As we look at the fall and decline of newspapers as we knew them in the U.S., I came across a recent article in The Telegraph from London. It highlights the origins of the newspaper in London circa 1700. The Monitor came alive as laws on libel changed in England and spurred a revolution in how news was spread and shared in the culture that eventually shaped our own. “Fleet Street: the surprising origins of Britain’s newspaper industry.” By Dr. Matthew Green appeared today and is very enlightening. I hope you’ll take a moment to read the article; it’s a lively read, and great insights
The Daily Courant was England’s first daily newspaper, and the first daily Fleet Street paper, The Monitor are at the genesis, making Fleet Street synonymous with daily news in Great Britain. What started with those papers quickly grew to “31 papers – six dailies, 12 tri-weeklies and 13 weeklies – were being hawked on the streets of London, with an average combined weekly circulation of 100,000.”
Dr. Green, the author, points out that the news was always partisan. Attempts to the contrary to paint it, as ‘vessels of truth and enlightenment’ are just wrong. We now see that “plagiarism was rife” government scandals ruled the day and writers, well known today like Daniel Defoe, wrote for pay from the highest bidder.
Fleet Street is still the home to the England’s news today, but a lot has changed. Now all of the papers have digital editions, many of which I read on a regular basis. They are also heavily in broadcast media – cable in England, and their impact is pervasive. Recent scandals on their impact and taping of cell phones have lead to the Leveson Inquiry on the link to newspapers and politicians as well. I guess in many ways little has really changed over 4 centuries.
Like the growth of the internet and later online news version of printed papers, and then wholly digital publications like Huffington Post, the original growth of printed papers from Fleet Street “triggered a new addiction, something the journalist Joseph Addison defined in 1712 as a ‘news frenzy.”
What we see from this profile is that, actually, little has changed. There is a strong desire to know what’s going on, people will pay, and everyone loves gossip. Four centuries later we still love gossip and salacious news, partisan politics helps to drive the news cycle, and we still pay…though that is probably the crux of where the future of ‘newspapers” lies in the future.
Our daily news cycle still focuses on breaking news, and news of triumph and tragedy, murder and mayhem. Like the 18th century, we still love a scandal, and the bigger the better. If its not really that big, the press will make it big. Scandal is still key, but now we have better flaks and more media to help bury it. That and the fact that tomorrows news cycle will bring more scandal, so time, now ever fleeting will help to give it a faster death.
The biggest challenge for newspapers is that their business model, how to deliver the news and who pays for it, are changing. The dynamics of a 24-hr news cycle and free online content, perhaps not free forever, are key challenges for a print cycle that begins at midnight to deliver it to your driveway at 5am, are now stretched to, what many would say (me too!), is its ‘logical end.’
As we move forward it is also ‘logical’ for us to look to Fleet Street to see how the adapt to the digitalization of news, make it financially viable, and lead us to a future where we can still get all of the news…but still recognize that it will be as partisan as it ever was. ‘Everything old is new again!”