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25 July 2014

St Pancras Intelligencer no. 28

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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.



Map showing evidence of Buk surface-to-air missile position in Donetsk region of Ukraine, with geo-located links, created by Storyful

How social sleuthing uncovered evidence of surface-to-air missile systems in eastern Ukraine: News about news has been dominated this week by the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine. This powerful blog post from the NewsCorp-owned verification service Storyful shows how effective it has been at analysing information from social networks, YouTube and other sources to get at the truth behind the claims and counter-claims.

There have been a number of other pieces this week which focus on the verification of information, particularly images and videos, with a focus on Ukraine. The title of Julie Posetti's piece for PBS MediashiftWhen Good People Share Bad Things: The Basics of Social Media Verification picks up on the worry people have about sharing false information and explains the verifcation process, which involves the source of a piece of content, and the content itself. Jihii Jolly at Columbia Journalism Review offers help  on How to check if that viral video is true, steessing that the rise in user-generated contents makes it imperative for journalists to question before using. Kevin Loker at American Press Institute gives us How to find out if a photo your friend posted online is fake, and at Gigaom Mathew Ingram says Want to help fact-check breaking news like the Malaysian airplane disaster? Here's how and where you can do it, providing a handy a guide to verification communities and tools.

Graphic content: when photographs of carnage are too upsetting to publish: Roger Tooth, The Guardian's Head of Photography, explains the decision-making process behind selection or otherwise of news images from stories such as Gaza and MH17. (Warning: graphic content).

RT “Covers” the Shooting Down of MH17: Adam Holland at The Interpreter (an online journal presented translated material from the Russian press and blogosphere) offers a scathing analysis of how RT, aka Russia Today, the state-owned TV channel, reacted to the downing of MH17.

Russia Today London correspondent resigns in protest at 'disrespect for facts' over Malaysian plane crash: Press Gazette piece on Sarah Firth who declared that RT's coverage of the air crash was the last straw. "[I]t’s the level of disrespect for the facts that really bugs me." she says. RT commented:

Sara has declared that she chooses the truth; apparently we have different definitions of truth. We believe that truth is what our reporters see on the ground, with their own eyes, and not what’s printed in the morning London newspaper. In our coverage, RT, unlike the rest of the media, did not draw conclusions before the official investigation has even begun. We show all sides of the story, even if everyone else has already decided which side is to blame.

From outrage to recrimination: How the media covered the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash: Chris Boffey at The Drum looks at how the British news media reacted to the immediate news of the MH17 crash.

MH17, my error of judgment: Sky News' Colin Brazier has been roundly condemned for a live news broadcast, lunchimte July 20th, when he briefly looked through the content of the luggage of one of the victims of MH17. Here he apologies via The Guardian in a sincere and interesting piece of how a journalist faces up to horror, while live on air.

South Sudan humanitarian crisis: The poor media coverage highlights the flaws in news gathering: Perhaps the most powerful piece about news production this week has come from Ian Burrell at The Independent, looking at how the absence of media coverage in South Sudan has had a tragic impact on people's lives:

The tragedy of South Sudan highlights a number of basic flaws in modern news. Despite the breadth of online information, the major news providers still play an essential role in bringing humanitarian stories to the public’s attention. It is the misfortune of the starving and homeless in South Sudan that their agony coincides with the appalling turmoil in Syria, Gaza and Ukraine.

Minus proper archives, news outlets risk losing years of backstories forever: Another essential read, this time from Columbia Journalism Review, looking at the possibility and dangers of losing news archives in the digital area.

The 'Fake Sheikh' Mazher Mahmood’s extraordinary career: The career of The Sun and The News of the World's notorious entrapment specialist, Mazeer Mahmood - the 'fake Sheikh' - may have come to an end after the collapse of the trial of singer Tulisa Contostavlos. Ian Burrell tells his story.

High value, low income: report reveals trends in hyperlocal publishing: A handy summary from of the key points from the recent academic report The State of Hyperlocal Community News in the UK.

Readers, viewers, browsers: it's time to count them all and unify the ratings: Peter Preston at The Observer calls for the unification of audience research.

Ashley Highfield - interview: InPublishing interviews Ashley Highfield, CEO of regional newspaper publisher Johnson Press, on the digital revolution he is bringing about.

I don’t want cannabilisation of what is our biggest source of revenue (print). The great thing about the regional press is it’s not like the Guardian where people stop buying print and consume online. Actually we have pretty much created a new audience online who never bought us in print.

Newspapers begin to challenge broadcasters in video storytelling: Douglas Grant at World News Publishing Focus explains how newspapers are marking their mark with online video.

Reddit Live is now official, lets anyone create their own breaking news live blog: This could could be a major step in the growth of alternative news publishing. The hugely popular social networking and news service Reddit has launched Reddit Live, which lets anyone create their own breaking news service (including tweets, videos etc).

The Sun says farewell to Wapping with special souvenir staff issue: The staff of The Sun left Wapping on 18 July, as they set up home in London Bridge. Roy Greenslade looks at the souvenir issue produced for staff to mark the momentous occasion.

18 July 2014

St Pancras Intelligencer no. 27

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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. 


Hyperlocal map: Talk About Local has produced a 'heat map' of the hyperlocal sites around the UK, based on data from the Openly Local database. Delve in and see how the local news made locally revolution has spread.

Report around the clock: Fascinating piece by Joseph Lichterman at Nieman Journalism Lab on how news organisations use time zones to their advantage to operate a 24/7 service, including Bild, The Guardian and Wall Street Journal.

Hey, Publishers: Stop fooling us, and yourselves: David Boardman says too many newspaper companies says too many newspapers executives (in the US) are deluded about the financial future and maybe ought to stop printing newspapers altogether.

Robots are invading the news business, and it’s great for journalists: So here's a piece of journalism for you:

Alcoa Inc. (AA) on Tuesday reported a second-quarter profit of $138 million, reversing a year-ago loss, and the results beat analysts' expectation. The company reported strong results in its engineered-products business, which makes parts for industrial customers, while looking to cut costs in its aluminum-smelting segment.

It was produced by a robot (a piece of software anywhere) which is generating business news stories for AP. Kevin Roose at New York magazine reckons this bright new future will give human journalists more time to concentrate on less humdrum stories.

The Daily Mail's 'historic 1914 edition' is not quite as billed...: The Daily Mail produced a First World War facsimile issue. Roy Greenslade takes in to task for not being up front about the fact that the 'paper' has been set like a modern newspaper.

Latest ABCs show newspaper market decline running at 8% a year: More from Greenslade, reporting on the latest ABC figures for newspapers, which show a general market decline, though some times (The Times, The Guardian) and beginning to buck the trend.


About i100: First there was The Independent, then there was i, now we have i100, a Buzzfeed-style news site launched this week by ESI Media with a list of numbered stories (called The List), the top one being the most popular (there's a voting system with each story having an 'upvote' button). The top 5 for today are all on the shooting down of MH17 over Ukraine.

BBC News to cut a further 415 jobs: BBC News currently employs 8,400 people. 415 jobs are to be cut as part of cost-saving measures. 195 new jobs will be created. Net loss = 220.

The tale of the women who turned vigilante: the BBC News Magazine has been running a series of entertaining pieces by Jeremy Clay on bizarre stories culled from nineteenth-century newspapers. Entitled 'Victorian Strangeness', this example from the series retells an incident from 1878, the moral of which is don't mess with the women of the Forest of Dean.

British blogger Brown Moses launches new site to train others in crowdsourced reporting: Self-taught investigative journalist Brown Moses (aka Elliott Higgins) is looking to pass on his skills to others through a new site called Bellingcat. The admiring Mathew Ingram at Gigaom tells the story.

If newspapers are dying, no one's told the Farnham Herald: Peter Preston agrees with local newspaper publisher Sir Ray Tindle's optimism that print's not dead, yet.

Journalism that matters: Jon Slattery at InPublishing writes in praises of the many examples of serious journalism practised in the UK that make a real difference to the communities that they serve.

The reading experience: This blog writes admiringly of the excellent Reading Experience Database, which reproduces written testimony of reading 1450-1945, including newspapers, and asks what sort of a newspaper history we have if it doesn't consider the readers.

17 July 2014

The reading experience

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On 18 February 1814 Lord Byron got up and read his morning newspaper, a fact that we know because he recorded the action later that day in his journal:

Got up - redde the Morning Post containing the battle of Buonaparte, the destruction of the Custom House, and a paragraph on me as long as my pedigree, and vituperative, as usual.

George Gordon Lord Byron, Leslie A. Marchand (ed.), Byron's Letters and Journals, (London, 1974), 3, p. 242,, accessed: 16 July 2014

Sure enough, in the Morning Post for that date is a column attacking the poet, just as he would have read it:


Morning Post - Friday 18 February 1814. Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

The history of newspapers is usually written from the point of view of their producers, being a tale of owners, editors, writers, money and politics. What gets less attention is the history of newspapers viewed through its consumers. We are told about which classes bought which papers, we know about prices, and we know that newspapers in past centuries were read both privately and out loud to others. But of the readers and the actual experience of reading newspapers there is too little. How different sections of society have found their news, how they read it, understood, paid for it, shared it, and acted upon it, are hugely important, but many newspaper histories and reference books pay scant attention to those whose news it ultimately was (Andrew Pettegree's recent The Invention of News is a notable exception). We have circulation figures and statistics, but it would be good to see people too.

So where to find out information on how people read newspapers in the past? A terrific resource is the Open University's Reading Experience Database, from which the Lord Byron quote above comes. The Reading Experience Database (RED) is a project documenting the history of reading in Britain from 1450 to 1945 (there are allied databases tracing the history of reading in Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and New Zealand). The database contains some 30,000 records containing verbtatim texts taken from published and unpublished sources, including diaries, commonplace books, memoirs, sociological surveys, criminal court and prison records. Its aim is to document the "recorded engagement with a written or printed text - beyond the mere fact of possession".

The fully-searchable database has been built up by both the project team and around 100 volunteers who have volunteered examples from their own reading and areas of interest (anyone can contribute if they wish). Each record gives the text that documents the reading experience, the date, country, time of day, place, type of experience (e.g. solitary or in company), the reader and their personal details, the type of text being read, and details of the source itself. Much of the evidence gathered relates to the reading of books, but there is also a substantial collection of testimony relating to reading newspapers.

Here, for example, is Thomas Carter, remembering his newspaper-reading and sharing habits in 1815:

Thus I became their [workmates] news-purveyor, ie. I every morning gave them an account of what I had just been reading in the yesterday's newspaper. I read this at a coffee shop, where I took an early breakfast on my way to work. These shops were but just then becoming general... The shop I selected was near the bottom of Oxford Street. It was in the direct path by which I made my way to work... The papers I generally preferred to read were the "British Press", the "Morning Chronicle", and the "Statesman". I usually contrived to run over the Parliamentary debates and the foreign news, together with the leading articles. ...My shopmates were much pleased at the extent and variety of the intelligence which I was able to give them about public affairs, and they were the more pleased because I often told them about the contents of Mr. Cobbett's "Political Register", as they were warm admirers of that clever and very intelligible writer.

Thomas Carter, Memoirs of a Working Man, (London, 1845), p. 186,, accessed: 16 July 2014

This comes from Carter's Memoirs of a Working Man (1845) and is a relatively rare example of working class testimony. Memoirs, journals and accounts in newspapers themselves were generally the preserve of the wealthier classes in the 17th to 17th centuries, so Carter's account of how he read and the re-transmitted intelligence from a range of newspaper to his work colleagues is precious. However, the RED's advanced search options allows one to refine searches by social type (servant, labourer, clergy, gentry, clerk / tradesman, professional, royalty / aristocracy), so here is a servant in an 1839 trial revealing his newspaper reading habits while giving evidence:

On Saturday morning, the 26th of January, I was reading in the newspaper of the loss of Mr. Platt's plate, in Russellsquare - I went up to my master, and pointed it out to him; and, in consequence of his directions, I went down to the pantry to bring up the spare plate, and found it was gone - I suspected the prisoner, and gave information to the police.

Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, 27 April 2009), 4 Feb 1839, Trial of William Smith (t18390204-682),, accessed: 16 July 2014

Nineteeth-century newspapers were read not only for news of public affairs, but for social affairs and gossip. On 24 October 1808 Jane Austen wrote from Southampton to her sister Cassandra:

On the subject of matrimony, I must notice a wedding in the Salisbury paper, which has amused me very much, Dr Phillot to Lady Frances St Lawrence.

Jane Austen, Deirdre Le Faye (ed.), Jane Austen's Letters, (Oxford, 1995), p. 151,, accessed: 16 July 2014

From the previous century, here is James Boswell recalling how he was obliged to read out from the newspaper to Samuel Johnson, under the latter's strict instructions:

"The London Chronicle", which was the only newspaper he constantly took in, being brought, the office of reading it aloud was assigned to me. I was diverted by his impatience. He made me pass over so many parts of it, that my task was very easy. He would not suffer one of the petitions to the King about the Middlesex election to be read.

James Boswell, R.C. Chapman (ed.), Life of Johnson, (Oxford, 1980), p. 424,, accessed: 16 July 2014

From a later period, here is Harriet Martineau  in a letter dated 1 March 1866, while residing in the Lake District, noting comments made about Matthew Arnold in the press:

Of course you have seen the squib on him in the "Examiner" ("Mr Sampson"). I saw it in a Liverpool paper. One sees him in almost every newspaper now. "D. News" rapped his knuckles a month since... and I see the "Times" did it yesterday.

Harriet Martineau, Elisabeth Sanders Arbuckle (ed.), Harriet Martineau's Letters to Fanny Wedgwood, (Stanford, 1983), p. 266,, accessed: 16 July 2014

Here we see, as with Thomas Carter, how common it was to gain intelligence from a range of newspapers, as well as how the national titles were diffused across the country.

We gain from such accounts an idea of how newspapers were read, who read them, what information they expected to gain from them, how they analysed such information, and how they passed on such information. We see newspapers as a habit, and how they operated as part of the daily round. We see how public knowledge was communicated and how people understood their place in the life of the nation. We see the importance of newspapers as something experienced - which is crucial to understanding their function and history.

The Reading Experience Database is an excellent resource: clear, rigorous and easy to use. It is limited to actual evidence of newspaper reading. It does not include fictional accounts, which can be just as revealing of how newspapers were received. It is of course limited by what documentation is available and what its project team and host of volunteers have been able to find. It is selective evidence. Such accounts do not usually record how a newspaper was read, how it was handled, even how much time was spent in reading it. We do not see the visual relation of the reader to the newspaper. For that you need paintings or photographs. Which might be another project, at another time.


Some images of people reading newspapers, from British Library Images Online