The dominance of the national press in the twentieth century was caused by a number of factors that had occurred during the nineteenth century as well as the twentieth. One aspect that may have influenced the national press during the twentieth century was that journalists and newspaper companies had more freedom. There were fewer restrictions for journalists and newspaper companies to follow. The national press’ growing dominance during the twentieth century was due to many different factors; people were more educated in the twentieth century, they had more money, more free time and people knew what they wanted. This essay will explore the factors that caused the press to grow so much in such a short time.
By the twentieth century the press was free from taxation. The stamp act, which had taxed knowledge, was abolished in 1855 enabling newspapers to charge as little or as much as they liked. Cheaper newspapers meant more consumers. This led to increased competition between rival newspapers. With all the newspapers dropping their prices the control of the national press definitely grew, more newspapers were being produced meeting high demands from consumers. People were also starting to earn more money during this period giving them a higher disposable income. They could afford to spend more on leisure.
The growth of the national press in Britain during the twentieth century was parallel to what was occurring in society. During the twentieth century, government realised that people needed more leisure time. Working hours were reduced and people were starting to get paid better. With more money and time, people bought more newspapers and magazines contributing to the national press’ growth. Before working hours were reduced it was the Sunday papers that had the most readers. Sunday was the day of rest for most people meaning they had more time to go out and read newspapers.
The Education Act of 1870 also caused the expansion of the press, more people were learning to read and write, arguably because of the press. Earlier arguments against the printing press were formed because not many could read or write, which some organisations such as the Church of England wanted to maintain. As the popularity of the press grew so did the number of people wanting to learn to read and write. By 1900 an estimated 97% of the British population were literate. With the growth of education and literacy came a thirst for more knowledge and during the twentieth century newspapers began to change their content.
During the period of the radical press politics had dominated the newspapers but now people wanted different reading material. Sensationalised journalism was introduced, “Get me a murder a day” is a motto from Alfred Harmsworth/Lord Northcliffe who owned a number of newspaper companies throughout his successful career. He wanted to keep readers interested with scandalous stories. The Sun newspaper is also famous for it’s sensationalised news style. Rupert Murdoch bought the paper in 1969, introducing tabloid red top news. He introduced the Page 3 Girl in 1971, reaching out to working class men and by 1980 the Sun’s circulation rose to over 4 million.
Consumers wanted to read about crime, sex and romance amongst other things. Newspapers grew more light-hearted, concentrating less on politics. With the newspapers meeting reader demands, circulation rates rose causing further development for the industry. Northcliffe started the trend of cheerful magazines by introducing games, puzzles and illustrations to attract buyers in his weekly publication ‘Answers’. Northcliffe also introduced prizes and free give-a-ways in his newspapers (aimed at the working classes) with some prizes of ï¿½100. This undoubtedly encouraged more people to buy the newspapers and magazines because at that time 100 was too large an amount of money to turn away. Answers sold 800,000 copies a week. The Daily Express also boosted their circulation to 2 million between the years 1918 and 1985 by using gimmicks.
Another reason that could account for the growth of the press was the technology used. Printing methods had enhanced greatly since being introduced in the fifteenth century and the invention of the Rotary press in 1868 and the linotype in 1876 enabled the printing world to produce more prints then ever before; more newspapers equals more money equals more growth. Linotype also improved the quality of the prints, making the newspapers more aesthetically pleasing. The two inventions, although invented in the nineteenth century made a big impact on the development of the national press during the twentieth.
The inventions of the telephone, telegram and typewriter also had a massive impact on the press. Both the telephone and the telegram increased communication, journalists were able to report more stories quicker to their newspapers. Due to this, the primary purpose of newspapers changed, their aim was to report a day’s events in each newspaper. And to keep up, readers had to buy newspapers everyday.