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

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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 topics discussed in these magazines were ‘avid for information and were subjects which were fit for family conversation’.In 1894, Harmsworth entered the newspaper field, purchasing the nearly bankrupt London Evening News and transformed it into a popular newspaper with brief news reports, a daily story, and a column for women.  In 1896 the profits from this venture led Harmsworth to launch the Daily Mail. Harmsworth was ennobled as Lord Northcliffe, and used many ideas that had been generated during the run of ‘Answers to Correspondents’ in the Daily Mail. Announced as “the penny newspaper for one halfpenny” and “the busy man's daily journal,” it was suited to the new reading public. Although news headlines remained, at first, modest in size, they were used far more than in any previous paper. It comprised of small features, adventure and human interest stories and readers letters. It prided itself on being a respectable family paper, and did not contain too many stories of sex and scandal. Northcliffe’s ‘half penny’ Daily Mail established a world record in daily newspaper circulation, and eventually spread readership of cheap daily newspapers to the working classes.

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In the quest of gaining new readers he launched the Daily Mirror in 1903, which was a magazine only for women, and it employed only female employees. Unfortunately, it did not very well and in 1905, it was revamped as an illustrated paper and soon came to be called ‘The Picture Paper’. In 1908, he reached the pinnacle of his career by securing control of The Times, which he transformed from a 19th-century relic into a modern newspaper. Though Lord Northcliffe died in 1922 in London the contributions made by him to the British press will always be remembered. After ...

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