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2.4 Comparing early sources of news

Radio and newsreels

Taylor compares the merits of radio and newsreels, as sources of news, with those of newspapers.

The value of radio as a communications medium had proved itself during the 1914–18 conflict following its development around the turn of the century by Marconi, Hertz, Popov and others.

The passing of the First World War soon saw the establishment of many national radio broadcasting organisations, the BBC being formed in 1922.

It was not long before regular news bulletins were being broadcast and despite the development of the technique of going over live to quote 'our reporter on the spot', which considerably enhanced the impact of the report, radio was of course not able to illustrate the news

Despite some imaginative painting of pictures with words, the newspaper industry did not regard radio as a threat but more as a useful advertising medium to alert the public to the fact that something interesting or dramatic had happened causing them to dash out to buy a newspaper to get the details and all important pictures to fill in the gaps in the radio report.

During the 1930s the ability to add live action sound onto film caused the cinema industry to explode onto the mass entertainment scene. The visual power of cinema as a news medium was quickly recognised and organisations such as British Movietone News and Pathe News soon established themselves with 'newsreels' which were a compilation of the week's best visual stories shot and made on high quality 35 mm film.

Despite the likelihood of the cinema goers already being aware of the newsreel stories, it was the combination of well-shot pictures with well-written, punch commentaries which made these newsreels very popular, especially during the Second World War where the visual impact was sometimes quite shocking with audiences unused to the realities of life frequently reduced to tears.

So it had taken around 100 years to develop a means and organisation from the original enabling telegraphic and photographics technologies to deliver moving news images to the public albeit somewhat later than the actual event.

In the meantime, the newspapers continued to be the primary source of news for the public.

(Taylor, 1995)

I was struck here by Taylor's comment that the public would 'dash out to buy a newspaper to get the details and all-important pictures to fill in the gaps in the radio report', because I will still buy a newspaper to get more details about a topic – even if I've seen pictures on TV. This raises the question of how much information you can get from different media (I believe I get more from the newspaper than from a TV report). There are also perhaps differences in the nature of the information that you can get from different media, with more comment and analysis in newspapers.

'[T]he ability to add live action sound onto film' mentioned by Taylor is significant because there was no sound on early film (as in 'silent movies'), and mechanisms for recording sound onto film alongside the images came later (in the 1930s). The methods used were analogue.

The reference to 35 mm refers to the width of the film. The wider a film, the bigger the picture and the higher the quality of the projected image. However , as Taylor discusses later in the paper , the equipment needed for filming in a narrower width (16 mm was used) was lighter and more portable.

Activity 2

From your reading of this material and your understanding of the media, list the merits and limitations of each of: newspaper, radio and newsreels, as a source of news during the 1920s and 1930s. How does today's television news compare?


Newspaper. Merits: (still) pictures, details of news stories, and you can choose when and at what pace to read. Limitations: delay (not live), no moving images, no sound.

Radio. Merits: live reports, sound. Limitations: no images.

Newsreels. Merits: moving images, sound. Limitations: delay (not live).

Today's television has the merits of radio and newsreels – live reports with sound and moving images – but often not as much depth and analysis as you can get in newspapers, nor does it have the time flexibility of newspapers.