Old newspapers behave as a window. They provide us a glimpse into the past and present us with real clues to the zeitgeist of the time. It’s why the newspaper archive has for ages been a vital cog in historical research. It’s allowed people studying certain amount of history to gain an insight in to the approach of editors and the manner in which this approach was received by the readership. And whereas newspapers were undoubtedly at their peak in the UK from around 1860 to 1910, the influence of the printed press on the populace should not be underestimated. The media’s coverage of the 2 world wars, as reported in the home, are prime examples.
During World War One, as an example, there’s little doubt newspapers were fully likely to print what the government wanted. The government were desperate for the British people to trust what they had a need to believe. The result was no-holds-barred propaganda, in which the media bigwigs were happy to play along. Headlines at the time included “Belgium child’s hands cut off by Germans” and “Germans crucify Canadian officer”. naija news Both were nonsense, but old newspaper articles like this, as well as accounts of babies skewered on German bayonets, cemented public hatred of ‘the hun’ ;.Atrocities aside, facts and casualty figures were less than accurate, too, and were always ’tilted’ in British favour.
It had been a ploy that worked, though. In reality, it was the Brits’ brilliant usage of propaganda that would later serve as Hitler’s benchmark. He’d point to the success in ensuring German propaganda during World War Two was as effective as possible. His appointment of Joseph Goebbels as Reich Minister of Propaganda was also a shrewd move – evil yet gifted, Goebbels ensured German propaganda throughout the 30s and 40s was devastatingly effective.
As a result, it was imperative British propaganda competed with Nazi Germany’s during World War Two. Newspaper coverage played no small part in this and understandably fell consistent with the government’s will to control national morale, as well as keeping it as high as possible. But unlike 30-odd years previously, this is achieved with a mixture of both astute reporting and outright propaganda. Publications including The Daily Express, The Daily Mirror and The Times therefore played a vital role in shaping public perceptions of the war. They fed the public’s appetite with a calculated combination of pop culture on the main one hand and war coverage on the other. The latter was often delivered on a human and emotional level, by relating events to individuals.
Today, historians point to these old newspaper articles as playing an essential role in helping maintain the nation’s belief in the cause, particularly after 1939. A number of these papers, especially The Daily Express, served as Churchill’s mouthpiece and, when coupled with mediums like radio and cinematic propaganda, cemented and invigorated the country’s bulldog spirit. Consider it like this – historiography almost always suggests that as soon as a country’s morale is broken, their war is lost. Italy’s capitulation in 1943 was a case in point. It couldn’t occur to Britain. Thankfully, it didn’t.
Of course, the usefulness of old newspapers isn’t confined to providing historical accounts of war and suffering. They can also be used to gain perspective on anything you are already interested in. Getting hold of them isn’t an issue either, with websites allowing you to select a particular publication and date, often going back to the initial 1 / 2 of the 19th century.