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The news explosion

Reuter's newspaper article

Lincoln assassinated! (1865) : Reuter's first big 'scoop'

By the time of the American Civil War (1861-1865), numerous attempts had been made to lay a transatlantic telegraph cable. None had worked - so far - but Reuter decided to be ready with an operation in Ireland, where the cable would come ashore. He laid his own line across Ireland, from Cork to Crookhaven on the west coast - the closest point to America.

In April 1865, as the Civil War ended, Reuter's preparations paid off with one of the 'scoops' of the century. A passing ship brought word of the assassination of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and Reuter was two hours ahead of his rivals in flashing the news to London. It made Reuter's reputation as being first with the news.

Reuters radio, news transmission, 85 Fleet St, London, c1959

The rise of the news agencies : news on the cable

The Reuters agency eventually extended its service to the whole British press as well as to other European countries. It also expanded the content to include general and economic news from all around the world.

As overland telegraph and undersea cable networks developed, the business expanded beyond Europe to include the Far East in 1872 and South America in 1874.

In 1883 Reuters began to use a 'column printer' to transmit messages electrically to London newspapers, and in 1923 pioneered the use of radio to transmit news internationally. In 1927 the agency introduced the teleprinter to distribute news to Fleet Street.

By this time it had powerful rivals - notably United Press International (UPI) and Associated Press (AP) from America, and Agence France Presse (AFP) based in Paris.

Balloon leaving Paris, beseiged by Prussian army, 1870

The Crimean War : rise of the foreign correspondent

The Crimean War in the 1850s was the first war of the telegraph age - and saw the first serious, organised effort by a newspaper to get news from their 'man on the spot.' This ushered in the era of the foreign correspondent. Naturally, covering major wars provided the first assignments for the new breed of journalist.

William Howard Russell's despatches for The Times inspired other newspapers to follow suit. He came to epitomise the foreign correspondent: cunning, determined, willing to brave all sorts of conditions to get the story, and attentive to detail with an occasional poetic streak. As Russell said later, he was 'the miserable parent of a luckless tribe'.

But Russell was soon overtaken by the type of reporting he had pioneered. During the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, he was being comprehensively outwitted and 'scooped' by his rival Archibald Forbes - who was better at gaining access to the telegraph.

Telephones at Coronation Press Centre, 1953

Explosion of newspapers : from battlefront to breakfast table

Modern newspapers were enabled by the telegraph. Indeed some owed their very names to the new technology.

The 'Daily Telegraph' was founded in London in June 1855 and within three months had become Britain's first one-penny newspaper - a forerunner of the mass circulation 'penny dreadfuls', such as the Daily Mail and Daily Express that would appear in the 1890s.

The telegraph changed the very nature of reporting because the news could be more immediate, with papers leaving space open for the latest update of what happened yesterday as opposed to a week ago. The telegraph also meant stories began to be written with the important news on top, in case the line was cut during transmission. In a city with many rival newspaper titles, like London or New York, the premium was being the first to get a 'scoop'.

A new type of journalism also emerged: a concise 'telegraphese' type of reporting that demanded lots of facts to answer the five Ws; Who, Where, When, What and Why. It was as radical an innovation in reporting then as the TV 'soundbite' is today.

Telegrams at Wembley cup final, 1935

Sports results : first with the score

The telegraph provided near-instant sports reporting, which opened up interest in local events to a national audience. Newspapers like the 'The Telegraphic News' published cricket results the following morning and the winners at the races were announced instantly to the delight of lucky gamblers across the country.

The racing authorities tried to ban telegraph reporters from their courses, worried that attendances at meets would dwindle. Getting the information became a game of cat and mouse between the two bodies. Tictac signals were relayed to telescope-peering journalists off the course, who immediately wired them back to base and race officials sometimes posted bogus results to confuse them, although by 1914 common interest ensured a compromise was pursued by both parties.

Marconi was the first to cover a sports event by wireless when he transmitted the results of the Kingstown Regatta, in Ireland, to a waiting newspaper that scooped the results before the boats were even back in harbour.

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what's on

The UK's first permanent gallery dedicated to the history of information and communication technologies opens in the new Information Age gallery at London’s Science Museum.

audio history

Take a trip down memory lane with extracts of the interviews which have been recorded as part of the Connected Earth oral history programme.

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