Wofull Newes from Wales: Details at 11. News, Newsreels, Bulletins and Documentaries
Ever since, for the sake of securing funding, John Grierson made a strong distinction between documentary and newsreel, these two modes, although sharing exactly the same claim on the real, have been positioned as distinct. It is, however, a distinction which turns exactly on the presence of ‘news’ but grounding difference on this basis is difficult. This is because the concept of ‘news’ in play is largely un-interrogated.
The confusion is that the newsreel wants to be ‘news’ (to be different from documentary which, certainly, is not necessarily news although it can be) while equally necessarily acknowledging that it is not ‘news’ in received terms. Periodicity, subject matter and format are used to prove the ‘news’ in newsreel is not as is the news elsewhere. Newsreel studies are therefore, au fond, caught in a dilemma.
This chapter argues that the problem is grounded in an ahistorical, limited and assertive notion of ‘news’. It reveals that any history of the printed news over the last half-millennium shows it involves a democratization of commercial information and a political tool blended with providing a diet of titillation and comment. This agenda is not dependent on the technology of the press as it antedates it and was easily reformulated for new media in the past century. Moreover, it retails ‘truth’ as a species of branding rather than a guarantee of veracity. In this, it is, and always has been, a species of entertainment caparisoned (sometimes) in sobriety.
So the newsreels are, by this measure and easily so, ‘news’. But I will further argue that does not distinguish them from documentary. They both share (as does printed and broadcast news) the same claim on the real and that this is of far more significance than any supposed difference based an ill-understood concept of ‘news’.