The Written Press in Great Britain

La presse écrite anglaise n’a cessé de se transformer au cours de son existence et a aujourd’hui développé son propre style. Les tabloïds, très à la mode au Royaume-Uni, sont la preuve la plus frappante de l’originalité de la presse anglaise. Depuis le début du XXIe siècle, comme partout dans le monde, la presse anglaise a subi de plein fouet l’arrivée de la presse en ligne : la récente fermeture de The Independent, et l’échec du lancement du nouveau journal The New Day témoignent des difficultés que peut rencontrer l’industrie de la presse aujourd’hui.


Today’s written press doesn’t have the same format it used to have. In the 15th century, loose-leafs were published less frequently and used to tell important events. In the 16th century, communication and information means used lampoons, which allowed everyone to spread propaganda for his group and his ideology. Since they were considered to be factors of tension, states imposed censorship from 1632 to 1638.

The oldest English newspaper is The Oxford Gazette, later called The London Gazette. Published for the first time on 7 November 1665, it was founded by Henri Muddiman. This newspaper is very different to those offered for sale today because it was hand-written and sent by the Royal mail to subscribers. There was no print edition offered to the general public.

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In 1720, there were twelve London newspapers and twenty-four provincial newspapers. The first one which acquired national importance was Daniel Defoe’s weekly, The Review in 1704. As for The Times, it has been a great daily since 1788.

During the 19th century, newspapers became accessible to a large number of people: thanks to new manufacturing techniques, the cost of newspapers decreased. During that period, the subscription system was developed and the delivery got faster thanks to railways.

As production costs decreased, more and more newspapers were created. Among them, there was a very particular newspaper category: tabloids. What is called “the popular press” was created in the early 20th century. One of the first tabloid papers was The Daily Mirror (created in 1903) which still exists nowadays.

In their book Tabloid Century: the popular press in Britain 1896 to the present, Adrian Bingham and Martin Condoy deal with the context and the reasons that led to tabloids (such as people’s will to have more information about what is going on in the country and maybe have a laugh too).

Today, tabloids are important for the British economy as they are really competitive papers, while in other countries we find only a few of them. There are so many of them in Great Britain that they often need new scoops to be the most attractive ones. The Sun, is currently the leading newspaper in the country with a circulation of around four million. In fact, tabloids are the guilty pleasure of British people and some even qualify them as « a national delight in base pleasure and ritual cruelty ».

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But the arrival of new technologies turned the newspaper industry upside down. As some very famous papers try to adapt, new entrants are challenging them.

On the one hand The Independent, a centre-left British paper established in 1986, stopped its paper publication to go digital-only on March 26th because of its decrease in sales. Indeed, in the late 1980s, the newspaper sold 428,000 papers a day whereas sales recently collapsed to 28,000 a day. The daily edition of The Independent is now available exclusively online for 2.99 pounds per week. It is the first British newspaper to take the radical decision to stop printing its newspaper and go online only.

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As The Independent stopped its print edition, the newly published The New Day similarly ceased its print edition. The brand new daily was launched on February 29th. It was an important event in Great Britain because the last newspaper to be founded was The Independent in 1986. Since there was a collapse in sales as readers increasingly went online, The New Day’s decision to have an exclusively print edition appeared to be paradoxical. Publishers announced that their editorial line would be “optimistic” and “politically neutral” which would make The New Day unique.

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Before the release of The New Day, publishers’ will was to sell about 200,000 copies a day. On May 5th, only 40,000 copies of the newspaper were sold. The adventure lasted a little bit more than 2 months. On May 6th, the newspaper closed its doors.




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