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What Was the Contribution of the ‘Press Barons’ To the Popular Press?

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WHAT WAS THE CONTRIBUTION OF THE 'PRESS BARONS' TO THE POPULAR PRESS? The modern daily press has emerged over a period of around 300 years, from the early 1600's to the early 1900's. During this period, increase in literacy levels, higher standards of living and increased purchasing power lead to the increase of publication and purchase of newspapers. The quality and facilitation of newspapers had greatly improved due to the development of printing technology, roads and railways. Telegraphs, telephones and typewriters enabled better methods of news gathering and contributed to the growth of the popular press. Lord Northcliffe, Lord Rothermere ,The Berry brothers and Lord Beaverbrook, popularly known as the 'press barons' contributed to the development of the popular press and each in their own way, has made an everlasting impression on the British press industry. Lord Northcliffe, originally known as Alfred Harmsworth was one of the most successful newspaper publishers in the history of the British press, and was a founder of popular modern journalism. In 1888, inspired by the success of Tit-Bits, a popular weekly of informative scraps, he decided to start a similar paper of his own called 'Answers to Correspondents'. He was financially supported by his brother Harold Harmsworth, and after the success of 'Answers to Correspondents' they started publishing several other magazines such as Comic Cuts, Forget-me-not and Home Chat.


The two Harmsworth brothers were very influential in the press industry and are recognized as the earliest 'press barons'. William Berry, son of an estate agent, was very well recognized in the press industry and was acknowledged as one of the press barons of his age. Though he started out in a small town in Wales he developed into a newspaper magnate. He moved to London in 1898 where he found work on the Investors' Guardian. In 1901 William started his own newspaper, Advertising World. It was a great success and provided the capital to start a series of new publications including the popular journal, Boxing. In 1915 Berry purchased the Sunday Times and improved its circulation to such an extent that it outsold its biggest rival The Observer. In 1919 he took over the Financial Times. After establishing Allied Newspapers in 1924 with his brother, Gomer Berry who later became Lord Kemsley, he acquired a series of newspapers and journals including the Daily Dispatch, the Manchester Evening Chronicle and the Sunday Chronicle. After the First World War they bought The Daily Sketch and The Graphic, which was originally started out by William Luson Thomas who believed that illustrations had the power to influence public opinion on political issues. In 1927 Lord Burnham, decided to sell his newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, to the Berry Brothers.


The combined circulation of all their newspapers amounted to over 13 million'7.Though there was fierce competition amongst them their rivalry lead to the overall development of the popular press. Even though the press barons are often accused of 'making use of newspapers as mere engines of propaganda, manipulated in order to further their political intensions'8 we cannot forget that it was their unrelenting efforts which helped us in witnessing the emergence of the popular press. This process included an increase in the different types of newspapers and periodical publications on an extraordinary scale. It also led to the gradual expansion of the total circulation of newspapers. Therefore the growth of the popular press finally brought the working class into society; who were earlier referred to as 'those dirty people with no names'. The growth of cheap dailies helped increase literacy and brought about awareness and thus improved readership. This therefore led to the institutionalisation within the daily press. Diverse techniques of writing and presentation developed in all papers but the popular press saw the emergence of mass market dailies which drove towards entertainment of its readers rather than circulation of serious news. The growth of the popular press supposedly dishonoured the conduct of politics by making them respond to what the people wanted than what the politicians thought was best for the nation. Though the press barons were blamed of using 'power without responsibility'9 we cannot forget that if not for them the popular press would not exist. Word Count: 1,807.

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