It’s been over a week since Gavin Sheriff and Darryl Smith shut up shop for their last ever Friday at the Dundee-based Sunday post in Fleet Street. As the last Fleet Street newspaper takes it final bow, we examine how changes in technology over the decades have had a direct hit on the way we receive our information and the professionals who provide it.
How times have changed. When the first British newspaper the Daily Courant was published in Fleet Street in 1702, news was printed using plates which had been engraved with the story before being inked and pressed onto paper. The newspaper consisted of a single page with advertisements on the reverse. As the century wore on newspapers were printed as little as once a month and government taxes were imposed to attempt to control the spread of information. After all, knowledge is power and the leaders of the country were unlikely to welcome any oppositional views. Nevertheless by 1767 the number of newspapers sold in Britain stood at 11,300,980.
By the 19th century there were 52 London papers and over 100 other titles with The Times beginning life in 1785 as The Daily Universal Register. Despite rising taxes, the tone of many newspapers was fiercely revolutionary and the productivity of newspapers increased greatly as steam powered the printing process. The speed of reporting also changed with the telegraph system in the late 1800s transmitting messages from across the country, easing the accessibility to breaking news and giving journalists a brisk writing style that is still used in news reports today. 11,300,980 English newspapers became 122,000,000 by 1854.
By the 1930s over two thirds of the population was estimated to read a newspaper every day whilst the onset of radio broadcasts meant that the nature of journalism was to change again. Radio provided the fastest and most up-to-date coverage as stories developed. Journalists had to speed their reporting up and an audience that was used to getting yesterday’s news today would have access to breaking stories for the first time. Long-distance broadcasting furthered the globalisation of media coverage at a time when the planet was in the grips of the Second World War.
“Today’s news will be tomorrow’s fish and chip wrap!”
Of course, not long after radio came to the fore did television become the next big thing with actual faces on a screen reporting the news. The BBC’s Richard Baker broke the first daily TV news story about French troop movements in Tunisia.
For a time, newspapers, magazines, radio and television lived in relative harmony. Of course journalism was adapted to suit either medium but there was an established reliance and trust on these formats to provide the world with need-to-know information.
As the internet dial-up tone rang in homes across the country in the late 1990s print journalists should have heeded the warning. Before long instant access to news stories online via PCs, laptops and mobile phones via broadband and 4G saw newspaper sales drop astronomically. Print advertising revenues fell by 15% during 2015 and a further 20% drop is predicted over the course of this year.
Add to this the dormant mistrust in media corporations left resonating in the wake of the phone hacking scandal of 2011-12 and we’re left with an empty Fleet Street – or at least a journalist empty Fleet Street.
Cheeky tip – you can still visit the El Vino wine bar which was the first famous journalists’ drinking establishment and it still looks the same as it always did.
Journalist watering hole El Vino banned women until 1984
Where are they now?
Journalists still exist but today they have to be super dynamic. News has to be readily adaptable and available via a number of platforms such as YouTube, social media and personal blogs with televised coverage often spliced into videos that can be streamed online.
Journalism has also become anybody’s game. The ability to generate and self-publish news is now in the hands of anyone with an internet connection and digital reporters have to listen to the audience conversation to inform their next decisions. The audience decide what’s considered news-worthy, what tone to adapt and what issues and trends are going to receive the biggest surge in traffic to boost online advertising sales.
The problem with this is that there’s now a profusion of news content online, some of which is terribly written and falsified just to get click-throughs. We can always rely on traditional news websites such as the BBC, The Telegraph and The Independent for reliable insights into current affairs but how long will it be before the nature of journalism metamorphosis’s again?
Will the rise of virtual reality (VR) mean news broadcasts where the audience is immersed directly within the warzone? How will audience participation work in this format? When does the multitude of new stories become just too much news?
Is the digital world becoming, dare I say it, just too noisy?
I for one love to indulge in the quiet of a back-to-basics reading of The Evening Standard from time-to-time, don’t you?