Thursday, 14 October 2010

HCJ: Tabloid Nation

The Daily Mirror is hailed by Tabloid Nation as being the beginning of the modern day “Red Top” we see today-with the likes of The Sun being the epitome of just that in modern terms. To want to succeed in the tabloid industry, you essentially have to assume that the public are simpletons. Placate them and entice them in with pictures as opposed to text, make headlines big and eye catching so the regular member of the public doesn’t have to work hard to read it, and offer enticing prizes for questions impossible to answer. Such as “£1 a week for the rest of your life if you can accurately guess the sum of all the gold within the Bank of England”. Competitions like these were bound to send circulation through the roof, and the people behind the press (such as Alfred Harmsworth) knew just that, as at the age of 21 he created his first magazine called Answers. By offering cash prize competitions and giveaways which would attract up to 700,000 entries. When Harmsworth eventually created the Daily Mirror, it was described as being something “…of easy absorption by the most ordinary intelligence”, “something to look at on the way to work” and something to “prevent them [the people] from thinking”.

As well as Alfred Harmsworth as the so called “Chief” of the Daily Mirror, the team of journalists also included Hannen Swaffer who was responsible for the pictures which would embellish the front page of every edition. With more than an air of similarity to William Randolph Hearst and The Examiner, the front page was often adorned with photos that no other paper had. For example, Daily Mirror reporters were the first people to climb inside the mouth of Mount Vesuvius, and also the first people, despite the crew, to fly inside a Zeppelin airship. When the Titanic sunk on April 14th, by April 15th, the Mirror had obtained photos from a shop on Edgeware Road that no other paper had managed to get hold of and printed them the morning after. Amongst other ground breaking achievements, Swaffer is also responsible for setting up the relationship between the royal family and the tabloids, as on April 2 1904, he printed a groveling but profitable family photo of the royals within the paper. Circulation boomed to 71,000 and the Royals have since become detrimental to the Tabloid industry even to this day.
However, this relationship was almost threatened when the Mirror underhandedly obtained photos of the recently deceased King Edward laid on his death bed looking nothing short of skeletal, and then pasted it on their front page. Although circulation soared far past the 1 million mark, the paper waited with bated breath for retribution from the Royal family. Yet Queen Alexandra eventually spoke and stated she had in fact chosen the Mirror to print the photos because the newspaper was a personal favorite of hers. No doubt embarrassed to admit that the lowly little penny paper had so slyly got past her and her royal empire. Although a blessing to the normal eye, within the Tabloid world, this must have come has something of a disappointment, as a trip to the tower would have done wonders for circulation. Showing how little has changed with the old mantra of “any publicity is good publicity”.

When it comes to photographs for newspapers, both William Randolph Hearst, The Daily Mirror and even papers today understand that the more cute, pretty or eye catching the photo. The more readers will, sympathize, read or be interested in what you have to say. For example Hearst’s campaign to stop the Spaniards sending innocent people into concentration camps, was focused on Evangelina Cisneros, the so called “most beautiful woman in Spain”. She was the perfect candidate for a sympathetic story and a good front page.
In the same league, the Daily Mirror, albeit years later started a campaign of its own. Since no one in 20th century London cared or could do much about the plight of children and poverty stricken slums. The Mirror set up a campaign to save a poor little pit pony, which looked better in photos and as a bonus, the Lord Mayoress of London offered to buy the pony off their hands and look after it. Paving the way for future tabloids was the idea that most pictures contained either accidents, disasters, crime, royalty or sports.

Although Hearst was the first to start Investigative Journalism with his reporter Nellie Bly who would often do things like pretend to be insane and then report on the inside of an asylum-The Mirror would send their reporters to report on such things as the conditions of immigration travel between Liverpool and New York City. Continuing the trend of first-hand experience articles.

Even though nowadays female readers are seen as no different to male readers-(with the Daily Mail nowadays catering solely to a female audience with their woman section) in Harmsworth’s time, female readers were not so profitable since they didn’t have the vote, therefore trying to use the paper as a propaganda tool wasn’t so effective. In terms of political interest, Baldwin, the prime minister during World War I, complained about just that when he stated that the paper was no longer just a paper but “engines of propaganda”. This was brought about due to the fact that Harmsworth had sold off the Daily Mirror to his younger brother, Lord Rothermere. Rothermere was a fascist and had attempted to set up the Right Wing United Empire Party with his partner Oswald Mosley, who in turn was the leader of a right wing party called the “New Party”. At one point during 1931 they even tried to suppress Gandhi and his efforts for peace, stating
“Put Petter (their candidate) in and you put Gandhi out!”
Allied together they would promote their fascist beliefs in both the Mirror and in turn the Daily Mail. After falling out over a business agreement, the promotion for Mosley stopped and his supporters fell from 40,000, to just 5,000. Further emphasizing the power of the press.

Just after the First World War, the papers created a war themselves, albeit on a smaller scale. The Free Gift war. In 1922 The Herald started giving massive free prize giveaways to anyone who would buy their paper. By employing ex serviceman they also had a veritable army of people to promote the paper on the streets. Rival papers began to match or better every offer made by the Herald, including tea sets, mangles, books, kettles, coats, shoes and cameras. Lord Beaverbrook, owner of the Daily Express stated, in something reminiscent of the famous Churchill speech “I shall fight them to the bitter end”. War of any kind is a blessing to anyone within the tabloid or indeed newspaper in general, industry. As William Randolph Hearst so infamously but apparently said “You furnish the pictures, and I’ll furnish the war”. When war broke out after the USS Maine sunk, Hearst celebrated and asked readers to send in ideas for war strategies for the chance to win $1000. The Journal beat the 1million circulation mark the day of the sinking.

Peoples dependencies upon the Tabloids and newspapers was summed up during World War I, when The Mirror was arranged to be distributed amongst trenches as well as to the regular public. The public of course enjoyed reading about what their soldiers were going through out on the firing line, and the soldiers in turn enjoyed reading about what was going on in the regular world at home.

In terms of groundbreaking achievement during the time of Hearst, Northcliffe and Rothermere, Hearst created the template for every Tabloid with big headlines and pictures over riding text, with catchy headlines and hooks to suck readers in. A front page technique still being used today. Years later, another definitive moment came in the form of Harry Guy Bartholomew. Whilst working at The Mirror, he invented the Bartlane system. A machine that enabled pictures to be sent in a matter of minutes or hours as opposed to the days it took before, Soon enough the Daily Mirror and the New York Daily News were trading pictures daily.
These accomplishments in the world of press are the framework of the tabloid industry we see today.

No comments:

Post a Comment