THE BRITISH LIBRARY

The Newsroom blog

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

Introduction

Whether you are studying history, politics, society, international relations, economics, media history, sports history or family history, our collections will have something for you Read more

23 October 2017

Rediscovering the art of Victorian graphic journalism

Writing in the Guardian earlier this month, Roy Greenslade queried what it is about ‘fake news’ that draws such widespread public attention: is it ‘a wilful desire to reject “boring” reality and choose its “exciting” opposite?’ he asks. The question of how to picture the news in a compelling way – so that it remains accurate as to the facts, while imaginatively transporting newspaper readers to the scenes and events described – goes back to the emergence of the first special correspondents and special artists who worked for the metropolitan press in the second half of the nineteenth century. Who were these newspaper pioneers and how can they help us to understand continuing debates about the media today?

Russell

Image courtesy of the British Cartoon Archive, University of Kent, www.cartoons.ac.uk

William Howard Russell is probably the only one of the first generation of special correspondents who is now widely remembered, largely as a result of his famous reports from the Crimean War for the Times. Russell’s despatches from the front were gripping, eye-witness accounts that brought the war home to British readers and galvanized public opposition to the Government’s mishandling of the campaign. His narratives of spectacle, heroism and suffering established him as the Times’s leading ‘special’.

Reporting from the seat of war was undoubtedly the assignment that most tested the special correspondent’s mettle. However, when no war was afoot, they had to turn their hand to cover all manner of events in any location at home or abroad as required by their newspaper. Their versatility was key; and at least equal in fame to Russell on this score from the 1860s onwards was George Augustus Sala: ‘the chief of travelled specials’, as he was later described. Sala’s potential as a ‘travelling correspondent’ was first demonstrated in 1856-7 when Dickens sent him to St Petersburg to obtain material for a series of papers on Russian life and manners for his weekly periodical, Household Words. Sala’s colourful, descriptive style, cultivated as a contributor to Dickens’s journal, flourished when he began work as a special for the fledgling Daily Telegraph in 1857. Although he reported on a number of wars, including the American Civil, Austro-Italian and Franco-Prussian wars, special correspondents were also required, as he wrote in 1871, to ‘be Jack of all trades, and master of all – that are journalistic’: ‘to “do” funerals as well as weddings, state-banquets, Volunteer reviews, Great Exhibitions, remarkable trials, christenings, coronations, ship-launches, agricultural shows, royal progresses, picture-shows, first-stone layings, horse-races and hangings’.

While not all of the journalists who worked as specials became so famous in their own day as Russell and Sala, what distinguished their correspondence was its mobility, versatility and descriptive power: an ability to observe and seize upon events wherever they happened, rendering them for the press in sufficiently graphic prose so as to transport readers through vivid eye-witness accounts. These qualities were also features of the New Journalism – a development famously criticised by Matthew Arnold in 1887 as part of a commercially driven press deploying sensational reportage to sell newspapers (a debate that remains familiar today).

Picturingthenews

https://research.kent.ac.uk/victorianspecials

But for its proponents, special correspondence was a new technology – like the railroad or the telegraph, with both of which it was closely associated – that brought the world closer, shrinking space and time and conveying readers to distant places. In fulfilling the often arduous demands of their role, these journalists sometimes became newsworthy in their own right. Indeed, speaking at an anniversary dinner of the Newspaper Press Fund in 1878, Lord Salisbury described the special correspondent as one who ‘seems to be forced to combine in himself the power of a first-class steeple-chaser with the power of the most brilliant writer – the most wonderful physical endurance with the most remarkable mental vigour’.

Some of the remarkable achievements of this forgotten breed of journalists will be rediscovered as part of Being Human: A Festival of the Humanities on Thursday 23 November from 6-8 pm when Dr Ruth Brimacombe and I discuss our online exhibition, Picturing the News, in the Foyle Room of the British Library.

Booking for this free event is available here.

Catherine Waters

c.waters@kent.ac.uk

@vicspecials

www.facebook.com/VictorianSpecials/

18 October 2017

Newspaper data and news identity

Below is the text of a short paper I gave recently at 'Language Matters', the 5th Transfopress Encounter in Paris. Transfopress is an international network of archivists, librarians and scholars interested in the study of foreign language press. The subject of this conference was printed news in English abroad and foreign-language publishing in the English-speaking world. My talk was on newspaper data and news identity.

Twonewspapers

Abend naies: The Jewish Evening News (London), 11 December 1914 and Al-Arab (London), 2 June 1977

The British Library holds one of the world’s largest newspaper collections. It has some 60 million issues dating from the 1620s to the present day. The collection is fairly comprehensive from 1840, certainly so from 1869 when legal deposit was instituted, and publishers of British and Irish newspapers were required to send one copy of each issue to the Library. 1,400 additional titles are added each week, along with a web news collection that archives over 2,000 news sites on a frequent basis, and a growing television and radio news collection.

Around two-thirds of the newspaper collection is British or Irish titles. Most overseas newspapers are now taken on only in electronic form or on microfilm, but we nevertheless have substantial holdings of overseas newspapers in English and other languages. This includes an extensive collection of newspapers from Commonwealth countries which were formerly received through colonial copyright deposit.

Our goal is to move from being a newspaper library to being a news library, reflecting the great changes taking place in the world of news today. In doing so we have had to ask questions about what the nature of news is. The definition we use is that news is information of current interest for a specific audience. Such a definition can be applied across different news media and suggests ways of linking them up, but also challenges the idea of what news is, since it can be applied more widely that that just those media we commonly identify as ‘news’. Anything can be thought of as contributing to 'news' if it helps inform our world. In particular, it draws attention to communities seeking out news that is meaningful to them, and asks how we should be expressing such audience identification in our catalogue.

Titlelevel

British Library title-level list of newspapers (a work in progress)

These issues have come to the fore in a project we have been undertaking, to produce a single title-level listing of all newspapers at the British Library (around 34,000 titles). Producing such a listing from a catalogue built up over many decades and from diverse collections has been challenging. It ought to be a simple case for a national library to produce a single listing of the newspapers that it holds, but in practice a significant number of newspapers have been classified as journals, or even books, on our system. Ensuring that we identify every newspaper as a newspaper has involved some prolonged research, in particular working with areas of the Library that cover particular geographical areas or communities.

For example, over the past year the News section in which I work has been working with our Asian & African department to identify Indian newspapers in the collection. Many of these had been classified as Journals on our catalogue, making discovery difficult for anyone looking for Indian newspapers without a specific title in mind. Multiple standards had been applied to the cataloguing of newspapers in the past, and there were additional problem particular to newspapers, such as changes of title and similarity of titles to other newspaper series. Previous investigations had indicated that we held some 214 Indian newspaper titles; in the end, 234 were identified by a research fellow, Junaid ul-Hassan. Each title was reclassified on our catalogue, the result being that what had previously been a buried newspaper collection has been opened up for researchers.

Indiannewspapers

Map of Indian newspapers held by the British Library

The Indian newspaper records each come with geographical codings, meaning that we can produce a map of their distribution, while research by Junaid into contemporary reference sources has given us a greater picture of what was published overall, from which we may judge how selective and representative our collection of Indian newspapers might be.

A significant number of our newspaper records still require better or more consistent geographical identifiers before we can say with confidence how many newspapers we have from different countries or parts of those countries, or before we can produce further maps such as we have for Indian newspapers. But what about diaspora newspapers? We have many newspapers past and present that have been published for and by different immigrant or ethnic communities within the UK. How does our catalogue reflect the existence of newspapers published by the different communities within the United Kingdom, be they identified by race, religion or particular political persuasion?

The short answer is that we cannot. There is no means of extracting information for the British Library catalogue that will identify all news published for immigrant or ethnic communities, whether in English or other languages. Our catalogue does not work that way. The newspaper titles are there, but but they are not classified in a form that would help us locate them. It is possible to identify some newspapers published in the United Kingdom by the language in which they were printed, which is one way of narrowing down diaspora newspapers, but it is an incomplete solution, since many will have been published in English.

The British Library catalogue primarily identifies a newspaper by its title, date range, place of publication and its geographical coverage. Traditionally, this has been enough. It is not the function of a research library to do the researcher's work for them. We provide the basic list, comprehensively compiled and accurately described, and you must do the rest. You must know what it is that you are looking for.

But one can argue that such an ordering of the data is a form of suppressing identity. The catalogue becomes a political tool, creating conformity of identity through rules of description. Such an ordering reinforces the suppression of difference.

The function of the catalogue as something that replicates society's power structures is well known. Catalogues and classification systems are never the value-free orderings of information that they advertise themselves as being, but are instead profoundly imbued with the values of the dominant society that maintains them.

There is an argument, therefore, that the newspaper catalogue could be doing more to identify different forms of newspaper by their audience and purpose, to counteract this impulse towards conformity.

Should this be a component of news cataloguing, and if so how should it be implemented, both for future news publications and retrospectively? How do we identify a news community, and how do we determine what their understanding of the news was, and from what sources they gained the fullest picture of the world in which they found themselves? As said, the definition of news we are employing is that news is information of current interest for a specific audience. This suggests that identification of audience should be playing a far greater part in how we catalogue newspapers than is currently the case. Cataloguing by nation and geographical area presupposes that all news is geographically determined, but this is not so. Those specific audiences may be determined by gender, age, special interest, belief, language or ethnicity. A community-led understanding of the news may be the necessary way forward - both in how we manage news collections today, and how we revisit the discoverability of our historical news archives.

One of the major growth areas for news in the UK is hyperlocal news. Hundreds of news websites, and in some cases newspapers, have been published independently on an amateur or semi-professional basis, that are aimed at small communities across the UK. Most of these hyperlocals are geographically based, as their name suggests, but they indicate the ways in which traditional structures for the production, ownership and identity of news are changing. they suggest that news is something that comes from us, however we choose to identify ourselves, rather than something that is decided for us. This is the logic of social media, where each of us selects the news world that is meaningful to them.

Volumes

Another imperative is the direction in which digital libraries are going. As with some other national libraries, the British Library is now archiving its national portion of the Web, including newspaper websites and other news sites. The figures involved are overwhelming, with the number of pages being archived each now to be counted in the billions. Indeed, the amounts of published content coming in across all formats is growing at a rate beyond the comprehension of the ordinary researcher. When we curators at the Library give talks to people about what we are collecting you can see their eyes glaze over. There is too much to take in.

In such a world, there is a paradox. The more we acquire the harder it is to find the resource to make discovery through our catalogues practical, yet the greater the imperative must be to enhance discovery for those who do not need to discover everything, just something.

As collections grow exponentially, so does the need to contextualise them also grow. This cannot be managed by humans, at the rate things are going. It will need to come from algorithms, automated topic extraction, mapping tools and other forms of artificial intelligence. The future of cataloguing is automation, and in such a world it will be our job, as curators, to ensure that the machines address the right needs.

Those of us who manage news archives must rethink how we are managing them. When discoverability becomes overwhelming, and when traditional cataloguing structures hide records that do not conform, such as diaspora newspapers, then we must question what we are doing - and make changes. There will always be the single list of every title that we hold, because ultimately an archive is a collection of discrete objects, each identifiable by a title and a date. But we must think for whom the news has been shaped and published. We must produce discovery tools that bring to the fore different parts of the collection - a multi-faceted approach to replace the linear. We must be mindful of the identity of the news that we archive, without which it is not going to be news at all.

07 August 2017

Help us make newspaper heritage digital

We are currently advertising for a Curator, Newspaper Digitisation to join our news curatorial team. This is a fixed-term post until March 2020, based at our St Pancras site in central London. The post is being advertised as part of a major new British Library undertaking, entitled Heritage Made Digital. As it says in the Library's recently-published Annual Report, the programme of work will include the digitisation of Indian printed books, key Ethiopic manuscripts, and fragile British newspapers from the 19th century. 

Nnb

Bound volumes in the National Newspaper Building at Boston Spa

The Heritage Made Digital programme is in its early stages of development, but our intention is to digitise over 1 million newspaper pages from print originals, complementing the digitisation of newspapers undertaken by Findmypast for the British Newspaper Archive, the greater part of which comes from microfilm copies.

Working with the News Curation and Heritage Made Digital teams, the Curator, Newspaper Digitisation will be responsible for the selection, description and curation of newspapers under the Heritage Made Digital programme. They will ensure that the newspapers selected for digitisation will match specific research needs, and will promote and interpret the digital newspaper collection for general and specialist audiences. 

The post-holder will need to have a strong interest in historical newspapers and nineteenth-century history, with experience of working in an archive environment, backed up with good knowledge of research work in this field, and strong IT skills. It's a terrific opportunity for the right person. Information on how to apply is on the Library's vacancies site. The deadline for applications is 10 September 2017.

More information on Heritage Made Digital will be published in due course.

21 June 2017

Archiving the general election on TV

The general election that no one was supposed to want turned out to be completely compelling. Many of the apparent certainties on which the UK's snap election of June 2017 was based were overturned, at least in part - from its core themes (it was supposed to be about Brexit but never really was), to demographics (young people don't turn out to vote, except that they did), to the balance of political power (the predicted comprehensive victory by the Conservatives instead resulted in a hung parliament). 

Farron

Tim Farron, then leader of the Liberal Democrats, from BBC News at Ten, 17 May 2017

One certainty that remained in place was the primary position of television as the platform for information and debate. Probably the defining image of modern electioneering is the politician speaking with a grouping of supporters with banners bunched behind them, the supposed audience seeing the back of the speaker while the true target is a remote one. Reality is subverted to televisual reality.

Although subsequent analysis of voting trends has shown that social media may have had a greater influence, in some sectors, than before, while newspapers' influence has not waned as greatly as some have pronounced (again, in particular sectors), television was where the general election was played out.  One of the particular coups of the election campaign was when Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn changed his mind and decided to take part in a BBC party leaders' debate, wrong-footing the Conservative leader Theresa May. Likewise the performances by the various politicians in interviews (Theresa May telling The One Show about who in her household put out the bins), Jeremy Corbyn telling Jeremy Paxman on Channel 4 why he wasn't campaigning to abolish the monarchy) seem to have had a persuasive effect on public perceptions. Other media play their part, but television is the testing ground.

The British Library was recording all this, or at least a good part of it. Between the surprise announcement of the election on 18 April 2017 and election day on June 8 we recorded some 1,500 television news programmes from 15 channels (BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Four, BBC News, BBC Parliament, Channel 4, ITV1, Sky News, Al Jazeera English, CGTN, CNN, France 24, NHK World, RT, Channels 24). This included general news programmes from each of those channels, interviews, speeches, panel debates, party election broadcasts, satirical shows, and of course the through-the-night election results programmes and post-election reporting. Because of the surprise nature of the election, there weren't some of the in-depth documentaries and comedy series that we saw at the 2015 election and the 2016 EU referendum, but the air of improvisation as TV reacted to events only added to the compelling nature of those six weeks.

Because in the middle of the election were breaking news stories that halted the campaigning twice - the suicide bomber at the Manchester Arena on 22 May and the attacks on London Bridge and Borough Market on 3 June. Both events wove their way into the election narrative, and saw the broadcasters adapting to the abrupt shift in the news agenda. Extended recordings of the breaking news reportage on these events, across multiple channels, are also part of we archived.

Itv

George Osborne and Ed Balls, part of ITV's election night commentary team

All of our UK 2017 general election programmes are now on the Explore catalogue, and can be played directly from the I Want This links on the catalogue at either our London or Boston Spa sites. You can access the programme either directly from the catalogue, or you can go to our onsite Broadcast News service, and search in greater depth for programmes by date, channel or subject (to find Broadcast News, following the Sound & Moving Image services link from the front page of any British Library terminal).

We have produced a spreadsheet of all of the news and election programmes we recorded 18 April-11 June, in .xlsx format, which you can download here.

Our news collections go back to the 1620s, but they are as much about today as yesterday. It is not possible to archive the whole of the world of news as it impacts on the UK. The range of publications and platforms is too vast, and in an increasingly personalised news world, everyone is seeing different news. But we capture the best that we can - comprehensively for newspapers (thanks to Legal Deposit), reasonably comprehensively for web news sites (thanks to Non-Print Legal Deposit) and selectively for television and radio. It is instant history, turning what is live and uncertain into that which has become fixed and a subject for study and contemplation. And it is compelling.

 

 

30 March 2017

St. Pancras Intelligencer no. 40 - fake news special

Fake news is probably as old as news itself. Certainly, as far as the British Library is concerned, it goes back to 1614 at least, when the good people of Horsham in Sussex were told of the dragon in their area that was causing great annoyance. Whether those who produced this newsbook believed what they were telling to be "true and wonderfull", who can say? 

Trueandwonderful

True and Wonderfull. A discourse relating a strange and monstrous serpent (or dragon) lately discovered, and yet living in Sussex, 1614 newsbook

Today, the subject of fake news is hot news, coming out of the 2016 US presidential election, but with deeper roots in the clash between traditional news providers and the search engines and social media sites through which so many now discover the news that they want to see. Fake news ranges from deliberate falsity, to news you disagree with, to satire. This special edition of the St Pancras Intelligencer rounds up some of what is being said and done about fake news today.

Definitions

Fake news: what is it, and how can we tackle it? (Digital Social Innovation) - A handy summary from Toby Baker of NESTA

Fake news. It's complicated (First Draft News) - Claire Wardle attempts to explain and categorise the many types of 'fake news'

Lists

Fake News Watch - Want to know what is a fake site, a satire site, or a clickbait site? Fake News Watch attempts to list them (mostly if not all American). Other lists of fake news sites have been produced by ThoughtCo, Snopes, The Independent, and of course Wikipedia

The Ultimate 'Fake News' List (Infowars) - But just to show that one person's truth is another person's outrageous lie, here's an American far right show's listing of the fakery it sees in the mainstream media

Fact checking

CrossCheck - A fact-checking site from First Draft News, formed through a coalition of 37 publishers, mostly from France and Britain, including the BBC, Channel 4 News, Le Monde, BuzzFeed, and Agence France-Presse. Digiday's report European newsrooms are forming a united front against fake news gives the background. 

The Independent is launching a section called In Fact to debunk fake news (The Drum) - The Independent is launching a new section called 'In Fact' in April which will 'debunk spurious stories'.  Other fact checking sites that have popped up include FactCheck, Politifact and Fake News Checker.

Fact Check blog - Channel 4 News has produced a fact check blog following a season of programmes on fake news (including a one-off comedy show). Awkwardly the news programme made a bad slip on the day of the Westminster attack of 22 March, naming the wrong person as the perpetrator, as Richard Smallbrook covers in Westminster attack: Channel 4 learn hard lessons about the fog of breaking news (The Conversation)

Bellingcat Wants Your Help to Debunk Fake News (Vice) - The fact-checking citizen journalism network and scourge of Russia news outlets Bellingcat has launched a Kickstarter campaign to expand its open source investigation platform

RT separates facts from fakes with new online project (RT) - Not to be outdone, RT (Russia Today) has launched its own fact checking service in the battle against fake news, Fakecheck

Facebook and Google

Building Global Community (Facebook) - Mark Zuckerberg has issued a manifesto, which in part addresses the topic of the distribution of fake news (Facebook having been the target of many of the complaints made):

We've made progress fighting hoaxes the way we fight spam, but we have more work to do. We are proceeding carefully because there is not always a clear line between hoaxes, satire and opinion. In a free society, it's important that people have the power to share their opinion, even if others think they're wrong. Our approach will focus less on banning misinformation, and more on surfacing additional perspectives and information, including that fact checkers dispute an item's accuracy.

How Mark Zuckerberg could really fix journalism (Columbia Journalism Review) - Emily Bell responds to Zuckerberg, suggesting that market intervention in America is the answer:

America needs a radical new market intervention similar to that made by the UK Government in 1922 when it issued a Royal Charter and established the BBC ... If, instead of scrapping over news initiatives, the four or five leading technology companies could donate $1 billion in endowment each for a new type of engine for independent journalism, it would be more significant a contribution than a thousand scattered initiatives put together.

Facebook has started to flag fake news stories (Recode) - Meanwhile, Facebook has introduced a 'disputed' tag

Google purges nearly 200 websites in fake news crackdown (Mashable) - Google has been shutting down fake news sites from its advertising platform 

Google's fake news Snippets (BBC) - Rory Cellan-Jones's sneak preview of the Google Home speaker showed how it could spout false news in response to spoken enquiries. Google is now adjusting the algorithms...

Google and Facebook Can’t Just Make Fake News Disappear (Back Channel) - Danah Boyd thinks the problem with the interpretation of news lies with us

Real fake news

How fake news becoming a popular, trending topic (CBS News) - CBS News looks into actual fake news stories created by con artists

Inside the Macedonian fake-news complex (Wired) - More on the production of actual fake news from the unlikely source of the town of Veles in Macedonia

Realfakenews

US spoof news site The Real Fake News

Legislation

'Fake news' inquiry (Parliament.uk) - The Culture, Sport and Media Committee is conducting an inquiry into fake news and its impact

What to know about Germany’s fake-news crackdown (Digiday) - Germany has proposed a law to fine social networks up to €50 million if they fail to remove harmful fake news or defamatory content

More action

World wide web creator Tim Berners-Lee targets fake news (BBC) - Sir Tim has set out a five-year strategy amid concerns he has about how the web is being used

Announcing New Research: "A Field Guide to Fake News" (First Draft News) - First Draft News have also announced a project that aims "to catalyze collaborations between leading digital media researchers, data journalists and civil society groups in order to map the issue and phenomenon of fake news in US and European politics"

Updates from the fake-news world (NiemanLab) - US journalism studies site NiemanLab provides useful round-ups of the efforts being made to tackle fake news. The latest update, Is it still fake news if it makes you feel good?, has interesting points to make about the sharing of positive but made-up news

Historical

Lessons from the fake news pandemic of 1942 (Politco) - There's nothing new under the sun - Joshua Zeitz reports on a race-related fake news story that circulated in the American south in 1942

Trump’s “fake news” playbook has roots in a 180-year-old hoax (Quartz) - Corinne Purtill takes the issue back further to 1835, and the widespread report on life having been discovered on the Moon

The real story of 'fake news' (Merriam Webster) - The American dictionary traces use of the term 'fake news' back to the 1890s - but 'false news' goes back to the 16th century

Opinion

Good news in an era of fake news: the public is becoming wiser about how the media works (The Conversation) - It's an ill wind ... James Rodgers points out that all of this is greatly improving the public's understanding of how the media works

The term ‘fake news’ isn’t just annoying, it’s a danger to democracy (The Independent) - Sean O'Grady is angry

Fake News : The Greatest Lies Ever Told (TruePublica) - So where are the UK's homegrown fake news sites? In a contentious thought piece, Graham Venbergen argues that "In Britain at least, fake news websites have failed to get a grip in the political arena. This is because traditional British news outlets, are already highly accomplished at stretching the truth to its limits and yet still get away with it"

Britain Has No Fake News Industry Because Our Partisan Newspapers Already Do That Job (Buzzfeed) - Jim Waterson similarly argues that very limited appetite for completely fake news in British politics, thanks to its highly partisan newspapers

The Choose-Your-Own-News Adventure (New York Times) - Jim Rutenberg illustrates how we can escape reality by pursuing news worlds that match our expectations. But isn't this how news has always worked?

And finally

'Fake news' to be delightful and fun (Daily Mash) - Let's leave the last word to our favourite UK spoof news site:

The Institute for Studies has shown that real news is bad enough already, and therefore all fake news from now on must be unbelievably delightful. Professor Henry Brubaker said: “If the ‘news’ on social media is just whatever b------- anyone shares, then instead of ‘Muslims in council-backed halal Easter outrage’ why not ‘Puppies discover limitless cold fusion energy source’?

  Cute

http://www.thedailymash.co.uk

03 March 2017

Rand Daily Mail

The latest addition to the electronic newspaper resources available to British Library readers is one that we're particularly pleased to have secured, the Rand Daily Mail. Published from 1902 to 1985, the South African daily newspaper was renowned for its anti-Apartheid stance, with notable coverage of the Sharpeville massacre, the Soweto uprising and the death of Steve Biko. Closed down in controversial circumstances in 1985, the entire newspaper is being digitised and made available by research materials service Readex. Happily the British Library is making the entire archive available for remote access to anyone with a Reader's Pass.

Randdaily

The Rand Daily Mail's renowned African Affairs Reporter, Benjamin Pogrund, wrote recently on the Readex blog about the significance of the newspaper and its archive:

The Rand Daily Mail was ahead of its time in reporting and exposing apartheid evils and in opposing oppressive government. This is why it was shut down. 

The Mail was always a contradictory newspaper: although owned by mining interests from its start in 1902, it was known for siding with the underdog – which, for the first two-thirds of its existence, meant the white underdog. 

That changed in 1957 when Laurence Gandar—a quiet, reserved man—became editor. Little was expected from him except professional journalism. But he proved to have radical ideas and compassion, and he had an inner core of steel. Gandar dissected apartheid with deep and brilliant writing that electrified the country. 

Gandar took his pioneering into the news columns, assembling a staff of journalists whose political views stretched from left to right but who shared a commitment to fair and honest reporting, investigation and robust comment. The newspaper became the pacesetter in illuminating dark corners of South Africa and gave hope to blacks by pointing to a new direction for the country. It transformed itself, the rest of the Press and deeply influenced the political scene.  

The board of (white) directors soon turned against Gandar and in time got rid of him. His successor, Raymond Louw, made his own singular contribution: he invested the Mail with a tough news sense while retaining its policy strength. 

 Integral to this was that the Mail turned the newspaper adage, “When in doubt, leave out,” on its head. Instead, as the authoritarian government’s restrictions grew on free publication, the newspaper sought to get as much into the open as possible. It wasn't always consistent; but right up to the end, even when tight laws and controls were throttling the Press, the Mail ensured that no-one would ever be able to say that they had not known about the ravages of Afrikaner Nationalist rule.  

The Mail was admired by most South Africans of all colors and was honored by its international peers. The reason for respect was why it was loathed by many, but by no means all, within the white community, and they finally prevailed in getting the commercial owners to close it in 1985.  

It's exciting to know that with digitization the Rand Daily Mail's treasure store of information about crucial years in the old South Africa will now be more widely available.

Pressures which led to the newspaper's board seeking a change of policy to reach out to more to a prosperous white audience ultimately proved damaging to sales and led to the newspaper's closure. The current owners, Times Media Group, decided in 2014 to resurrect the newspaper as an online archive and, through Readex, sought out the best materials, including the incomplete run of the title held by the British Library. 

We are delighted that not only is the electronic archive now available in our Reading Rooms, but is available to British Library Reader pass holders via our Remote Resources service. It therefore joins the small but significant number of electronic newspaper resources to which we subscribe that we can offer to Library users wherever they might be, so long as they have Reader's Pass (information on obtaining such a Pass is here). Other titles available in this way include:

  • African American Newspapers, 1827-1998 - provides online access to approximately 270 U.S. newspapers chronicling a century and a half of the African American experience. This unique collection features papers from more than 35 states - including many rare and historically significant 19th century titles.
  • Early American Imprints, Series I: Evans 1639-1800 - contains virtually every book, pamphlet and broadside published in America during the 17th and 18th centuries.
  • Early American Newspapers, Series I - reproductions of hundreds of historic newspapers, providing more than one million pages as fully text-searchable facsimile images. 
  • Latin American Newspapers Series 1, 1805-1922 - part of Readex's World Newspaper Archive, this database provides access to more than 35 fully searchable Latin American newspapers including key titles from Argentina, Mexico, Chile, Brazil and Peru.
  • World Newspaper Archive: African Newspapers, 1800-1922 - part of Readex's World Newspaper Archive. African Newspapers includes over 30 fully searchable African newspapers including key publications from Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

We therefore have a particular strong remote access offering for researchers of African news. The Rand Daily Mail online archive is not complete as yet - currently it runs 1937-1985, but eventually it will contain the full run of 1902-1985.

11 January 2017

Analysing the past

There are exciting changes happening in how we use newspapers to study the past. After decades in which the use of newspapers in research meant leafing through volumes or scrolling through microfilms, digitisation made millions of newspapers more readily searchable and far more widely available. But now that digitisation that taken us to the next stage in development, which is using the data generated by the digitisation process to look at history on a grand scale. We are moving into the era of big data newspaper studies.

Peopleinhistory

From the University of Bristol study: People in history. (A)  famous personalities by occupation using all extracted entities associated with a Wikipedia entry; (B)  the probability that a given reference to a person is to a male or a female person

Big data newspaper studies have come about through a combination of large-scale digital resources and a growth in analysis tools. Most will be aware of OCR (optical character recognition), the mechanism by which archival texts can be converted into machine-readable texts by converting what a computer sees as an image (i.e. the arrangement of letters on a page) and matches these to letters that it knows. It is an imperfect science, because OCR can struggle to work with older forms of types and deteriorating page originals, but levels of accuracy continue to improve as new OCR software is developed, and the results are generally satisfactory - that is, most of the time a researcher will find what they are looking for, if it is there to be found.

But added to this are software tools that can extract further sense from the raw data set that generated by OCR. The field of what is called Natural Language Processing, by which computer come to understand human text and speech, includes the extraction of keywords, or named entities, and the matching of these to controlled lists of terms (such as DBpedia), further mapped to geographic areas and time periods, which enables researchers to undertake controlled, thematic analysis of large historical datasets. Our archive of words yields patterns of behaviour with much to tell about our past selves.

This is the theme of a major project undertaken by the Intelligent Systems Laboratory at the university of Bristol, led by Professor Nello Cristianini. As described in their paper 'Content analysis of 150 years of British periodicals', the project worked on a corpus of newspapers digitised from the British Library's collection by family history company Findmypast for the British Newspaper Archive website. The figures involved are huge. The project analysed 28.6 billion words from 35.9 million articles contained in 120 UK regional newspapers over the period 1800-1950, which they calculate forms 14% or all regional newspapers published in the UK over the period.

The project then used this study to explore changes in culture and society, determined by changes in the language. It looks at changes in values, political interests, the rise of 'Britishness' as a concept, the spread of technological innovations, the adoption of new communications technologies (the telegraph, telephone, radio, television etc), changing discussion of the economy, and social changes such as mentions of men and women, the growth in human interest news and the rising importance of popular culture. It is the stuff of multi-volume histories of the past, boiled down to eye-catching graphs.

This does not mean that we thrown away those multi-volume histories, however, The researchers are at pains to point out that such data analysis is an inexact science, with many caveats needed to explain how the entities have been arrived at and with what degree of caution they should be treated. The data derived from such tools can only work where it is supported by traditional studies, to gain the richer understanding of what happened. The machines may have taken the natural language of humans and converted it into data, but the results need to be converted back into human language to offer real understanding.

So it is that some of the results of the project yield results that may seem obvious. We could have guessed beforehand that the newspaper archive would show an increase in discussion of popular culture subjects, that politicians are more likely to achieve notoriety within their lifetimes than scientists, or that there was a rise in coverage of the Labour Party from the 1920s onwards. But the analyses reinforce through data what we have previously inferred through study, while discoveries such as the term 'British' overtaking the term 'English' at the end of the 19th century, or the decline in terms associated with ''Victorian values - such as 'duty', 'courage' and 'endurance' - call for new studies to explore these things further.

The project is at pains to point out the importance of using newspaper archives. Previously we have had big data analyses of millions of historical books, most familiar through the Google Ngram Viewer. This has caused controversy among some scholars, because of the unevenness of coverage of topics in books, and the limitations of merely counting words and making them searchable again. Opening up newspaper archives for comparable analysis widens the amount of content available, arguably with greater reliability overall, and now with tools to make analysis that much more scientific. The use of controlled terms will also enable the analysis across different datasets - so, books and newspapers, but also other news forms, as subtitle extraction and speech-to-text technologies now start to make our television and radio archives available for similar and shared analytical studies. Our big data is only going to get bigger.

There are limitations to this use of newspaper archives. The quality of OCR varies not only according to the original newspaper, but according to the microfilm where this has been used instead of print. Digitisation is quicker and cheaper this way than digitising from print, but older microfilm can be photographically poor, leading to inferior OCR (though there are promising tools appearing for improving poor OCR). The British Newspaper Archive is made up mostly of UK regional newspapers, because the main nationals have often been digitised by their current owners and are available separately. How different was the discourse in newspapers based in London from those around the rest of the country? That has to be the subject of another major study.

Meme

One of the better jokes from the Victorian Meme Machine project

The British Library has been engaged in its own big data analyses of newspaper archives. BL Labs is an initiative designed to support and inspire the public use of the British Library’s digital collections and data in exciting and innovative ways. It has facilitated several studies of British historical topics through the digital newspaper archive. These include Bob Nicholson of Edge Hill University's study of jokes in Victorian newspapers, with the concept of the Victorian Meme Machine (automatically matching jokes to an archive of contemporary images); Katrina Navickas of the University of Hertfordshire's mapping of nineteenth century protest; and Hannah-Rose Murray of University of Nottingham's tracing of black abolitionists in 19th century Britain. A major user of our newspaper data is M.H. Beals of Loughborough University, who is researching how ideas travel across the historical news media, creating new insights through understanding newspaper archives as structured data.

Such projects are just the start. The availability of large-scale newspaper archives in digital form, and the data derived from such archives, enables us both to seek answers to traditional questions more quickly, and to start asking new kinds of questions. The latter is the great challenge that newspaper data offers. We need to come up with new questions, because the technology enables us to do so, and because it may question what we previously thought that we knew. As the data from their archives comes more readily available, and more easily usable by the non-data specialist, so we will find that we have only just started to read the newspapers. We are going to find that they have much more yet to tell us.

Links:

 

04 January 2017

Trump on TV

The incoming US president, Donald Trump, is rewriting the book on the political process. However, despite the apparent creation of policy via social media, the real impact Trump has made since the presidential election process began has been through the more traditional media, particularly television.  His statements made through Twitter have been picked up by newspapers, television and radio, and it is here that the seismic realignment of American political priorities is being digested and disseminated. Twitter has been used to ignite a media process. Social media remains for Donald Trump a means of being on TV, where his mass audience lies (Trump has 18.6m Twitter followers, but there are 114m television sets in the USA alone).

Trump

From the Sky News coverage of the US presidential election result, 09/11/2016

Trump's impact on television in Britain can be traced through the news and current affairs programmes recorded for the British Library's Broadcast News service. As well as recording regular television and radio news programmes each day from 22 UK and international channels, we have recorded numerous special programmes on Trump and the US election. On 8/9 November we recorded the election night programmes of BBC One, ITV1, Sky News, Al Jazeera English, CNN, RT (Russia Today), Channels 24 (Nigerian television) and CCTV (China). All of these can be found on our Explore catalogue with links to the playable programmes, which for copyright reasons can only be played on terminals at our London or Yorkshire sites. For ease of searching it is best, if you are onsite and using a British Library terminal, to go to the Broadcast News service itself (http://videoserver.bl.uk) and use the Advanced Search facility to select all recordings for 8/9 November 2016.

We also have many individual television programmes produced through 2016. of which the titles below are only a selection. They document not only the events of recent history, but the struggle that the often incredulous traditional media have had in trying to come to terms with the Trump phenomenon. The links are to our catalogue records, but again please note the programmes will only be playable on a British Library terminal. Descriptions in inverted commas are those provided for the programmes as part of the EPG (Electronic Programme Guide).

  • The Mad World of Donald Trump (Channel 4, tx. 26/01/2016): "Matt Frei enters the colourful and mad world of presidential hopeful Donald Trump, whose meteoric political rise comes amid one of the most controversial political campaigns America's seen."
  • Piers: The Trump Interview (ITV1, tx. 23/03/2016): "Piers Morgan's full, uncensored interview with controversial US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump."
  • President Trump: Can He Really Win? (Channel 4, tx. 30/03/2016): "Donald Trump has emerged as the clear front runner for the Republican Presidential nomination. Matt Frei investigates whether 'the Donald' could make it to the White House."
  • Republican Presidential Town Hall (CNN, tx. 30/03/2016): Anderson Cooper hosts a Republican Presidential Town Hall with Ted Cruz, John Kasich and Donald Trump.
  • Listening Post (Al Jazeera English, tx. 23/04/2016): "Trump and Clinton win the New York Primaries but what part have the media played in their victories?"
  • United States of Hate: Muslims Under Attack (BBC One, tx. 05/07/2016): "Examining America's recent upsurge in Islamophobia and the reasons it has come about."
  • Panorama: Trump's Angry America (BBC One, tx. 18/07/2016): "Hilary Andersson visits the racially divided town of Bakersfield to meet Donald Trump supporters as well as those who fear Trump becoming president."
  • Republican National Convention 2016 (BBC Parliament, tx. 22/07/2016): Recorded coverage of the 2016 Republican National Convention, from Thursday 21 July. Including speeches from Reince Priebus, Peter Thiel, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump.
  • Republican National Convention 2016 (CNN, tx. 22/07/2016): Live coverage of Republican National Convention for 21 July 2016, including acceptance speech by Donald Trump.
  • President Trump: Can He Really Win? (Channel 4, tx. 23/08/2016): "Matt Frei explores how the US presidential contest is shaping up to be one of the most brutal in living memory, and asks if Donald Trump can make it all the way to the White House."
  • Trump vs Clinton Live (Channel 4, tx. 27/09/2016): "US Presidential Debate: Channel 4 presents live coverage of the first of three US presidential debates, as Donald Trump goes head to head with Hillary Clinton."
  • Tonight: Trump's America - Will It Happen? (ITV1, tx. 06/10/2016): "Robert Moore explores why many Americans feel so angry ahead of one of the most bitterly-fought and divisive presidential campaigns in history."
  • Clinton v Trump: The Second Debate (Sky News, tx. 10/10/2016): "We join Sky News for coverage of the second presidential debate of the 2016 US Election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump."
  • Paxman on Trump v Clinton: Divided America (BBC One, tx. 17/10/2016): "Jeremy Paxman travels to Washington and beyond to understand how Americans came to face such unpopular choices in its candidates for the presidency."
  • US Presidential Debate (BBC News, tx. 20/1/2016): "Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump face each other in the final 2016 presidential debate at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas." 
  • This World: Conspiracy Files - The Trump Dossier (BBC Two, tx. 03/11/2016): "Investigative documentary looking into how Donald Trump has used conspiracy theories to further his bid for the presidency."
  • Trump's Unlikely Superfans (BBC One, tx. 07/11/2016): "Angela Scanlon meets with the passionate and unlikely people stumping for Donald Trump to find out why they support his controversial campaign."
  • Rich Hall's Presidential Grudge Match (BBC Four, tx. 07/11/2016): "An examination of the sordid machinations involved in becoming US president."
  • Newsnight: Trump's America - A Newsnight Special (BBC Two, tx. 11/11/2016): "With reporting from across the United States, Newsnight explores the ramifications of the election of Donald Trump as president."
  • The World According to President Trump (Channel 4, tx. 12/11/2016): "What will a President Trump really do? Will he really ban all Muslims? Build a wall? Pal up to Putin? Smash Isis? Matt Frei speaks to the people who know."
  • Panorama: Trump's New America (BBC One, tx. 14/11/2-16): "Hilary Andersson meets angry Americans on both sides of the electoral race who feel disillusioned and disenfranchised by the electoral process."
  • Listening Post (Al Jazeera English, tx. 19/11/2016): "How the US media begins the process of 'normalising' Donald Trump"
  • Frankie Boyle's American Autopsy (BBC Two, tx. 20/11/2016): "Frankie attempts to make sense of the US election through stand-up and debate."

We will of course continue to record the television news throughout 2017 and beyond. For discussion of the impact of Donald Trump's tweets on the news agenda, see What really happens when Donald Trump goes on a Twitter rampage (Quartz, 11/12/2016), If Trump Tweets It, Is It News? A Quandary for the News Media (New York Times, 29 November 2016), How Trump Took Over the Media By Fighting It (Politico, 5/11/2016), or Why the establishment was blindsided by Donald Trump (Washington Post, 28 October 2016).

Or you can check every Trump tweet, the deleted and the active, with telling categorisation, at the admirable Trump Twitter Archive.

 

16 August 2016

Olympic news

There's nothing quite like a worldwide story such as the Olympic Games for showing how all news is relative. There is no absolute concept of what is news: it is always determined by the particular audience of which we are a part. The news tells us where we are, and who we are. Here are newspaper front pages from around the world for today, Tuesday 16 August 2016, each reporting on the Games from their particular perspective, just to prove the point:

Olympics1

Olympics2

Olympics3

Olympics4

 

Olympics5

Olympics8

 All images taken from I Wanted To See all of the News Today, an online art installation by Martin John Callanan which brings together fresh newspaper front pages from around the world each day. The section includes newspapers from Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Czech Republic, Fiji, Germany, Greece, Japan, Kuwait, Lithuania, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea,  UK, USA and Venezuela.

 

01 August 2016

New nationals

Newspapers may be in decline, but that isn't stopping publishers coming up with fresh ways in which to produce the news in print.Over the past two years we have seen four new 'national' newspapers appear in the UK: The National, The New Day, 24 - The North's National and The New European. Each presents a different twist on the idea of what a UK national newspaper means, targeting a different sector of the nation in ways that bring national divisions into sharp relief. Not all have managed to survive.

Newnationals

The National is a Scottish daily, produced by Newsquest as 32-page tabloid and sister paper to The Herald broadsheet. It was launched on 24 November 2014 in the wake of the Scottish referendum, with a strong pro-independence line. It was initially produced an a five-day trial basis, an experiment that was extended after strong sales in the first week. The original print run was 60,000 copies, but although the number has fallen to below 20,000 copies (plus around 2,500 digital subscribers), the newspaper has survived, moving from five to six issues a week in January 2015.

The New Day was launched by Trinity Mirror on 29 February 2016, as a daily title in a 40-page tabloid format. It was heralded as the first new British national daily newspaper since i in 2010 - depending on how you identify a 'national' title. It boldly chose to have no digital manifestation, its website being a mere holding page. Initially priced at 25p, this rose to 40p and then 50p. It was aimed at an audience that had given up on newspapers, which was always going to be a challenge. Fatefully the newspaper was given the slogan "Life is short, let’s live it well", because its life turned out to be short. A hoped-for circulation of 200,000 copies was never achieved, and after two months and sales having dropped to 30,000 copies the title closed on 6 May.

24 - the North's National was launched by the CN Group as a 40-page tabloid on 20 June 2016, priced at 40p. It billed itself as being a national newspaper with a "distinctly Northern perspective". Distributed across north west England and southern Scotland, targeting an area not reached by the free Metro newspaper, it aimed to rethink where the centre of national news should be. Much of its copy came from the Press Association. It turned out to have a shorter life than even The New Day, closing after just a month on 29 July 2016, having found sales to be disappointing and the challenge of "squeez[ing] into beside the big beasts of the daily market" too great.

The New European was launched on 8 July 2016 in the aftermath of the EU referendum result, published by the regional newspaper group Archant in an eye-catching Berliner format, a weekly title priced at £2. Remarkably, the newspaper was produced just nine days after the idea was first proposed. Aimed at "the 48%" who voted Remain, and distributed in those areas of the UK where the majority voted that way, the paper was announced as being a 'pop-up' title, to have just four editions initially, before the publishers would review the situation.  The title turned out to be a success, indeed profitable, with further editions now promised "on a rolling basis".

All four titles have been aimed at different sectors of the nation, with different ideas of what 'nation' actually means. They represent as much uncertainty over identity as they do uncertainty over newspaper publishing business models. Of course, few national titles have ever reached the entirety of the UK, strongly delineated as it is by region, nation and class, but these new titles suggest that the struggle for print newspapers today is as much about defining an audience as finding it. 

The two that have succeeded (so far)  have done so through strategies that limited risk by starting off with test publications. Each has been aimed at audiences impassioned by referendum results that did not go their way, and sustained by a belief that change may still yet happen. Ultimately though, The National and The New European have succeeded through having strong content. It is not enough simply to identify a supposedly neglected community - you need to give them something to read.

All four titles have been archived by the British Library - The New Day and 24 - The North's National in their entirety.