45 - The CE, the minister and I go up to the Newsroom (it's on the second floor) to show him round. I explain the idea of the networking area is to encourage collaborative research and to show current news, so that we're as much about news today as the news of yesterday. We show him the newspaper volumes, the microfilm readers (ably demonstrated by one of our newspaper reference team), Broadcast News (everything works - oh happy day), showing off our recording from that morning of ITV's new breakfast show Good Morning Britain (he hasn't heard of it). He is interested in everything, particularly in our web archives, then goes off script by searching for his own name rather than the subject terms I had prepared. Sure enough the link he selects doesn't work. We move on quickly. TNR films him and he comes up with perfect short quotes. It's a gift.


The minister is interviewed

20:00 - The party continues, though the numbers have thinned as various people decide they would rather get home now before the Tube strike starts at 9pm. I make plans, arrange meetings, smile constantly, then escape. Other remains behind to clean it all up as if the event had never been.

21:00 - I answer some of the many Tweets and emails that have appeared through the day. Enthusiasm still reigns. @BL_newsroom has many more Twitter followers than it did. 

22:00 - Home. The other news out there - a schoolteacher has been stabbed to death in her classroom. A special report from ruined Aleppo. Max Clifford has been found guilty of indecent assaults. Pfizer is confident of a takeover of AstraZeneca. Arsenal have beaten Newcastle 3-0. ITV London shows its Newsroom piece again, in re-edited form.


A look at tomorrow's papers...

23:20 - Newsnight closes with the tomorrow's headlines from three past centuries. Jeremy Paxman says that we have 7.5 million pages instead of 750 million, but the conceit works well. He stumbles over his words more than I do, which I find reassuring. They subsequently publish the clip on YouTube.

23:30 - End of a long day in which we played our part in manufacturing the news while showing how well we are archiving it and making it available again. News is not what happens, it is what is mediated through accepted news channels and consumed by us as clients of those channels. Likewise with history, which is not what happened but what we select and re-tell from what once happened (often found through news archives such as ours). All we ever do is tell stories to one another.

24:00 - TNR delivers its completed video package of the day. He-who-never-sleeps takes receipt of it and starts work for another day....

Update: The TNR video package has appeared on several news websites, for example the Yorkshire Post.


11 March 2014

Robot reporters and the age of drone journalism

We are delighted to be playing host to Emily Bell, Professor of Professional Practice & Director, Tow Center for Digital Journalism at the University of Columbia and previously director of digital content for Guardian News and Media. She is delivering our second WT Stead lecture on 25 April, entitled 'Robot reporter: Journalism in the Age of Automation and Big Data'.


Emily Bell

Digital technologies are transforming the ways in which news is gathered, processed and consumed. This is not just a question of how the news is reported, but what we understand news to be. The robot reporter is not a theoretical concept - it is a rapidly approaching reality. Emily Bell describes the subject of her lecture in this way:

The world of information is changing and journalism is buffeted by the disruption. Our stories are told now through vast network protocols and social networks by hundreds of people. The 'first draft of history' is now on a spreadsheet in the cloud rather than a notebook on a reporter's desk. In the newsroom we are on the brink of an explosion of drones, sensor technologies and wearable computing, turning our world into one where every event can be captured, intentionally or by stealth. When everything can be surveilled, what do we report? We are now in the age of drone journalism, but with technology running ahead of legality and ethics, how can journalism use the technology responsibly?

Emily Bell is herself one of the leading figures in digital journalism. During her time at The Guardian it won the Webby Award for a newspaper website in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009, and British Press Awards for Website of the Year in 2006, 2008 and 2009. At the Tow Center for Digital Journalism she works at an institute dedicated to providing journalists with the skills and knowledge to lead the future of digital journalism and serves as a research and development center for the profession as a whole.

This is the second WT Stead lecture to be held at the British Library, and takes place in the same month as we are opening our new reading room for news, the Newsroom. The WT Stead lectures are named after the pioneering Victorian newspaper man William Thomas Stead, who did so much to transform the nature of journalism in his time. The first lecture was delivered by James Harding, Director of BBC News, in January 2014 and was widely reported and much discussed (you can find his script here and a podcast of the lecture here). Emily Bell's lecture is likely to have a similar impact, and we encourage anyone with an interest in where news in going to join us.

Details of the event and how to book are on the British Library's Events page.

The third and final WT Stead lecture will be in November 2014.

29 January 2014

New ways, old ways

'New ways of doing journalism' was the enticing title of a seminar held last night at City University in London. It brought together leading practitioners in the new modes of web-based news production whose success (social, and in some cases commercial) is challenging existing models and exciting a lot of people in he news world. The room was filled with journalism students (and some journalists) aware that they were joining a profession that is on the verge of something very exciting. The question was, how to sort out the excitement from the journalism, the tweets from the passion for truth.

The speakers were Andrew Jaspan, founder and CEO of The Conversation, a site publishing news and commentary by academic experts; Annette Novak, ex-editor and CEO of Sweden's Interactive Institute, which experiments with interaction design and data visualisation; Sarah Hartley, journalist, blogger and co-founder and editor of Contributoria, the recently-launched crowdfunded, collaborative journalism platform; and Luke Lewis, editor of the British branch of the site that is doing the most to overturn accepted news models, Buzzfeed. The chair was Professor George Brock, who has written so illuminatingly about the new journalism, both its refreshing aspects and its challenges.


Not the Sphinx covered in snow

To be honest, the seminar didn't quite live up to its billing. One did not get a great sense of missionary zeal, with the talk on Buzzfeed in particular offering more amunition for its detractors than encouragement for its advocates. The site, if you don't know it, specialises in witty, illustrated lists (e.g. 35 Frustrating Things About Playing Video Games In The '90s) with occasional forays into harder news territory - stories which are then driven worldwide by social media. Buzzfeed has a following of many millions, it makes money, and it is hiring journalists - and many others are trying to emulate it. Hence the enthusiasm. But tales of how Buzzfeed pointed out that a viral image of the Sphinx in snow was in fact a half-sized model from a Japanese theme park don't really suggest strong journalism, but rather how revealing the truth behind a viral image is shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted.

Instead the event was notable for how many were expressing unease at the world of web news, and calling out for informed journalism - and the time to compose such journalism - to fight against the tsunami of uniformed opinion, half-truths and untruths that too often pass for information in the social media world. Andre Jaspan's The Conversation publishes news stories written by academics and issued for re-use under a CC licence. Based in Australia, and with a British outlet now opened (located at City University), the site is home for serious news analysis, but with nil marketing budget is has managed to get 1.6M unique visitor hits per month. Jaspan warned that where we have fewer journalists, "PR moves in to fill the vacuum", and sites such as The Conversation and Contributoria (a sort of Kickstarter for community funded, collaborative journalism) are defending traditional, idealistic journalism, producing a news you can trust. Trust was the key word throughout the event. Where does trust lie in the world of online information? If we can't trust it, how can it be news?

The new journalism seems to be going in two different ways. One is following the tweets and the likes, placing value on stories which will be shared. Luke Lewis was keen to stress that Buzzfeed is not only committed to stories that are shareable but stories that have value because of the truths the reveal. Hopefully this will remain so, particularly as such sites start to develop roots and offer a more rounded, less transient news offering. The other is a reaction to the overwhelming volume of information and disinformation to be found online by reinvesting effort in "value-based journalism" (Annette Novak's phrase). This form of new journalism finds its inspiration in old journalism, or a belief in what old journalism has been at its best.

So the platforms are changing, but the idea of news and the role of journalists seems to be much as it has ever been - torn between truth and the marketplace.

All of this matters to what we are doing at the British Library, where we collect news for the benefit of researchers today and in the future. We are in the process of developing a news content strategy, one which looks beyond newspapers (which we have always collected) to all of the news media published in the UK - print, web, TV, radio. To collect news, we have to know what news is. Just now news is in a melting pot, uncertain of the ways in which it will exist and how it will look in the future, but there is great excitement in the air about the possibilities. It's just that there are great fears too.



22 January 2014

Doctoral open day: Media, Cultural Studies and Journalism

Just started working on your PhD? Is it in the field of media, cultural studies or journalism? Well then, the British Library's Media, Cultural Studies & Journalism Doctoral Open Day on 24 February 2014 should be for you. We organise these postgraduate open days each year on a variety of subjects, giving new PhD students the chance to discover the British Library’s unique research materials, find out how to access them, and meet  the curators and other researchers in your field. 

The Media, Cultural Studies and Journalism open day will introduce you our extensive news and media collections. These include our vast newspaper collections, the UK national and regional titles going back centuries and access to many international titles too; our UK web archive, with its special focus on news-based websites; our extensive radio holdings; our television news service; our BBC access service, and much more. Much of our news content can only be accessed onsite, so this is a great chance to get a sense of what we have and to plan future research trips.

The day will feature an introduction to British Library services overall, then session on our news holdgings, on using the newspaper collection in particular (with up-to-the-minute information on our new news reading room, opening in March), on web archives, media studies collections and how we are opening up our collections for digital scholarship. You'll get to meet expert staff, and we'd be delighted to hear more about your research and to advise or to suggest sources. It's also a great chance to meet with other researchers in your field.

It's free, and lunch and refreshments are provided, though do note the event is for first year PhD students only, who are new to the Library. Finally, a small number of £20 travel bursaries are available for students coming from outside Greater London.

Booking details are here.

17 January 2014

St Pancras Intelligencer no. 1

This being a blog about yesterday's news and the news today, it seems only right to have our own news series. So welcome to edition number one of the St Pancras Intelligencer, which will be a 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. Most of these stories with have been tweeted via @BL_newsroom over the previous week, but we'll bring you a weekly summary of the most interesting ones each Friday. 


The New York Times website redesign is great, as far as it goes - which isn't very far: The online redesign of the New York Times has generated a huge amount of discussion. Gigaom's Mathew Ingram is a little disappointed and suggests improvements.

Journalism Today: The big news event at the British Library this week was James Harding, Head of BBC News, delivering the inaugural W.T. Stead lecture. His comments on the BBC's relationship with regional news production got the most comments in the press, but his thoughts on how an era of a particular kind of journalism is coming to an end are what is most striking about the talk. You can follow up the links to the many news services that he mentions in our report on the lecture.

Read All About it # 2 - Building a Future: Our British Library colleagues at Collection Care have been blogging about the challenges of conserving newspapers. Number two in the series compares conditions at the recently closed Colindale library with the state-of-the-art Newspaper Storage Building in Boston Spa (with lots of pictures).

Independent owner Lebedev looking for buyers: The Independent is up for sale.

The reality of digital newsrooms: An anonymous young journalist writes of her disappointment at the modern digital newsroom in this sobering post on Roy Greenslade's blog.

Introducing Newspeg: Mark Potts introduces Newspeg, a social news-sharing platform which isn't a million miles way from Pinterest.

175,000 extra newspaper pages added: The British Newspaper Archive (home to digitised newspapers from the British Library collection) announces 175,000 pages added in December 2013, from the Aberdeen Journal to Y Goleuad.

New digitised newspapers on Trove: The National Library of Australia's peerless digital library Trove has issued a long list of titles now being added to the service. They now boast now free online access to over 12 million pages from over 600 Australian newspapers.

Here's the thing about last year: Journalism professor George Brock looks back over 2013 and find it a year in which optimism about journalism came back.

Evening Standard's local TV channel London Live to launch 31 March: Among the local television channels due to start appearing on Freeview as Ofcom issues licences, of particular interest is London Live for its connection with the Evening Standard. It is promising five-and-a-half hours of news per day, reports DTG.

Global Press Freedoms Organisations begin Press Freedom Mission to the United Kingdom: The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers has sent a delegation to the UK to investigate press regulation "amid deep international concern about press freedoms in the United Kingdom".

Romanian woman from Vlad the Impaler's town lands job in UK as knife thrower's assistant in Circus of Horrors: And the news tweet of the week undoubtedly goes to the Daily Express for this gem.


14 January 2014

The new new journalism

I am, in fact, extremely optimistic about the future of journalism. I have real confidence in the prospects for the news media. And if you ask me that annoying question, whether I see the glass half empty or half full, I’d say two-thirds full. In fact, I think this is the most exciting time to be a journalist since the advent of television.

Yesterday James Harding, Director of BBC News, gave the inaugural W.T. Stead lecture at the British Library. The renowned 19th century campaigning journalist William Thomas Stead established a new form of journalism, dubbed 'the new journalism', which laid the foundations for the populist, inquisitive and crusading style of newspaper production which has proved so enduring. Stead helped bring about a revolution in journalism; Harding pointed out that we are in the throes of a another news revolution today.


James Harding

Harding's argument was that the era of news journalism that Stead ushered in is coming to an end. He said:

The case I would like to make to you tonight is that the era that started with Stead – the era in which the Press had a legitimate claim to be a unique check on the powerful and the sole interrogator of the establishment; the era in which editors had unrivalled power to command public opinion and shape the political agenda; the era in which the Fourth Estate was a clutch of established institutions run by identifiable individuals in control of the news – that era is over.

By this he meant that the era in which the established news media (print, TV, radio) dominates and determines the production and distribution of news is over. The digital revolution has brought the power of information and the tools to distribute that information into the hands of anyone. This changes journalism, changes the news agenda, changes the relationship between producer and consumer of news, changes the business models on which news production has depended.

You don’t have to work in news to be alive to the issue: the pool of labour correspondents who reported working life in Britain, the training ground for journalists such as the late, great John Cole, has disappeared; the numbers of foreign correspondents have been hacked back, notably by the US TV networks; and, most alarming has been the collapse of the classified advertising market and the impact it has had on local newspapers: The Press Gazette has reported that 242 local papers shut between 2005 and 2012; the latest company results from Johnston Press state that it cut 1,300 jobs in 2012, some 23 per cent of the workforce; almost half the employees of Northcliffe Media went between 2008 and 2012, falling from 4,200 to 2,200 according to its owners the Daily Mail & General Trust. Claire Enders, the media analyst, has calculated that 40 per cent of jobs in the UK regional press have gone in the course of five years.”

But these changes did not make him pessimistic. Indeed, as quoted at the top of this post, he said this was the most exciting time to be a journalist since the advent of television.

Professional journalists cannot expect to have the influence we once did, but, if we’re clever, if we’re innovative and if we’re trustworthy, we can earn it. This is because we live at a time when there is an unprecedented hunger for information and ideas, because the proliferation of new news providers means the number of working journalists is, actually, rising, because the tools available for story telling and story getting are more powerful than ever and because, as I hope to make clear, the new technologies have unexpectedly revealed the enduring value of some old principles in journalism.

He relished the challenge that the new news environment promises, with new services such as BuzzFeed, Vice and Upworthy challenging the models of how news is produced and distributed, indeed what news is (he pointed out also that such services are busy hiring journalists, so there is hope for the profession, but where it may be practised is likely to change). He also felt that these challenges would help bring about a re-focussing on what the principles of journalism should be:

At such a time, there has never been a greater need for original reporting, insightful analysis and challenging opinion. People making choices need information and intelligence. We need journalism. And, in Britain, we are extremely fortunate to have a boisterous, curious and courageous Press.

There is a contradiction here: welcoming the disruption to existing models of news production that the upstart newcomers are delivering, while at the same time speaking up for the value of traditional journalism values to deliver "a voice you can trust". This naturally led to a strong defence of the BBC's news services, and to his assertion that - in this world of shareable information and digital power placed at the fingertips of anyone with an opinion - the BBC's great asset is the trust with which it is hel. However, this had to be rooted in "uncompromising commitment to accuracy, impartiality, diversity of opinion and the decent treatment of people in the news".

There was some irony, therefore, that the questions afterwards focussed strongly on matters of trust in how the BBC manages the news, questions which also revealed that though the choice of news sources and services is huge, many people still take in the news in quite a linear, time-tested way. Complaints about privileging one sort of story above another, or the positioning of news stories, ought to be irrelevant if we are all selecting the news stories that most interest us by using the online and mobile tools available. But most are not doing this. Some seek out the news wherever they can find it; others expect it to come to them in the familiar, trusted form. Marrying the expectations of different audiences with the digital opportunities available, so that all feel included, is going to be the great challenge for any news provider.

The full text of James Harding speech, entitled 'Journalism Today', is available on the BBC Media Centre site. It refers to a great many news-related services which many will be keen to try out for themselves. This is a list, with links, of some of what was mentioned (with Harding's comments):

  • BBC Trending - "BBC now has more people following its @BBCbreaking Twitter feed than watch the 10 o’clock news"
  • Buzzfeed
  • Chartbeat - "track, second by second, story by story, who is viewing what"
  • Daily Beast - "have been hiring outstanding journalists from The Times and The Guardian"
  • Dimblebot - "an imagined robot version of Dimbleby with its own Twitter account and a devoted fanbase"
  • Geofeedia - "enables you to follow a story on Twitter by the location of the tweeter"
  • Now this News - " delivers the news in 6,15 and 30 second videos"
  • ProPublica - "US investigative journalism venture"
  • Reddit - "has an algorithm that drives up stories based on popularity with readers"
  • Storify - "allows users to collect social media and curate their own stories"
  • Touchcast - "creates a Minority Report-style smorgasboard of interactive screens on the iPad"
  • Upworthy
  • Vice

Update (22 January 2014): We have now published a podcast of James Harding's lecture, available here.


19 December 2013

Changing places, changing news

Welcome to The Newsroom, the British Library’s new news and media blog. Its aim is to provide the news about yesterday's news, and to look to where news may be going in the future. It will inform you about aspects our collections, provides guides to their best use, and reports on activities in news production and news-related research.

The British Library has one of the world's greatest news archives. Our collection of UK, Irish and world newspapers numbers over 60 million issues, from the 17th century to the present day, and we have growing collections of television, radio and web news. In March 2014 we will be opening our News and Media Reading Room at our London site in St Pancras (for more information, see our guide to our Newspaper Library moves). The new reading room will bring together print, television radio and web news resources in an exciting new media research environment, one that reflects the ways in which news production itself is changing.


James Harding

There will be various events to help mark the change in our news service from the Newspaper Library at Colindale (now closed) to St Pancras. Among these are lectures we are organising in the name of W.T. Stead, the transformative 19th-century journalist whose multi-faceted involvement in news production and the media of his time was celebrated at W.T. Stead: Newspaper Revolutionary, a conference held at the British Library in 2012.

The first W.T. Stead Lecture will be given by James Harding, director of BBC News & Current Affairs, on 13 January 2014. Harding’s career is indicative of the great changes taking place in the news and media industries. He has recently moved from being editor of a leading national newspaper, The Times, to heading the BBC’s news service. This looks like part of a growing trend. BBC Director General Mark Thompson left the corporation to head the New York Times, and the BBC’s former head of Future Media & Technology, Ashley Highfield, is now CEO of the Johnston Press, which publishes many local newspapers in the UK. The skills in the one medium are becoming essential for understanding the other media.

Harding’s lecture will reflect upon the place of news in a changing media landscape. We now have more ways than ever before to access the news, but how does this affect the way that news is produced, communicated and consumed? Is news itself changing, or is it just how we find it and use it that is changing? What is happening to the role of journalism in a multimedia, multiplatform environment? These questions are important not only for understanding news today, but for building the news archive of tomorrow.

Further information on James Harding’s lecture, with details on how to book, can be found on our What’s On pages.

The Newsroom blog recent posts



Other British Library blogs