British Pathé and Modern-Day News Reporting

When I heard the wonderful news that British Pathé had released their newsreel archives on to YouTube, I decided to write a blog post. The topic was to be the exciting potential of the comment function to provide a means for ‘common people’ to share their views on the content, thus re-casting the British imperialist narrative of our history in a fresh light.

Have you ever read any YouTube comments?

Most are inane; many are offensive; some are thought-provoking. The ones on the British Pathe videos are no exception.

After watching a good number of the videos, it was a different theme that crystallised in my mind. The selection of content provides a potent reminder of how we should approach the ‘newsreels’ of our present day – the 24-hour channels, the live-tweet sessions, the daily Kindle download.

A notable focus is the ‘freak show’ theme – the subjects are huge babies, dwarves, people of any appearance that is slightly unusual. We are now predisposed to mock the quaintness of these presentations, not only as offensive, but as pointless distractions.

False but ‘amusing’ news, like reports on big babies and short people, serves those in power, as it diverts the reader’s interest from matters of politics, things which actually affect their daily lives.

Their form has changed, but the distractions are still here. Celebrity magazines and ubiquitous football chat, for example. It pays to be aware of this.

Notably absent in the videos are the faces, thoughts, opinions of any African-Caribbean people in the UK. On a separate note, the news reports focus overwhelmingly on the UK, and not outside of it.

These facts of course are not surprising to us in the context of this bygone era. It may seem that I am stating the obvious. Nevertheless, it reminds us of the extent to which all news is shaped by social and cultural conventions and limitations.

It might encourage us to ask ourselves how our current news reporting is shaped by when, where and how it is produced. It may lead us to seek a variety of different news sources; and to think about what is absent from what we see and hear about on a daily basis.


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