19 March 2014
There are many books on news and current affairs, but most are aimed at an academic or professional audiences. There has been a notable lack in the past few years of books aimed at a general readership on news and news history. Recently, however, three significant titles have appeared which each touch on the fundamental role news plays in society. Each is highly readable, and each is a reflection of the current turmoil in news production worldwide.
Andrew Pettegree's The Invention of News: How the World Came to Know About Itself (Yale University Press, 2014) is a history of how the thirst for news developed and was commercialised from 1400 to 1800. It shows how in the pre-industrial era news was shared orally, then through handwritten texts delivered by messengers in the service of church, state or business, then how it was radically transformed in its audience, content and impact through the introduction of print, starting with news-sheets before gradually evolving into the newspaper form that remains with us today.
What is paticularly refreshing about this history is its focus on those for whom the news was produced. News histories have a tendency to take the consumers of that news for granted. Here there is a vivid understanding of who wanted news, the ways in which they were prepared to pay for it, the degree of trust they placed in it, and how their world was changed by exposure to news. The background to this is clearly laid out, so one sees a modern Europe emerging, bound together by networks of information and with a public that gained greater power the more it became informed of the world about it. News is both a by-product of, and the catalyst for profound changes in society.
All of this gives Pettegree's history a real relevance to news and communication today. News exists because of our great desire to belong. The communication revolution of 1400 to 1800 feels very much like the communication revolution we are going through today, not least because we can recognise ourselves in those times. It is a particularly enjoyable and well-written history.
Alain de Botton's The News: A User's Manual (Hamish Hamilton, 2014) is the popular philosopher's attempt to question why we have the news that we do have, and what impact it has upon society. It is quite unlike the usual books on news or current affairs, in its elegant design quite as in its approach. De Botton's critique of news as presently constituted, and how it fails to find space for consideration of underlying causes or a more positive view of human activity, has been greeted with much scorn among news professionals and academics, not least for this lyrical call for a different definition of news:
"It is also the cloud floating right now unattended over the church spire, the gentle thought in the doctor's mind as he approaches the patient's bare arm with a needle, the field mice by the hedgerow, the small child tapping on the surface of a newly hard-boiled egg while her mother looks on lovingly, the nuclear submarine patrolling the maritime borders with efficiency and courage..."
De Botton's call for a different kind of news is likely to find greater favour among some readers and viewers of news who are repelled, distressed or even simply bored by the common round of news stories. In doing so he may be tapping into a reluctance to engage with the news that has more to do with world-weariness and angst, a wish that the world were other than it is. He wants a form of news that will help make us better people, which is a dubious - not to say improbable - goal. His understanding of news itself is unclear, sometimes seeming to be triggered by newspaper headlines, sometimes by TV news highlights, sometimes by web news sites, but with criticisms directed hapazardly at all three. Many news services are very good at providing the background context that he craves, and the diversity of news stories that he would like to see already exists: it just requires an active engagement with the different news sources available. But if news services end up serving themselves more than they serve their audiences, then there is a case to be answered.
Our third title, George Brock's Out of Print: Newspapers, Journalism and the Business of News in the Digital Age (Kogan Page, 2013) is written by a former journalist turned journalism professor, but it is written in a very accessible way that should appeal equally to a public readership as to the student. It certainly touches on themes that are relevant to all of us. This is a guidebook for the world of news as we now have it, and for what it may be turning into.
As all will be aware, newspapers face an uncertain future, as the internet and digital technologies have completely overturned how news is distributed and consumed. This demands a complete rethink on what journalism is, what value it holds, and how it can be maintained. Brock provides a handy historical summary of news production in Britain from the Middle Ages to the present day, then introduces the reader to a clear and stimulating overview of the new world of social media, citizen journalism, news aggregators, pay walls, and information overload.
We have no inalienable right to good journalism. As Brock observes, in his introduction: "Journalists in the 21st century rarely stop to recall that 'mainstream' journalism has only been a short period in the history of public information. The supply of information to democratic societies only matured as a mass-market industry in the 20th century, allowing journalism to be practiced and controlled in more concentrated and organized ways. Journalism of an earlier era was smaller scale, more intimate, opinionated and much of it resembled the social networks now carried out by the internet."
Is news production as we have understood it, as something composed by journalists and transmitted by news organisations, only a phase in how public information is communicated? What connection is there between the world of the Internet and the social networks of earlier centuries that Andrew Pettegree describes? Do news organisations ignore the troubled thoughts about engagement with the news as we now have it that Alain de Botton identifies, or have they discovered the key to their future in socially-driven news aimed at young audiences, as exemplified by such vogue-ish services as Buzzfeed, Upworthy, Now this News and Reddit? If the latter, then who generates the news that gets shared, and if we want journalists to do so, then who will pay for them if the advertising revenues fall and too many expect to find their news for free?
The answers - whatever they may be - lie in best understanding our enduring "hunger for information" (in Andrew Pettegree's phrase), something that all three books address in different, but complementary ways. There is no more important debate than the one we are now having about news. It is what binds us together.
21 February 2014
Welcome to the latest edition of the St Pancras Intelligencer, our weekly round-up of news about news - stories about news production, publications, apps, digitised resources, events and what is happening with the newspaper collection (and other news collections) at the British Library.
Before & After - Kiev's Independence Square: A stunning composite image published on Reddit.
You're not going to read this: But you'll probably share it anyway. The Verge points out the huge difference in numbers between what we tweet and what we actually read of what we tweet.
Scientists develop a lie detector for tweets: More on the shakiness of social media, this time on a system - Pheme - which could help determine whether a Tweet contains credible information or not. From the Daily Telegraph.
The YouTube War: A fine piece by Amnesty International's Christoph Koettl for PBS on the rise of YouTube videos in reporting on the Syrian conflict, and the opportunities and challenges of using such videos as evidence of human rights violations.
Letter asks for release of Peter Greste held in Egypt: The BBC, ITN, Reuters, Sky, NBC News and ABC News have signed a letter asking for the release of Australian freelance journalist Peter Greste and his two Al-Jazeera colleagues, being held in prison by the Egyptian authorities.
Highlights from the IFLA newspaper conference: A handy blog post from the Oregon Digital Newspaper Program on the International Federation of Library Associations’ (IFLA) Newspaper group's conference held at Salt Lake City. Newspaper history, digitisation and preservation.
Hacked Off to Daily Mail: you are the biggest ethical code offender: The Press Complaints Commission published a list of publications responsible for breaches of the editors' code of practice. The Daily Mail came top. The Mail protested and defended its position. Hacked Off was not impressed. Roy Greenslade refrains from comment.
Anti-“Daily Mail” Signs Appear On Britain’s Rail Network: Talking of which, these signs have been popping up on UK trains (having been handed out by satirical comedian Mark Thomas on his current tour). Buzzfeed dutifully collates a selection of photographs.
On the Ramsgate to Victoria line, photographed by Nicola Branch
How digital weighs up against print for UK magazine circulations: Journalism.co.uk reports on the new data from the Audit Bureau of Circulation which for the first time gives combined digital and print sales for magazines. Print still dominates, for now.
BBC accused of political bias - on the right, not the left: The Independent reports on Cardiff University research which finds that "the BBC has compromised its impartiality by depending too heavily on sources from business, the media, law and order and politics" and that the BBC "was more likely than ITV or Channel 4 to use sources from the right – such as US Republicans or Ukip politicians – than from the left (US Democrats or Green politicians)."
Should UK licence-fee payers still fund the World Service?: More BBC worries - The Observer is concerned that the end of Foreign Office funding for the World Service could put the service in jeopardy when the next round of cuts is made.
Former Colindale periodicals available to order again: Good news for British Library users - the periodicals formerly held at Colindale and embargoed since June are available to order once more.
Readers love Johnston weekly’s UGC: Can a regional newspaper find 75% of its copy from user-generated content, and thrive? Steve Dyson reviews the Pocklington Post for Hold the Front Page and emerges pleasantly surprised by what he reads. "The resulting copy may be a little loose in style, but there seems to me to be finer detail, more names and probably fewer factual errors".
Are quizzes the new lists?: More to the point, are quizzes journalism? Caroline O'Donovan looks at the latest Buzzfeed viral phenomenon.
The case of the poisonous Bath buns: Michelle Higgs' discovery of a shocking tale from Victorian times found when using the British Newspaper Archive.
22 January 2014
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.
17 January 2014
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.
19 December 2013
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.
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
- Moving from a newspaper collection to a news collection
- Nobody knows anything
- 2014 - the year's news about news
- They are a-changin'
- News from the community
- St Pancras Intelligencer no. 29
- Why is this lying bastard lying to me?
- St Pancras Intelligencer no. 24
- St Pancras Intelligencer no. 22
- St Pancras Intelligencer no. 14