Read all About it! A History of the British Newspaper – Book Review, by Jo-Anne Hamilton

It is not surprising to learn that more newspapers are bought in Britain per capita than almost anywhere else in the world. Until very recently, the newspaper was a staple of everyday life for people up and down the country. So much more than 'tomorrow’s fish and chip wrapper', newspapers have educated, politicised and entertained readers for almost 400 years.

However it is looking more and more like the newspaper as we know it is nearing the end of the road. 

As news increasingly moves into the digital sphere, where it is reported with a speed that cannot be matched by the printed press, newspapers sales figures continue to drop. 

The Times made history earlier this year when it began charging for online content – and although this decision risks slashing visitor numbers (The Guardian recently reported that The Times is said to have lost almost 90 per cent of its online readership) it may well be the future of the newspaper.

At this time of change, it is very interesting to look at the origins of the newspaper. 'Read all About it! A History of the British Newspaper', by Kevin Williams, does just that, tracing the evolution of the newspaper from its early 17th century beginning; through the growth of the radical press in the early 19th century; right up to current day and Murdoch’s media empire.

I found the discussion on the rise of the tabloid in the 1970s particularly interesting. 

Rupert Murdoch bought The Sun in 1969 and quickly made it the country’s best-selling newspaper. As the content of the Sun became increasingly downmarket, the newspaper’s popularity soared. The Daily Mail and Daily Express were forced to become tabloid and the Daily Star was launched in attempt to keep up the fierce competition from The Sun. The period is often linked to a supposed ‘dumbing down’ of society – evidenced by a perceived vast drop in the proportion of general news carried by newspapers as pages filled up with ‘soft news’ about sport and celebrities, as well as promotions, gimmicks and cash giveaways.

Murdoch’s newspaper had changed the face of journalism. Of course, the influence of The Sun can still be felt today – perhaps most recently during the General Election in May.

Read all About it! A History of the British Newspaper does exactly what it says on the tin. It is an in-depth look at the evolution of the newspaper – encompassing its changing form, style and content from 1486 right up to modern-day. The book is by no means a light read, and while the level of detail Williams goes into may put off some readers, it is a comprehensive text for students. 

As the days of the newspaper actually being printed on paper begin to look numbered, it is interesting to look back and see where it all began.

Read all About It! A History of the British Newspaper, by Kevin Williams, is published by Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group. ISBN: 978-0-415-34624-5. Price $34.95

Jo-Anne Hamilton is an account manager with Axis Media Group.

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