Newspapers: a digression

December 6, 2015

pravda39It occurred to me that I have spent a lot of time reading newspapers; I’ve been fascinated by them since my youngest years, and indeed have collected them since then, newspapers from all parts of the world bought back by friends and acquaintances who have visited far-flung parts, and newspapers recording great events during my lifetime. Note to readers: I’m still looking for a newspaper in Mongolian script, from that country…). I remember exploring derelict houses looking for old newspapers in my younger days, and finding them, too.

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Newspapers contain frozen glimpses of the past, and that’s one of the reasons I find them so appealing: a history book has an overview, the benefit of hindsight, reflection and analysis, whereas a day’s paper only has what is known up to the previous evening, along with the unknown. So, my copy of The Daily Telegraph dated 7 June 1944 tells us that the Allies have successfully landed in Normandy – that’s all. Yes, now we know that they weren’t flung back into the sea by the Nazis, but readers on that day didn’t, and their perspective was different, and it’s only by going back to the newspapers of the time that we can perhaps understand that.

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Newspaper history seems to me to fall into four eras. There is the period of print only, lasting from the seventeenth to early twentieth century: very sober-looking newspapers, with small print and small headlines, usually only the width of a single column. Pictures appear after the end of the Great War; there are what we recognise as headlines, there are greater efforts with layout and design, and often newspapers of considerable beauty. When we get to the 1990s, colour begins to replace monochrome, eventually driving it out completely, and often producing something rather garish, too concerned with being eye-catching rather than informative, desperate to be as good as TV when that wasn’t possible. And the most recent transformation is still ongoing, with the transfer from print to the web; no-one is sure how far this will go, whether print newspapers will survive or disappear, and whether this will be any great loss or not… Personally, I can’t see the daily print editions of newspapers surviving much longer; I think we may revert to weekly editions, perhaps more magazine-like; indeed this seems to be happening in some countries.

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Britain has some of the oldest newspapers in the world, such as The Times, The Observer and The Guardian; other countries have had to re-invent their press after the Second World War, such as France, where all the dailies had collaborated with the wartime regimes and were shut down; newspapers had to be re-invented in Germany too, many having disappeared voluntarily post-1933 and the rest having been assimilated into the Nazi press. Post 1989, many of Eastern Europe’s newspapers have managed to re-invent themselves after being government mouthpieces for many years… you can still get Pravda, though Lenin might not recognise it!

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Newspapers are ephemera. Many items in my collection are yellowing and crumbling. They were perhaps much more powerful in the past than they are now, sidelined as they are by television and the internet, with plummeting circulations and increasing irrelevance. But their disappearance would be a great loss, I think.

 

 

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3 Responses to “Newspapers: a digression”


  1. Just today I saw a photo from someone I follow on twitter of an old newsparer found under the floorboards of their apartmetn in Paris, this was her comment:

    Found by our builder under floorboards in our new flat ..an article dated 1942 from a collaborationist newspaper

    Fascinating!

    Like


  2. Oops, sorry for the typos.

    Like

  3. litgaz Says:

    Yes, somewhere in my collection I’ve a couple of French papers from that era; they do make strange reading. And a French edition of Signal, which was like a Nazi version of Time magazine.

    Like


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