Monday, 8 December 2014

For newspapers now, “the search for profit [is] probably more important than it has ever been.”

Since the future of newspapers in the internet age is on ever the minds of media mavens  – not least how to get them making money in the new cyber age – it struck me on reading some history recently that making money hasn’t historically been the record of some the world’s great papers, and neither have they always been the papers they’re now thought to have been.

Basically, newspapers haven’t always haven’t always provided news (so nothing new there then) and have only in some periods been reliably profitable. Many have always needed the backing of a wealthy enthusiast either for the organ or for its political position.

Consider British newspapers in the period before the First World War, when many of them first “grew up.”

Daily newspapers weren’t new then, but the new age of newspapers we once took for granted (and the passing of which the mavens are mourning) was only just coming into being, and oddly to us now the main agents of change were today’s stuffiest: the Daily Mail and the Daily Express.

Described by anti-war activist Norman Angell who wrote for the Mail as “more jingo than jingo,” and first published by Lord Northcliffe in 1896, the new organ appealed to a newly-literate and newly-wealthy middle class to whom the papers hadn’t previously been sold. The Daily Express, founded in 1900, effected its own revolution by being the first newspaper to print news on its front page.

Imagine how daring that must have seemed!

The result was to drastically reduce advertising revenue to other papers.  Consider this account:

‘After 1896 the world of journalism was never to be quite the same,’ [says media historian Francis Williams]. The launching by Northcliffe of the Daily Mail marked a further extension of the daily national newspaper into househols that had previously not taken a newspaper regularly.  The Daily Mail seems basically to have appealed to the self-improving lower middle-class, a rapidly expanding and ambitious section of the population…

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So nothing really new there either….

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