Cutting remarks

LONG before the days of the internet and computers, when journalists wrote using typewriters — and newspapers were produced using type that was laboriously put together by machines using molten metal to create individual columns and headlines, after printing, each edition would then be taken apart by someone with a pair of scissors.

Those news items and features about key individuals and events would be filed — sometimes in folders, often in manila envelopes. Each would be recorded on index cards, kept in banks of wooden cabinets.

Clippings from a paper’s own journalists would be supplemented by those from other titles. Reports and other documents might be kept too. Each would be conscientiously recorded on the index cards, cross-referenced and dated.

Before the internet, intranets and search engines, those files provided probably the only — and priceless — source of information for journalists about such events and individuals.

Now, this previously unknown and unappreciated perspective on many communities around the United Kingdom could be lost forever - because those running the huge corporate conglomerates that publish newspapers today don't know about their assets or their social and historic value.

To financially-driven executives and accountants, these libraries don't have a value (and certainly not one that can be quantified and put into a spreadsheet) simply because they are priceless — and their worth is social and historic, rather than financial.

Owning and running a newspaper is unlike other manufacturing industry — simply because the social aspects of widgets are relatively limited. Newspapers — like football clubs, for example — play a vital and unquantifiable role in the life and the social, political and cultural wellbeing of any community.

Destroying newspaper cuttings libraries is comparable to amputating (a small) part the body of any community. That flesh can never be replaced. It can never be seen by generations to come.

Individual attempts to convince those at the highest echelons of the UK newspaper publishing industry of this have been ignored — for years. Presserve is a rallying call for strength in numbers to inform and educate those executives — and convince them that they have responsibilities towards the communities their papers cover as well as to their shareholders.

Presserve campaigner Michael Meadowcroft has been been using the Yorkshire Post clipping files for more than 40 years.

“These libraries don't have a value ... simply because they are priceless — and their worth is social and historic, rather than financial.”

In the halcyon days the library had a superb chief librarian and a number of assistants who maintained the files and amassed a reference library that could produce a rapid results information service for Yorkshire Post and Yorkshire Evening Post journalists.

Over the years, as the economics of regional papers started to suffer and as the availability of information on the internet increased, newspapers cut back on their in house library services, until the YP›s clippings files ended up in locked unattended rooms while a single librarian also carried out a multitude of other tasks.

These files are priceless. They go back to about 1910 and provide a quick and effective reference source on individuals and events. If they cannot be effectively conserved and protected at the newspaper itself they need to be digitised and made available to local historians and researchers.

The closures and amalgamation of regional and local newspapers threaten many libraries.

The British Library does an excellent job of conserving and digitising historic newspapers, but because clipping files are internal and largely hidden away, they are simply not widely known - and their value unappreciated.

Presserve wants both to conserve these invaluable and remarkable archives - so they can become public and ensure that the historic information they contain is widely available.

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January 2013

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