The Newsroom blog

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


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

27 January 2015

Into the void

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On Friday 23 January 2015 the British Library formally opened the National Newspaper Building at Boston Spa, Yorkshire. The building has been operational for a few months now, but it feels right to mark these things with a celebration, and the ceremony that took place effectively brings to an end our Newspaper Programme, which had the task of transferring the newspaper and periodical collection from its home in Colindale, north London, to the British Library's second home in Boston Spa, to a dedicated preservation building. The entire programme cost some £33m (of which the new building cost £23m), with  two new reading rooms (in London and Boston Spa) thrown in, plus it instituted a newspaper digitisation project which has resulted in the British Newspaper Archive. All in all, the future of the British Library's newspaper collection has been transformed. 


 The National Newspaper Building, Boston Spa

The building is located in Boston Spa, near Wetherby in Yorkshire. It stores around 33km of newspapers, some 60 million issues in 280,000 bound volumes, or 450 million individual pages (give or take a few). They are stored in a dark, air-tight, low-oxygen environment to eliminate the risk of fire (14-15% oxygen makes it similar to trying to breathe at the top of a Himalayan mountain). The newspaper are stored on 20-metre high stacks and retrieved by robotic cranes, which move the requested volumes via an airlock to a retrieval staff, where staff prcoess them for sending to the reading rooms at Boston Spa and St Pancras in London (it takes a maximum 48 hours from the point of ordering for the newspapers to arrive on the reader's desk).


Inside the 'void' area of the National Newspaper Building

For the opening ceremony they raised the oxygen levels to enable visitors to go beyond the retrieval area and enter the storage void. You stand on a low-level viewing platform and look up in awe as tier upon tier of newspapers rise up into the distance, while the robotic crans whirr by picking up stacks (they select stacks of several volumes rather than individual volumes of newspapers).


The storage void, photo © Kippa Matthews

The void is 24 metres high by 24 metres wide by 64 metres long, with 26,000 locations capable of holding 89,000 stacks. As said, oxygen levels are usually at 14-15% (normal atmospheric level is 21%), temperature is a constant 14 degress Celsius and humidity is at 55%, and without the fluctuations in those figures which played havoc with some of the newspapers at Colindale.


How the British Library's newspapers were previously stored, at Colindale

The reason we had to build the new store was because the newspapers' former home at Colindale was unsuitable for the preservation of newspapers. A study showed that some 33% of the newspaper collection was in a poor or unfit condition, exacerbated by a lack of appropriate temperature and humidity controls. Newsprint was designed to last a day, not in an archive for all time, and to ensure the collection's long-term survival a new home had to be found. Another improvement can be judged from the above photograph showing how newspapers were previously stored at Colindale - standing upright, which placed great pressure on their spines. They are rested horizontally in the National Newspaper Building. 


Boston Spa reading room

The building was formally opened up Councillor David Congreve, the Lord Mayor of Leeds, and Alec Shelbrooke MP (Elmet and Rothwell). After speeches had been given, a plaque unveiled, and visits paid to the void, wecrossed to the new reading room at Boston Spa. This is a reading room for all kinds of subjects and media, not just newspapers, but one corner is specially devoted to newspapers. The reproductions of historic newspapers on the walls will look familiar to any user of the British Library's Newsroom at St Pancras, while the desks will be familiar to anyone who researched previously at Colindale. We have retained four of those desks, with their distinctive overhead lights, but the rest of the reading room is equipped with desks more in keeping with the twnety-first century rather than the nineteenth. 

Many historic newspapers might have been lost had they been allowed to continue to fade and crumble as was increasingly the case at Colindale. Today 300 years of the UK's newspaper inheritance are stored in conditions designed to ensure that they will defy the ravages of time. But the National Newspaper Building is not a static monument to a medium that is no more. We continue to take in around 1,200 new newspaper titles per week, despite the rise in electronic news media. Print is not dead yet, and in whatever form the news is published in this country we're ready for it, and will ensure that it is stored safely and made available for researchers, today and forever.



19 December 2014

2014 - the year's news about news

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2014 has been an extraordinary, sometimes harrowing, year for news. It has also been a highly significant year for the production and use of news itself - hot topics have included the hacking trial, IPSO, Buzzfeed, data journalism, Google and the right to be forgotten, Brown Moses, Ezra Klein, and the New York Times's leaked Innovation report. It's also been a major year for the British Library's news collection, with the opening of our Newsroom and the successful conclusion of our newspaper digitisation programme. Here are some of the highlights from the year's news about news.



The re-design of the New York Times website was much discussed. Telegraph editor Tony Gallagher was sacked. The Birmingham Post's Business Daily Tablet edition, designed to  “reinvent business journalism within the regional press,” closed after seven months. Also owned by Trinity Mirror was The People, a Buzzfeed-style site populated with "native content". It lasted three months.  But Trinity enjoyed rather more success with viral news site UsVsTh3m. Charley Miller at Medium wondered if in the future we might all become personal broadcasters. News UK launched The Academy, to train teenagers to become journalists. James Harding of BBC News gave a key speech, 'Journalism Today' at the British Library (the first of our three WT Stead lectures). Philosopher Alan de Botton's book The News was not reviewed kindly. Facebook announced Paper. Kola Dumor, the BBC World News presenter, and Chris Chataway, athlete, politicians and news reporter for BBC and ITN, died.



The staff of French left-wing journal Libération took over the front page to protest at the paper's shareholder group's plans to turn it into a social and cultural hub. Richard Sambrook and Sean McGuire argued that 24-hour news has had its day - and got an angry response from Sky News's Adam Boulton. London news radio station LBC went national. Marc Andreessen's optimistic piece, 'The Future of the News Business', was much shared and debated. 



American data guru Nate Silver launched data journalism site FiveThirtyEight. Getty made 35 million images freely available.  The New York Times issued a correction for an article written 20 January 1853. The Sun's Page 3 v Breast Cancer campaign did not impress the campaign site No More Page 3Susanna Reid left BBC Breakfast for ITV's planned Good Morning Britain programme. Are robots the future of news? Andrew Pettegree's book The Invention of News, on the early history of newspapers, was greatly admired. The Evening Standard-backed London TV Channel, London Live, went live.



The British Library opened its new reading room for news, the Newsroom. Emly Bell lectured at the Library on Journalism in the Age of Automation and Big Data. Celebrity news blogger Ezra Klein launched, with its user-friendly 'cards' giving background information to stories. News headlines from UK regional newspapers became an Internet cult. Are automated breaking news stories the future of news? But what about how the news archives of tomorrow will look, asked Adrienne LaFrance. 26 searching questions for news organisations from Raju Narisetti about the move to digital. The Mirror's 'crying child' front cover (which turned out to be a stock photo, not a British child in need of food parcels) caused controversy. British Pathé released 85,000 historic newsreels on YouTube. The New York Times joined the explanatory journalism craze with offshoot The Upshot. Dutch government-funded news site Blendle asked you to pay for stories, giving you your money back if you were not completely satisfied



Most discussed news-about-news subject of the year was probably the leaked copy of the New York Times's 'Innovation' report, making many - and not just in the newspaper world - think if they were doing enough about digital. But just why was the NYT's executive editor Jill Abramson fired? The British Library published a news content strategy (and not a newspaper strategy). Facebook and Storyful launched FB Newswire. London Live's chief programmer quit after terrible audience figures. Nate Silver's advice to young journalists - learn to code. Good Morning Britain launched (to a mixed reception). Max Clifford was found guilty. Journalist of the year? - quite possibly citizen journalist and social media sleuth Eliot Higgins aka Brown Moses. Immersive narratives became all the rage, led by BBC News's The Reykjavik Confessions. The British Newspaper Archive reached 8 million historic newspaper pages online. And the Duchess of Cambridge's rear became front page viewing (elsewhere).



Ed Miliband's interview for Buzzfeed saw his comments on reading the news being analysed a great deal (he uses RealClearPolitics). Also much devoured was the Reuters Institute's annual Digital News Report. As was Robert Peston's speech on threats to journalism.  Benedict Cumberbatch helped bring BBC radio news scripts of D-Day (from the British Library's collection) back to life. Are drones the future of news? The Sun tried to give a free copy of a version of the paper backing the England football team at the World Cup, which didn't impress everyone. Ed Miliband then apologised for endorsing it. An Egyptian court sentenced two Al Jazeera journalists to seven years in jail and one to ten years in jail. Jeremy Paxman stood down from Newsnight. At the end of the phone hacking trial, News of the World editor Andy Coulson was found guilty of a conspiracy to intercept voicemails, while former News International chief executive Mrs Brooks was found not guilty. Is Fox News more dangerous than ISIS? So Russell Brand claimed in a YouTube video. And the dream headline occured - Man Bites Dog



Social sleuthing from Storyful uncovered evidence of surface-to-air missiles in eastern Ukraine following the shooting down of airliner MH17, as verification of online information became the topic of the hour. Sky News' Colin Brazier was condemned for a live news broadcast when he briefly looked through the content of the luggage of one of the victims of MH17, and produced a thoughtful apology. Ian Burrell at The Independent said poor news coverage was exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in South Sudan. A European court decision allowed individuals to request that Google remove links to historical articles which has personal information that they would rather was forgotten. George Clooney forced Mail Online to apologise. Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow's heartfelt video account of the child victims in Gaza went viral. There was a timely and useful report on the state of hyperlocal community news in the UK. The Independent launched i100. Brown Moses launched the Bellingcat site to train others in crowdsourced reporting. The 'Fake Sheikh' was himself entrapped. Sarah Palin launched a news channel. There was plagiarism at BuzzfeedThe Sun said farewell to Wapping.



Medyan Dairieh of Vice News scooped the world with his insider video report on the Islamic State. Is virtual reality the future of news? Chapman Pincher died, aged 100. Nick Davies published Hack Attack, on the phone hacking saga. Newspapers marked the centenary of the First World War with solemnity. American started to get alarmed about ebola. David Carr pronounced on the imminent death of the print newspaper.  So did Clay Shirky. 4,000 Buzzfeed posts disappeared. The sound of typewriters returned to the newsroom of The Times. American journalist James Foley was murdered in Syria.



According to Twitter, Scotland won its independence. Alan Rusbridger spoke at the British Library on the urgent need to protect journalists' sources. The Guardian announced the building of Guardian Space (in King's Cross). Do people remember news better if they read it in print? The dizzying decline of Britain's local newspapers. Newsnight's Ian Katz on the death of the political interview. Hannah Storm on how journalists are becoming propaganda. Independent press regulator IPSO was launched - Hacked Off was hacked off about it.



Legendary Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee died, aged 93. Ebola coverage - there was the good, the bad and the ugly. Among the good was much-praised single issue site Ebola Deeply. Among the ugly were fake news sites spreading ebola panic. Is Emergent the future of news? We considered how Edward Snowden changed journalism. Was Krishnan Guru-Murthy's interview with Richard Ayoade the greatest ever? Time travel was offered with the New York Times's TimesMachine archive service.



Many saw the end of times with the news that Trinity Mirror was closing of seven regional print titles, including The Reading Post, and replacing them with a single website (GetReading). But Tien Tzuo said newspapers are not dying (at least, not some of them). The Newspaper Society and the Newspaper Publishers' Association merged to form the News Media Association. The British Newspaper Archive reached 9 million pages online. Print newspapers became available once more to British Library users, after a year's absence. Professor Aled Jones lectured at the BL on newspaper reading rooms and civic engagement.



The 'Syrian Hero Boy' video (after being seen by millions) was revealed to be a sham. A new national newspaper was launched, the pro-independence Scottish title The National. Emily Bell's lecture 'Silicon Valley and journalism: make up or break up?' led to much thinking about the future of news. Andrew Norfolk was named journalist of the year at the British Journalism Awards for his investigations into child abuse for The Times. The archive of The Independent is to be digitised. A Wikipedia for news? Google News withdrew its service from Spain after a law was passed saying it had to pay royalties on use of news snippets. Now Spanish newspapers are complaining of loss of traffic. There was an Early Day Motion in the UK parliament against the closure of local newspapers. Alan Rusbridger announced he was standing down as Guardian editor-in-chief. Did Al-Jazeera's hackathon uncover the future of news? And finally, why it is bad news to publish only good news.

This blog is one year old today, by the way. See you next year.

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.