14 April 2010

Arts and Media: British Newspapers

By Michelle Styles

The history of the newspaper is really tied into the development of the printing press. Although various proclamations and tablets announcing the news were in use during Roman times, the news sheet did not get its start until cheap printing became available. The first newspapers as such were developed in the 16th century--Requests of the Devonshyre and Cornyshe Rebelles is recognised at the first newspaper. The first titled newspaper--The Courant was published in 1621. However, freedom of the press was something that had to be fought for, rather than a right easily granted.

Knowing the power of the emerging press, Cromwell suppressed all the newspapers in 1649 on the eve of Charles I's execution. And it was not until after the reign of Charles II that newspapers began to be a force again.

Under King William, Berrow's Worchester Journal started in 1690. It is still published today.

It took until the start of Queen Anne's reign in 1702 for a regular daily journal to be published in London--The Daily Courant--but the paper did not have many of the features that we would take for granted today. For example sport only started being reported around 1820.

A number of surviving newspapers started in the early 18th century such as the Belfast News Letter which is the oldest surviving daily newspaper. However, freedom of the press was something that took longer to establish. In 1738 the right to report on parliament was suppressed and in 1763 John Wilkes was prosecuted for seditious libel for openly reporting about parliamentary proceedings. The right to report on parliament was regained in 1771. But the right to a free press was not fully there and when you look at the British newspaper history, you can see why Freedom of the Press was such an important addition to the Constitution of the United States.

The first publisher of The Times, John Walter went to jail in 1083 for publishing things that the king did not like about the Duke of Cumberland as well as foreign news. (The Times is known as The Times, not the London Times or The Times of London because it was the first paper to use the name and it has lent its name to other papers. The font Times New Roman is also named after the paper.) The editor of the Examiner Leigh Hunt went to jail in 1813 for daring to criticise the Prince Regent.

With the Libel Act in 1835, truth is allowed for the first time to be used as a defence in such cases and press freedom in Britain was fairly secure. With such freedom came 'new journalism' in the 1880s which allowed for interviews and gossip columns.

However, even today, journalists do have to fight battles--to protect sources and to have the right investigate stories.

Michelle Styles is an avid reader of newspapers and is particularly grateful that newspapers such as The Times have kept their archives. Her latest UK release is COMPROMISING MISS MILTON. Her latest US release is A NOBLE CAPTIVE.