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on 12 May 2005
Roy Greenslade - journalist and academic - has produced what must be the definitive history of the British press over the last sixty years. His approach is quite simple; he divides the half-century up into five year chunks and in one chapter he covers the business and human issues - who was buying/sacking/occasionally bedding whom, who was working where, how the relationships between proprietors, editors and journalists worked; in the next he'll cover the news agenda and political background to it.
There are several key themes in the book:
- the reduction in diversity, as the number of papers diminished
- the increasing political control exerted over papers by their owners
- the decline in quality (and rise in circulation) of the bottom-end tabloids
- the increase in readership of the 'quality' press
- the battles in the marketplace between papers competing for the same market sector
- the legal and regulatory framework surrounding the press.
- the "odd characters" that jourmalism throws up.
There is a lot to read here - it's a dense and often closely-argued book, with a lot of first-hand insight and anecdotes from journalists Greenslade has worked with during his long career. Keeping track of who worked where and when is important (particualarly when you remember there's three Cudlipp brothers!) but Greenslade is equal to the task of telling the story in a straightforward fashion.
An excellent recent history of the British newspaper for the general reader.
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on 21 December 2011
Roy Greenslade's history of British newspapers from the end of WW2 to 2004 gives a useful broad overview of the trends and characters of this industry as it reached its circulation heights and then when it started on what appears to be its irreversible decline.

If you want to know who succeeded who in the editor's or owner's chair, how old they were when appointed and even what school they went to, then this may be the book for you.

But these short, or very short, portraits by Greenslade (often of people he knew) are often marked by unsupported one word summaries of his targets (more often than not dismissive) rather than attempting to analyse what he thinks they may have got wrong (and right).

This short-cut and personality-based approach, in a very long book, makes it unfortunately read like a long shaggy dog story, with an endless conveyer belt of characters and briefly addressed incidents that you forget as you turn the page, and which is incapable of reaching a conclusion or any deep insight into why these papers rose and now fall.

'Press Gang' would need lots more detail to make it a useful history - an analysis of contents in different papers at the same time or in individual titles over time; some graphs showing circulations; details of newspaper costs in real terms or other features to give it the depth that this former tabloid newspaper editor fails to deliver.
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on 28 October 2003
How prescient of Mr Greenslade to use the coverage of the Royal Family as the spine that binds his book together. In the month when we have seen more revelations about the Monarchy from a man who was once a butler to the late Princess Diana Mr Greenslade's book is timely. He argues with elegance and intellect that the tittle tattle of the popular press is and will always be sustained per se by such entities as the Royal Family. The serious newspapers may hurrumph and disapprove and wish people were more interested in serious affairs but Mr Greenslade poo poohs this as sheer snobbery. He insists it was his task as Editor of the Daily Mirror to turn his back on news that was of no interest to his readers and to give them what they wanted which was gossip. Wrong perhaps in an ideal word he concedes but necessary for the survival of the newspaper. Having turned away from popular newspapers Mr Greenslade admits he has the luxury of distance. However he retains his affection for them. Anyone who has ever wondered what makes newspapers what they are should read this delightful and lightly written work. My only complaint is that it is a little heavy at 800 pages.
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on 23 October 2003
professor greenslade has pulled off a great feat.for those of us who follow his utterances weekly in the guardian on the diverse challenges facing the media it willc ome as no surprise that this book pulls no punches. not for him the glib acceptance that newspapers are better, per se, than yesteryear because they are bigger. no, the professor argues the opposite. namely, that newspapers were more responsible and altogether more infleuntial when they were smaller. not excluding his own newspaper from stinging criticism, in itself an act of admirable bravery, he says we shoudl learn from the past that small can be better, though not always. turning to himself he admits he has made mistakes, such as by believing he could master the late Robert maxwell when he ended up, as he admits, a mere stooge at the helm of the Daily Mirror. Unlike too many people in public life the professor says he was wrong to take thsi job and regrets all he did as editor of the Mirror. Leaving with what he calls a barrow full of money the professor resolved never again to play second fiddle or sell out. thus he has become the finest critic of our media and this book is his testament. bravo!
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