The Newsroom blog

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


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18 November 2014

They are a-changin'

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Two recent news stories from the world of news have given indication of how time may eventually run out for print newspapers. On the other hand, strong arguments have also been made recently for the sturdy nature of the medium, which suggest that the British Library will be continuing to collect newpapers for a good while yet.


Firstly, it was announced last week that two august newspaper institutions, the Newspaper Society and the Newspaper Publishers' Association have merged to form the News Media Association, saying goodbye in name to the medium to which they have been associated for over a century in the case of the latter, and nearly two hundred years in the case of the former. The Newspaper Society was founded in 1836 and has served as the industry body for regional and local newspapers in the UK.. The Newspaper Publishers' Association was founded in 1906 (as the Newspaper Proprietors' Association) and has served as the trade association of the UK's national papers.

Collectively the two organisations - which were already sharing the same offices - now represent the national, regional and local newspapers of the UK, and exist to promote the interest of what the NMA describes as "£6 billion sector read by 42 million adults every month in print and online". But the NMA's strapline is "the voice of national, regional and local newsbrands", and that's the heart of the matter. Their business is news, and newspapers are merely one means to that end. Most of our newsbrands originate in newspaper titles, but The Guardian, The Times and the Mail are no longer newspapers - they are news publishing hubs, distributing news through multiple channels, digital and print. 


Print newspapers have remained powerful even in an encroaching digital world in large part because they attract the greater part of the advertising market. But news from publishers Trinity Mirror last week indicates that change is on its way. Tales of regional papers closing or dailies converting into weeklies have been common over the past few years, but Trinity Mirror's closure of seven regional print titles - The Reading Post (a former daily title), its free sister title GetReadingWokingham Times, Bracknell Times, Surrey Herald, Woking Informer and Harrow Observer - is particularly dramatic. It will replace these with the GetReading website in what they are calling "a bold, digital only approach", driven by an increased digital market penetration in the area, with the number of unique users of the GetReading site having grown over the past year by 68%. Fifty posts will be lost, with twelve new ones created in the fields of digital editorial and digital commercial.

This could be the tipping point - where anticipated digital exposure starts to outweigh the lingering advantages of staying with print. Of course it is not a like-for-like transfer from print world to digital world, and has been greeted with dismay by champions of regional journalism as we have known it. But it indicates a greater certainly from some of those in the newspaper publishing business as to where they feel confident about going next. It indicates how groups of titles linked together by a common website may be more likely to disappear rather than the individual titles that we have seen so far. Some think it could be the end of local newspapers as we have known them.

But others see strong signs that the print newspaper may yet survive for a good while yet, or at least some print newspapers will. Tien Tzuo, founder and chief-executive of business management software company Zuora, wrote a defiant piece recently, reproduced by The Guardian, 'Let’s get over the whole 'newspapers are dying' thing'. he writes:

There are two prevailing narratives in print-to-digital media right now: the unstoppable VC-fuelled ascent of digital publishers like BuzzFeed and the inevitable decline of ink-stained legacy publishers like the New York Times. Both stories are wrong.

They assume digital media companies operate in some magical overhead-free universe with infinitely ascending online advertising rates, and that newspapers are permanently anchored to declining print revenues.

They also conflate content with form. Newspapers are intellectual assets, not physical ones. Their core product consists of making smart editorial decisions and publishing sharp voices. Whether you choose to read those voices on a phone or on a broadsheet makes no difference.

Tien Tzuo's confidence in the 'creative entrepreneurialism' of some of the UK's national newspapers (or companies "formerly known as newspapers" shows how a strong business model for print newspapers still exists. But it seems to be a national newspaper model, not necessarily one for regional titles, which must be more likely to contract and end up sharing centralised, digital newsrooms with web platforms. Digital first will inexorably turn into digital only.

It's a news media world now, and at the British Library we need to be alert to these changes as we work to archive the UK's published news as comprehensively as we can. The chances are that there will be far fewer print titles over the next few years, but that some strong newspapers will survive, as part of a multi-format news publishing strategy on the part of their owners. We archive both newspapers in print and newspaper websites, and if one of the former disappears we will be collecting its web successor. In whatever forms news is published, we should be ready for it.


15 October 2014

Newspaper reading rooms - a subversive history

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The third in our series of lectures named after the 19th century journalist WT Stead is to be given by Professor Aled Gruffydd Jones, newspaper historian and head of the National Library of Wales, on 21 November 2014 at the British Library. Entitled 'Newspaper reading rooms and civic engagement: a subversive history,' it will look the history of the newspaper reading room and their relation to civil society.


The Old Newspaper Reading Room in the British Museum, Bloomsbury. Sell's Dictionary of the World's Press 1893. Copyright ©1999, The British Library Board

Newspaper readings rooms in the UK since the eighteenth-century have come in all shapes and sizes, from local literary societies and miners' institutes to august national institutions like the British Museum. Often they allowed access to both a range of relatively immediate information about the contemporary world and to the past. In both senses, they could serve as spaces not only for the quiet consumption of information but also for the development of creativity, the deepening of civic engagement and the enhancement of public education in the broadest sense.


 The Newsroom at the British Library, St Pancras

Professor Jones's talk will look at the history of newspaper reading rooms, the role the collective reading of the Press has played in the building of civil society, and the creative challenges posed to the cultural and civic world they represented by the digital technologies and platforms that are a growing part of their current manifestation. The British Library's own Newsroom, opened earlier this year, is only the latest expression of a long and important tradition, fitted out for a digital age and hopefully playing its own part in contributing to the growth and maintenance of civil society.


Aled Jones

Professor Aled Gruffydd Jones is Chief Executive of the National Library of Wales and a notable cultural historian, who has published on has published widely on newspaper and journalism history, the history of modern Wales, labour history, tand on the relationship between Wales, the British Empire and the Indian sub-continent. His publicati0ns include Powers of the Press: Newspapers, Power and the Public in Nineteenth-century England and Press, Politics and Society: History of Journalism in Wales. His is a broadcaster and columnist, and was the joint organiser of the first Welsh International Film Festival and co-founder of the film and video arts collective, Creu Cof. He has also acted as an advisor to the British Library on its newspaper digitisation plans. 

This will be the third in our series of W.T. Stead lectures, named after the 19th century journalist William Thomas Stead, which have looked at news past, present and future. The previous lectures were given by James Harding, head of BBC News, and Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at the University of Columbia.

The lecture will be from 18:00 on 21 November 2014 at the British Library at St Pancras, in the staff restaurant area on the first floor. Details of how to book for the event are on our What's On pages.

02 October 2014

Recording Scotland

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Our television and radio news recording service, Broadcast News, has been busy over the past two months recording extra programmes on the Scottish independence referendum. Usually Broadcast News takes in some 60 hours of programmes per day (40 TV, 20 radio) from across 22 channels available via Freeview or Freesat. We record the same programmes at the same times each day, to provide a consistent research service. But when there are news specials, breaking news programmes or major news stories that spill over the schedules, then we record more.


The Big, Big Debate, BBC1 tx 11 September 2014

For the Scottish referendum we added recordings from two further channels, BBC One Scotland and STV, for most of August through to the end of September. So, as well as the standard TV and radio news programmes from BBC, ITV, Sky, Channel 4, Al Jazeera, CNN, LBC and others, we recorded BBC one Scotland's Reporting Scotland and Kevin Bridges: Live at the Referendum, STV's STV News at Six and Scotland Tonight, BBC Parliament's Scotland 2014 and Reporting Scotland, special programmes such as the Salmond/Darling dates, referendum broadcasts from the Yes and No campaigns, Radio's 1's Big Conversation: Scotland Decides (16 Sep), STV's Scotland Decides - The Facebook Debate (12 Sep), BBC 1's The Big Big Debate (11 Sep), and several more.

The heaviest extra recording activity was inevitably over 18 September (the day of the referendum) and the the results and aftermath the following day. BBC TV broadcast two through-the-night programmes entitled Scotland Decides: one hosted by Hugh Edwards for BBC1 and one for BBC Scotland hosted by Glenn Campbell. Bernard Ponsonby and Aasmah Mir hosted ITV/STV's coverage, also named Scotland Decides. Sky News went with Decision Time Scotland, hosted by Adam Boulton, Kay Burley and Niall Paterson. For radio, BBC Radio 4 went through the night with Scotland Decides, hosted by James Naughtie and Rachel Burden, while BBC World Service had a special edition of its The Newsroom programme.

Not watched by so many people in the UK, but fascinating for their different perspectives, were the special programmes produced by France 24, RT (Russia Today) and CNN, the latter two broadcasting coverage throughout the night and early morning, evidence of the huge interest the referendum generated worldwide. Steering clear of value judgments, it was nevertheless most intriguing to see how international opinion ranged from disbelief that Scotland would ever consider breaking away from the United Kingdom, to incredulity that it would ever consider not doing so having been given the opportunity. They are among the most interesting programmes from referendum night, and likely to be of particular value to future researchers.

The result itself brought about a mixture of triumph, disappointment, and even a sense of anticlimax, as we know. Sally Magnusson hosted BBC One Scotland programmes which analysed the results overthe morning and afternoon of September 19th, STV had John MacKay and Andrea Brymer hosting Scotland This Morning: How the Nation Voted. And then gradually the dust settled, the story dropped from the news agenda, and we returned to the regular round of news recordings, carrying on with our BBC One Scotland and STV recordings to the end of September. Now normality reigns, until the next drama unfolds.

All of the Scottish referendum programmes that we recorded are available to view (or listen to) at the British Library's St Pancras and Boston Spa sites via the instant access Broadcast News service.