Sources for the Study of Newspapers

  • Joel H. Wiener


In this paper I have tried to give some thought to the use of sources for the study of newspapers, and the unlikely result is that I am almost prepared to conclude that newspapers are too speculative, too problematic, to be used as sources at all. They present enormous difficulties and have many lacunae. In short, they resemble all too closely Corker’s comical definition of the news in Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop, that it is ‘what a chap who doesn’t care much about anything (else) wants to read’.1 Notwithstanding this scepticism, however, I believe that newspapers are perhaps the best general source we have for the study of many aspects of Victorian life, including both its enlightening features and its unanticipated pleasures and adventures.


Nineteenth Century Daily Mail Good Story Daily Telegraph Enormous Difficulty 
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  1. 1.
    Evelyn Waugh, Scoop (Boston, Mass., 1977) p. 191.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Lucy Salmon, The Newspaper and the Historian (New York, 1923) p. 35.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Virginia Berridge, ‘Content Analysis and Historical Research on Newspapers’ in Michael Harris and Alan Lee (eds), The Press in English Society from the Seventeenth to Nineteenth Centuries (Rutherford, NJ, 1986) pp. 200–18.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Thomas Catling, My Life’s Pilgrimage (London, 1911) p. 195.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Lucy Brown, Victorian News and Newspapers (Oxford, 1985).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    J. O. Baylen, ‘Politics and the New Journalism: Lord Esher’s Use of the Pall Mall Gazette’, in Joel H. Wiener (ed.), Papers for the Millions: The New Journalism in Britain, 1850s to 1914 (New York and London, 1988) pp. 107–42.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Stephen Koss, The Rise and Fall of the Political Press in Britain, vol. I (London and Chapel Hill, NC, 1981) p. 416.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    G. A. Cranfield, The Press and Society: From Caxton to Northcliffe (London, 1978) p. 119.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Here is another observation by Spender which makes much the same point: ‘The readers of the modern popular newspaper may frequently be heard saying that they hate its politics and pay no attention to its leading article, but they cannot help being affected by its headlines, its catch phrases, its presentation of the news, the stress which it lays on some things, the veil which it draws over others’. J.A. Spender, The Public Life, vol. II (New York, 1925) p. 111.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Another great Victorian editor, E. T. Cook, once stated: ‘To be interesting and to be helpful; those are the two essentials of the good Editor, and unless he interests us, he will not be able to help us’. J. W. R. Scott, Faith and Works in Fleet Street: An Editor’s Convictions after Sixty-Five Years in Journalism (London, 1947) p. 46.Google Scholar
  11. 12.
    Quoted in W. T. Stead, ‘Character Sketch: February: The Pall Mall Gazette’, Reviews of Reviews, VII (1893) 155.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Laurel Brake, Aled Jones, Lionel Madden 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joel H. Wiener

There are no affiliations available

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