1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Reporting

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REPORTING, the art or business of reproducing in readable form, mainly for newspapers, but also for such publications as the Parliamentary or Law Reports, the words of speeches, or describing in narrative form the events, in contemporary history, by means of the notes made by persons known generally as reporters. The special business of reporting is a comparatively modern one, since it must not be confounded with the general practice of quoting, or of mere narrative, which is as old as writing. There was no truly systematic reporting until the beginning of the 19th century, though there was parliamentary reporting of a kind almost from the time when parliaments began, just as law reporting (which goes back to 1292) began in the form of notes taken by lawyers of discussions in court. The first attempts at parliamentary reporting, in the sense of seeking to make known to the public what was done and said in parliament, began in a pamphlet published monthly in Queen Anne's time called The Political State. Its reports were mere indications of speeches. Later, the Gentleman's Magazine began to publish reports of parliamentary debates. Access to the Houses of Parliament was obtained by Edward Cave (q.v.), the publisher of this magazine, and some of his friends, and they took surreptitiously what notes they could. These were subsequently transcribed and brought into shape for publication by another hand. Dr Johnson for some years wrote the speeches, and he took care, as he admitted, not to let the “Whig dogs” get the best of it; the days of verbatim reporting were not yet come, and it was considered legitimate to make people say in print what substantially was supposed to represent their opinions. There was a strict parliamentary prohibition of all public reporting; but the Gentleman's Magazine appears to have continued its reports for some time without attracting the attention or rousing the jealousy of the House of Commons. The publisher, encouraged by immunity from prosecution by parliament, grew bolder, and began in his reports to give the names of the speakers. Then he was called to account. A standing order was passed in 1728, which declared “that it is an indignity to, and a breach of, the privilege of this House for any person to presume to give, in written or printed newspapers, any account or minute of the debates or other proceedings; that upon discovery of the authors, printers or publishers of any such newspaper this House will proceed against the offenders with the utmost severity.” Under this and other standing orders, Cave's reports were challenged, with the result that they appeared without the proper names of the speakers, and under the guise of “Debates in the Senate of Lilliput,” or some other like title. France was Blefuscu; London was Mildendo; pounds were sprugs; the duke of Newcastle was the Nardac secretary of state; Lord Hardwicke was the Hurgo Hickrad; and William Pulteney was Wingul Pulnub.

In the latter half of the century the newspapers began to report parliamentary debates more fully, with the result that, in 1771, several printers, including those of the Morning Chronicle and the London Evening Post, were ordered into custody for publishing debates of the House of Commons. A long and bitter struggle between the House and the public ensued. John Wilkes took part in it. The lord mayor of London and an alderman were sent to the Tower for refusing to recognize the Speaker's warrant for the arrest of certain printers of parliamentary reports. But the House of Commons was beaten. In 1772 the newspapers published the reports as usual; and their right to do so has never since been really questioned. Both Houses of Parliament, indeed, now show as much anxiety to have their debates fully reported as aforetime they showed resentment at the intrusion of the reporter. Elaborate provision is made in the House of Lords and in the House of Commons for reporters. They have a Press Gallery in which they may take notes, writing rooms in which those notes may be extended, and a special dining-room. Reporting is nowhere carried to such an extent as in the United Kingdom, since in most other countries the newspapers do not find it sufficiently interesting “copy” for their readers to justify the amount of space required. Consequently the verbatim reports, though now no longer hindered by law, and made possible by shorthand (which was first employed in the service of parliament in 1802) and by all the arts of communication and reproduction, are considerably restricted.

But parliamentary work is only a small part of newspaper reporting. The newspapers in the beginning of the 19th century rarely contained more than the barest outline of any speech or public address delivered in or in the neighbourhood of the towns where they were published. After the peace of 1815 a period of much political fermentation set in, and the newspapers began to report the speeches of public men at greater length. It was not, however, until well into what may be called the railway era that any frequent effort was made by English newspapers to go out of their own district for the work of reporting. The London newspapers had before this led the way. Early in the 19th century, greater freedom of access to both Houses was given, and the manager of the Morning Chronicle established a staff of reporters. Each reporter took his “turn”—that is, he took notes of the proceedings for a certain time, and then gave place to a colleague. The reporter who was relieved at once extended his notes, and thus prompt publication of the debates was made possible. The practice grew until there was a good deal of competition among the papers as to which should first issue a report of any speech of note in the country. Reporters had frequently to ride long distances in post-chaises, doing their best as they jolted along the roads to transcribe their notes, so that they might be ready for the printer on arrival at their destination. Charles Dickens, whose efforts in the way of reporting were celebrated, used to tell several stories of his adventures of this kind while he held an engagement on the Morning Chronicle. One result was that the provincial newspapers were stimulated to greater efforts, and as daily newspapers sprang up in all directions, and the electric telegraph provided greater facilities for reporting, the old supremacy of the London journals in this department of newspaper work gradually disappeared. No public man made a speech but it was faithfully reproduced in print. Local governing bodies, charitable institutions, political associations, public companies—all these came in a short time to furnish work for the reporter, and had full attention paid to them. By the second half of the 19th century, parliamentary reporting was a leading feature of the London newspapers. They had a monopoly of it. All the reporting arrangements in the House of Lords and in the House of Commons were made with sole regard to their requirements. There had indeed been a long battle between The Times and some of the other London newspapers as to which should have the best parliamentary report, and The Times had established its supremacy, which has never been shaken. The provincial newspapers were in the main obliged to copy the London reports, and rarely made any attempt to get reports of their own. When the electric telegraph came into use for commercial purposes a change began. The company which first carried wires from London to the principal towns in the country started a reporting service for the country newspapers. In addition, it procured admission to the parliamentary galleries for reporters in its employment, and began to send short accounts of the debates to the newspapers in the country. These newspapers were thus enabled to publish in the morning some account of the parliamentary proceedings of the previous night, instead of having to take like reports a day later from the London journals. The telegraph companies (not yet taken over by the state) for a long time could or would do no more than they had begun by doing; and they offered no inducements to the provincial newspapers to telegraph speeches. The public meanwhile wanted to know more fully what their representatives were saying in parliament, and gradually the leading provincial newspapers adopted the practice of employing reporters in the service of the London journals to report debates on subjects of special interest in localities; and these reports, forwarded by train or by post, were printed in full, but of course a day late. The London papers paid little attention to debates of local interest, and thus the provincial papers had parliamentary reporting which was not to be found elsewhere. Bit by bit this feature was developed. It was greatly accelerated by a movement which the Scotsman was the first to bring about. About 1865, a new company having come into existence, it was agreed that wires from London should be put at the disposal of such newspapers as desired them. Each newspaper was to have the use of a wire—of course on payment of a large subscription—from six o'clock at night till three o'clock in the morning. This was the beginning of the “special wire” which now plays so important a part in the production of almost all newspapers. The arrangement was first made by the Scotsman and by other newspapers in Scotland. The special wires were used to their utmost capacity to convey reports of the speeches of leading statesmen and politicians; and, instead of bare summaries of what had been done, the newspapers contained pretty full reports.

When the telegraphs were taken over by the state in 1870 the facilities for reporting were increased in every direction. The London papers, with the exception of The Times, had given less and less attention to parliamentary debates, while on the other hand several of the provincial newspapers were giving more space than ever to the debates. These newspapers had to get their reports as best they could. The demand for such reporting had led, on the passing of the telegraphs into the hands of the state, to the formation of news agencies, which undertook to supply the provincial papers. These agencies were admitted to the reporters' galleries in the Houses of Parliament, but the reports which any agency supplied were identical; that is to say, all the newspapers taking a particular class of report had exactly the same material supplied to them—the reporter producing the number of copies required by means of manifold copying paper. Accordingly attempts were made to get separate reports by engaging the services of some of the reporters employed by the London papers. The “gallery” was shut to all save the London papers and the news agencies. The Scotsman sought in vain to break through this exclusiveness. The line, it was said, must be drawn somewhere, and the proper place to draw it was at the London Press. Once that line was departed from every newspaper in the kingdom must have admission. But in 1880 a select committee of the House of Commons was appointed to consider the question. It took evidence, and it reported in favour of the extension of the gallery and of the admission of provincial papers. The result was that three or four papers which would be satisfied with the same report joined in providing the necessary reporting staff. In other cases individual newspapers put themselves on the same footing as the London newspapers by engaging separate staffs of reporters.

The effect of telegraphic improvements may be partially gauged by the fact that in 1871 the number of words handed in for transmission through the British Post Office for Press purposes (special rates being allowed) was 22,000,000, and that in 1900 it had risen to 835,000,000. Meanwhile the evolution of the modern newspaper had brought many other kinds of reporting, besides parliamentary, into play.

What is commonly called “descriptive reporting” has in some cases nearly shouldered the reporting of speeches out of newspapers. The special correspondent or the war correspondent is a “descriptive reporter.” The “interviewer” came into great prominence during the “eighties” and “nineties,” and the influence of American journalistic methods, which made smart reporting the most valuable commercial asset of the popular newspaper, and the reporter correspondingly important, spread to other countries. No daily newspaper now confines its reporting to the affairs of the part of the country in which it is published. The electric telegraph has made the work of the reporter more arduous and his responsibility greater. The variety of work open to reporting causes considerable difference, of course, in the professional status of the journalists who do such work. This subject generally is discussed in the article Newspapers, but one instance of the recognition of the modern reporter's responsibility is worth special mention. In the year 1900, in the English case of Walter v. Lane (see Copyright), it was decided, on the final appeal to the House of Lords, that the reporter of a speech, printed verbatim in a newspaper, was under the Copyright Act of 1842 to be considered the “author.” Absurd as it might seem to call the reporter the author of another man's speech, the decision gave effect to the fact that it is his labour and skill which bring into existence the “copy” to which alone can right of property attach. Strictly speaking, he is the author of the report of the speech; but for literary purposes the report is the speech. It must, however, be borne in mind that there may be more than one verbatim report, and therefore more than one “author.”