When did the news become so entertaining?
‘Get me a Murder a Day’ was the famous slogan of Lord Northcliffe. He was the eponymous founder of the Daily Mail. It was also the title of a University text that was recommended to all students at Southampton Solent University.
Heard of Solent University? No. I would guess that most people would not have heard of it. This is not to say that the courses produced there are not worth the paper they are printed on. This is because good news does not make the news.
The sad thought that we should all consider is that murders make the news, yet kindness and decency is left to the central pages. This is not the same with sport, but this does embody competition, with one team winning and one team losing.
Where did it all begin?
Today, the media machine in Great Britain has a staple diet of Murder, sex and scandal. No news really is good news, as if you make the news, then something has gone wrong for you.
This did not happen overnight. The country did not suddenly wake up one day and the front pages were covered in murders when the previous day had a flower competition. It is not something that has snuck upon us. For most, it is how we have been raised, with the media as our ‘eyes and ears’.
From my research, I can deduce that newspapers in England can trace their origins back to the 1620s. At this point in time, they were referred to as ‘Corantos’. From this point, notions of press liberty began to develop.
England’s first news periodicals, called corantos, circulated in the 1620s. During the next few decades, English notions of the liberty of the press began to develop, and with them visions of the press as the bulwark of freedom against would-be tyrants.
Press reference.com/ The United Kingdom
The pen is mightier than the sword
This most famous of quotes was penned in the 19th century by Edward-Bulwer Lytton.
“The pen is mightier than the sword” is a metonymic adage, penned by English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839, indicating that communication (particularly written language), or in some interpretations, administrative power or advocacy of an independent press, is a more effective tool than direct violence.
BBC News magazine
This was written during a key time for the press in England. The 200 years previous had marked a continual battle for freedom.
· In 1694 the 1694 act removed pre-publication censorship
· In 1792 the Fox’s Libel Act was approved
· Between 1853 and 1861, the so-called ‘taxes on knowledge’ were slowly repealed.
All of these breakthroughs marked reflected a growing movement for press freedom. They did not want to be shackled by the state and told what to write. They wanted to create and re-enforce that noble image of journalism, that they are gatekeepers of the truth. This is the vision that drew me to study the subject in 2007. I wanted to make a difference and use my passion for writing to do so.
Where did it all go wrong?
From my point of view, it was the studying of the subject and realising that most stories are written for the intended audience. They need to sensationalise and sell subscriptions. The freedom of the press is an illusion. We all know that papers lean towards an ideology, in order to sell their next copy. They need to plaster over the front of their pages stories that draw the reader in, as they are losing ground to the web.
Papers have moved online and the Daily Mail is one of the most successful at this. With a yearly audience of more than 30 million people, it has the power to influence nearly one half of the population of the United Kingdom. This power was created during the 19th century. As the country progressed through the century it marked the end of the ‘Golden Age of Journalism’.
The Golden age was shattered as competition rose. New papers such as The Daily Mail arrived, undercutting rivals by 50%. It later went on to be the first paper to say that is had a circulation of more than one million people.
Alfred Harmsworth is often credited with creating the modern popular press, particularly with the creation of the Daily Mail in 1896. Selling for a halfpenny when other papers cost a penny, this paper became, during the Boer War (1899–1902), the first to attain a daily circulation of one million.
Press reference.com/ The United Kingdom
Consumerism and the industrial revolution heralded the end of the Golden Age. This battle for freedom is still being waged today, but with papers such as the Daily Mail in the hands of the few, it is a struggle.
Politics and the news
The start of the 20th century saw the arrival of the first, Press Baron. The realisation here is the more papers you purchase, the more power you have.
Back then the internet was not a consideration and newspapers were trusted. Print the right headline at the right time and people would believe you. This was seen with the toppling of the Asquith government in 1916. Lord Northcliffe by this point had enough papers in the palm of this hand that, if he did not wish for a certain ruling party to be in power, he could dethrone them. It was the first example of the press moving beyond the impartial and into the egotistical.
The most recent Press Baron is Rupert Murdoch. He owns the Times and the Sun. A broadsheet and a tabloid-style paper, both influenced by one owner with political leanings. The Mail is now owned by Viscount Rothermere and therefore, two Billionaires own half of the top ten newspapers in the United Kingdom.
The news and in particular, newspapers have been required to become popularist, highlighting political scandals when appropriate. Print the right story at the right time and you can remove anyone that you wish to from power. It is not right but it is the full circle that is journalism. Freedom came and went in favour of circulation and viewers.
The Golden age of journalism is dead. Most stories are written in favour of the newspapers political ideology. All you need to do is look at the headlines during the year leading up to the Brexit Vote. From blaming Europe for the poor weather to promoting betting odds on a leave vote.
Power and influence inform circulation. The newspapers have been split into audiences and the journalists writing stories that place fear into the mind of the reader. Fear is control and can be manipulated into influencing the decision making of ordinary citizens.
We need the news and so this will never change. It will always be there but as each year passes, it becomes more and more sensational to the point now where no-one really believes anything that they hear.
With the loss of the golden age of journalism comes the shattering of illusions and the loss of trust. When was the last time that you read an article and completely trusted the content?