In this essay I will explain some of the history behind the origins of the press, and the developments that were to help its rise and growth. I will also look at the society of the time and how it had been changing and developing. To do this I will link ideas of how these changes directly affected information exchange and newspapers. Also as a means of clarifying the style of newspapers of the time I will identify how ownership shaped their looks and viewpoints, with particular reference to Lord Northcliffe and the Daily Mail.
This study of Northcliffe will also show the innovations in how relationships between newspapers and readership developed. This will also address how the press barons of the time adapted in an attempt to woo a greater audience. I will discuss nineteenth to early twentieth century culture changes and discuss how it was a time when society was to change the medium of newspapers. The essay will also show how newspapers responded to the pressures enforced upon them and how they were to change society themselves. To understand the relationship between newspapers and their readership between two dates, you have to first understand some of the history that came before this period.
The first recognisable newspapers appeared in the UK in about the seventeenth century. These were mainly concerned with political news (the Proceedings in Parliament etc) and to some extent worked as manifestos for the different political figures. In this early period these publications were controlled and restricted by the government and were solely aimed at the ruling and educated classes. They were, however, slow to evolve, with the largely illiterate population relying on town criers for news.
To prevent ‘miss use’ of the press several measures were used and also introduced to retain a harness on the flow of information. For example the Star Chamber, a council used to enforce the will of the king, became involved with controlling what was allowed to be printed. Also the 1662 printing act was introduced to prevent the ‘Frequent Abuses in Printing Seditious Treasonable and Unlicensed Books and Pamphlets and for Regulating Printing and Printing Presses’ (http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/amendI_speechs1.html). The readership of these early papers had very little choice and was very much uninvolved with dictating what was newsworthy.
The newspaper industry grew through the eighteenth century and saw the introduction of stamp duty on newspapers and advertisements in 1712. This duty was a tax on top of the price of the paper. As few people could afford to pay 6d or 7d for a newspaper, the tax restricted the circulation of most of these journals to people with fairly high incomes. Illiteracy was still a major problem so circulation was very limited. At this time most newspapers in circulation were regional and limited to weekly editions or less. As a result of this the market was far wider than today, and the newspapers were open to a revolution to make them better.
As the newspaper industry progressed into the nineteenth century, it witnessed several changes and innovations. None more so than the Industrial revolution. As it transformed all aspects of life and society, dramatically affected newspapers. Both the numbers of papers and their circulation continued to rise. In the 1850’s powerful, giant presses appeared, able to print ten thousand complete papers per hour. At this time the first ‘pictorial’ weekly newspapers emerged; they featured for the first time extensive illustrations of events in the news, as woodcut engravings made from correspondents’ sketches or taken from the new photographs.
It is also during this time that and the first telecommunications cables were being laid across the world. News flow was increased hugely, with almost instant reporting of international news making it possible for newspapers to carry foreign news reports the day after the event. In 1855 after many years of campaigning, the stamp act was repealed which gave papers a greater freedom. Only a month after the repeal, the Colored News, the first coloured newspaper was launched.
This is also the age of media consolidation, as many independent newspapers were swallowed up into powerful “chains”. This was with regrettable consequences as many newspapers were reduced to vehicles for the distribution of the particular views of their owners, and so remained, without competing papers to challenge their viewpoints. However there is also the emergence of the predecessors of the modern news agencies, which greatly helped the flow of information.
The Northcliffe Revolution. In 1887 the journalist Alfred Harmsworth formed a new publishing group. With this company he went on to produce several magazines including ‘Answers to correspondence’ and ‘Forget me nots’. He was rather an unremarkable, although successful man until 1894 when he diversified into newspapers with the purchase of the Evening News, which was a failing national paper. Harmsworth realised that this and other papers of the time were rather stunted and alike. He changed the style and instantly turned the paper’s fortunes around through directly appealing to peoples changing tastes. This was the first major step into the world of newspaper ownership and control for the man who was to become Lord Northcliffe.
Northcliffe has become known as the founder of the modern British press, he is seen as a great innovator that changed the industry and dragged it into line with modern ways of thinking. This phenomenon has become known as the ‘Northcliffe Revolution’. What Northcliffe was able to do was change his papers so that they catered to the feeling of the time. He created a relationship with his readership that was unsurpassed and also greatly needed at the time.
This was to fill a void that evolved in society through the upheaval it had to endure over the transition from an agricultural to industrial society. Also it complimented the evolutions in government and monarch rule. The parliament gained more powers at this point, removing the powers from the monarchy and placing them in the hands of elected officials of government. This in turn empowered the people, increasing their need to understand the issues that were being debated. Northcliffe’s newspaper empire presented these issues to the people in way that was accessible and understandable.
During the nineteenth century, with the development of the industrial revolution came urbanisation, workers were now pushed closer together around factories and industrial areas. The country was coming to terms with this demographic shift away from farms and small villages towards big cities with their dense concentrations of people. With the greater social sphere created within these communities came the desire for self-betterment and direct political representation. These workers had come from a historical background of servants to the imperial masters, they were able to move up through the classes for the first time and greater significance was given to the individual.
Men had a greater influence over their future and this coupled with the education act of 1870 led to a rise in rates of literacy. Education became important, not just for the upper classes but for all that were able to capitalise on this shifting power balance. Within the new communities that sprung up people began to feel the need for identity and form their own opinions. At this time there was also an emergence of an academic understanding of these needs and feelings, which became known as the new and mysterious ‘popular culture’ phenomenon. With this new identity and movement away from the control from above, came the need for different reading material than was currently available.
On the back of his success with the Evening News Northcliffe set up a completely new paper of his own, employing techniques unseen in other papers of the time. This was an answer to the public’s need for a cheep, daily national paper, one that could fulfil their need for understanding of the enormous changes going on around them. This paper was the Daily Mail, it was first published on the fourth of May 1896, and it heralded the beginning of the end of the traditional method of publishing news
Northcliffe initially targeted his new paper at the middle classes, people that had disposable income. This made them ideal targets for advertising and in turn revenue for Northcliffe. He not only sold the advertising space to other companies, but also used it to advertising his own papers and products. The paper was based on a cornerstone of advertising; recovering most of the production costs this way enabled a reduction in the price to the reader. This meant that the paper was able to be produced and sold at a cost of 1/2 d. This was partly made possible by the repeal of the stamp duty in 1855, which had reduced the cost of all papers from as much as 6 or 7d.
The reduction of price opened a new market, one that had never been counted before. Northcliffe saw that by calculating his circulation figures he could demand a higher price for advertising based on the outreach of his paper. These figures, worked out using a system created by Northcliffe, were presented to companies as an incentive to advertise on his pages. In this way he reached larger companies and was able to create more income from adverts. The daily advertising revenue he generated swallowed up three-quarters of the cost of producing a newspaper. In fact Northcliffe had such an effect with his advertising schemes that one of his employees, Kennedy Jones, head of creating another of Northcliffe’s papers the Daily Mirror, was to say of newspapers “We have made it a branch of commerce.” (Briggs & Burke 2002, p207).