Sunday, 29 January 2012

Tabloid Nation: Parts 2 and 3- Seminar Summary

In 1436, Johannes Gutenberg began work on perhaps one of the most important machines the world had ever seen; the printing press.

The device was a hand press in which ink was rolled over a raised wooden surface of block letters and then pressed against a sheet of paper. What made the printing press such an influential piece of technology was the way in which it enabled knowledge and theory to be distributed on a large scale, also cutting the cost of books. It provided a larger segment of the population with a variety of information, ensuring that libraries could store more at a fraction of the price before the machines arrival.

The printing press was just the beginning of a process that would see the way in which we share and distribute information evolve. It gave communities the gift of accessible knowledge from which scientific research and philosophical thought could form, also giving rise to the Age of Enlightenment.

The Age of Enlightenment refers to the 18th century in European philosophical terms. It was a time that saw a continued rise in the application of physics, chemistry, biology and philosophical theory. Thinkers of the Enlightenment believed in shedding the light of science to the world. The Printing Press was a clear way of distributing such information, making it incredibly empowering for those who wished to share their views with the world. Earlier work tended to focus on themes such as religion and business, but there was soon an influx of books being produced with a far wider range of themes.

Towards the end of the 19th century, printing was becoming more important than ever before. The arrival of the Steam-driven rotary press proved highly beneficial for The Times, which became the first newspaper to use the new system in 1814. The first edition produced using this method was released on November 28th, 1814. The steam-driven rotary press was capable of 1,100 impressions per hour, which meant papers could be produced quicker than before. Koenig and Bauer, the men behind the invention, went on to enhance the earliest built of the technology so it was able to print on both sides of a sheet at once.

Ruth Snyder was the first woman in the 20th century to be executed by means of the electric chair. Snyder had been found guilty of cold-blooded murder, brutally killing her wealthy husband after staging a break-in. Snyder was not alone in carrying out the crime, as her lover Judd Gray helped carry out the offence. The pair attracted the attention of the New York Daily News editor, Joseph Medill Patterson. Disregarding the dangers of libel, Patterson named Snyder as the murderer, encouraging the police to find evidence that would confirm her as the killer.

Above: Ruth Snyder makes the front page

Following the discovery of missing Jewellery under Snyder's bed, Patterson and the Daily News knew they had a big story. Following the day of Snyder's execution, the paper's front page ran with the headline: DEAD! This was accompanied by a graphic picture of Snyder strapped to the electric chair. The paper broke all sales records, adding over 300,000 sales to the previous record. At the time, the Daily News' success meant it had the highest circulation per head of population achieved anywhere in the world.

The statistics of the Daily News' readership following Snyder's story were a clear sign to the industry that shocking stories sold papers. This conclusion can be reached even today. Following the death of Colonel Gaddafi, The Sun ran with the headline: THAT'S FOR LOCKERBIE. Accompanying the headline was a large, graphic picture of the rulers bloodied body. This was a controversial choice to say the least. The Sun's use of the image led to the issue becoming a trending topic on Twitter, with users describing the image as 'disgusting' and 'tasteless'. Nevertheless, the image got people talking about the newspaper.

Tabloid Nation's description of the early growth of the newspaper reveals that many of the ideals writers stood for back then remain relevant today. The war between the New York papers meant that it was vital to stand out. It was around this time that papers began to include raunchy pictures and stories with a sexual appeal and of course, a shock factor. One of the Mirror's cartoon strips, introduced by Bart, was given an overhaul and made to be far more sexy. Put simply, sex sells.

Basil D Nicholson served as a features editor, bringing headlines such as “MATCH-MAKING MAMMIES SHOO SPINSTER LOVELIES TO GIBRALTAR TO GRAB A JACK TAR HUBBY” to Rothermere and Cowley's “Daily Sedative”. This was perhaps an extreme attempt at drawing in readers, but it seemed to work. Often, the stories below the headlines had very little to do with the actual headline. Instead, the headline served as a way of making a big initial impact.

As features editor of the Daily Mirror, Cudlipp decided to place a big emphasis on letters from readers. This was done for both market research purposes and also because it was a simple way of gaining material to publish. In 1938 the paper's “Live Letter” segment was born. The letters received showed the writers that thousands of woman had been attracted to the papers new sexy approach. Today’s tabloids use similar ideas. The Sun's agony aunt page, Dear Deidre for example, deals with relationship issues from readers. Bart and Cudlipp soon pushed the sexual themes of the paper even further, printing what was believed to be the first ever naked female to appear in a national daily newspaper. In the same year, the papers popularity soared when it covered a child abuse case. The scale of the reaction was shocking, but it was a sign that the paper had a tight grip on the nation.

Once Rothermere had left The Mirror, the paper essentially became non-political. However, by the late 1930's it couldn't afford to ignore the international issue of war and so took an anti-natzi stance. Today's papers often have a clear political allegiance. The Guardian, for example, adopts a liberal attitude. Editor Ian Katz confirmed the papers position, admitting: “It is no secret we are a centre-left newspaper”. Although the extent of newspapers political impact has come under debate in the past, in 1945 it seemed clear that The Mirror had a somewhat decisive impact on the outcome of the General election. Audience statistics had always been extremely important to the Mirror, with market research often being used to help make editorial decisions.

Tabloid Nation is clear to point out the legal issues that still pose a significant danger to today's Journalists. Around 1948 The Mirror became interested in the case of a murderer who drank the blood of his female victims. Without consulting Bolam (Editor ) Bart plastered the story onto the front page under the headline: VAMPIRE HORROR IN NOTTING HILL. It was accompanied with a picture of John Haigh in handcuffs. There was a significant legal issue here as the paper was passing judgement on the killer before a jury had been assembled and evidence had been provided under oath. It is a common rule that one is 'innocent until proven guilty', but this formula had not been followed in this instance. If a paper has done anything to alter the judgement of the Jury, then this is known as 'contempt of court'. The Judge in the case decided that due to the Papers choice of headline and accompanying picture, any reasonable person would assume Haigh was the killer, yet this had not been proven. Bolam took the wrap and was given a three month prison sentence. When he came out of prison, he was a different man and never truly recovered physically or psychologically.

By 1949 The Mirror was doing well, reaching daily sales of over 4 million. This placed it almost a quarter of a million ahead of the Daily Express. The two papers were tough competitors, supporting different political parties (With The Express supporting Conservative and The Mirror supporting Labour). After Beaverbrook's heavy investment into new presses the Express entered its Golden Age in the 1950's. The papers editorial team was vast, consisting of a large number of foreign correspondents.

The recent expansion of the Express got King and Cudlipp thinking and they began to remodel The Mirror as a more modern version of The Express. Changes were made in the newsroom and women were seen on the editorial floor for the first time in 50 years.

The power and influence of the press has always been big and a breaking news story has the potential to get the world talking. Cudlipp began devising what he called 'Shock Issues' of The Mirror which were a cross between advertising posters and political pamphlets. The front pages of the issues had a big impact, often using highly emotive language and images. The Shock issues dealt with subjects such as teen suicide, poverty and child abuse and proved to be a good idea for the paper as sales figures remained high.

Around the 1950's Cudlipp was in such a position that he could simply approach a writer, throw a big sum of money at them and demand they work for him. It was a position that gave his paper even more journalistic strength. It was around the same time that the paper took on the rather controversial “Cassandra”, actually known as William Connor. His column, which featured five days a week, could be particularly cut-throat in its nature. Today, Connor's writing would be summarised as sexist and homophobic. His work was certainly questionable at times, but never boring.

Papers were now so thin that they could be read through in a matter of minutes. Often, readers would purchase 2 or more papers because there wasn't much content. On top of this, the arrival of ITV in 1956 put the pressure on the tabloids. ITV was competing directly with the papers for advertising revenue and audiences. The Mirror was attempting to target the same core audience as ITV, which meant there was a marketing battle in full swing. The Mirror went through a mini-relaunch in an attempt to revive itself from the impact ITV was having. Today, the slow death of the newspaper is becoming increasingly obvious. This is far more noticeable in the States, where both readers and advertisers are migrating to online news. TV news coverage is more extensive than ever before and newspapers are feeling the pinch.

The Daily Express was on its way out in the 1960's, taking with it its old-fashioned writing style. The papers readers were dying out and as a result circulation plummeted. In contrast, the Daily Mirror was regularly selling over 5 million copies per day in 1964. It had placed itself as the world's biggest-selling paper. Naturally, this was a fact worth showing off. The paper adopted the slogan: “The World's Biggest Daily Sale” and placed it under the front page logo. Cuddlipp continued to batter the Daily Express with the help of Lee Howard, a quiet man with a quite obvious drinking problem who became an editor.

The Herald was also suffering. Its customers were dying and the paper had the lowest proportion of female readers. It was decided a relaunch could potentially save it and so Cudlipp and Herald editor Sydney Jacobson formed a plan. The new paper, known as the IPC Sun, was a triumph. The paper felt fresh. It was a fashionable paper appealing to women and a younger, 'cooler' crowd. In the first edition was the phrase: “We welcome the age of automation, electronics, computers. Will campaign for the rapid modernisation of Britain”. It went on to add: “Women are no longer trapped between four walls. They are released from household drudgery by labour-saving devices, gadgets and intelligent home-planning”. The new Sun sold over 3 million copies on its first day, thanks mainly to the extensive promotional campaign and TV advertisements.

The Sun's Lockerbie headline may have proved controversial, but it got the public talking

Fast forward afew years, and we find ourselves looking in awe at Rupert Murdoch's media empire. Murdoch himself was reported to have said how amazed he was he had entered the British newspaper industry with such ease. He inherited his media interest from his father and in 1968, bought the News of the World. Today, Murdoch owns a significant number of television assets, cable assets, magazines, internet sites and newspapers.

After acquiring the News of the World, Murdoch spotted an opportunity to obtain The IPC Sun for a fairly cheap sum. Murdoch flew to Rome to talk to print union leader Richard Bringinshaw, convincing him that if he were to hand over the paper Murdoch would ensure there would be no reduncancies. Soon enough, Murdoch had his hands on The IPC Sun, and decided to make it an exact copy of the Mirror in it's best years between the 50's and 60's. Murdoch invited Larry Lamb to meet him to discuss how he wanted to completely change the IPC Sun into a paper much like The Mirror. The two discussed the best way in which to compete with the rival paper and the meeting ended with Murdoch asking Lamb if he was interested in an editorial role at the Sun. Lamb accepted the offer.

Cuddlip mocked the Sun, saying he found its politics hard to work out. As far as he was concerned, the paper just consisted of average stories flung together, which were often bought-in agency stories. It was clear to even Cuddlip, however, that The Sun was doing far better than anybody would have guessed. It was particularly vulgar at points. The Times said: “Mr Murdoch has not invented sex but he does show a remarkable enthusiasm for its benefits to circulation”. The Sun even had extensive TV advertising and Murdoch soon bought a large stake in the London ITV company LWT.

Cudlipp left the Daily Mirror in 1974, as circulation was falling across the country. The sun continued to increase its sales faster than The Mirror was losing them. It was a clear sign of the developing world of the newspaper industry. The attempts to keep up with an ever-changing audience could make or break a newspaper, but it seemed Murdoch was in full control.

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