Historians recognize the cultural centrality of the newspaper press in Britain, yet very little has been published regarding competing historical understandings of the press and its proper role in British society.
In Visions of the Press in Britain, 1850-1950, Mark Hampton argues that qualities expected of the contemporary British press--lively writing, speed, impartiality, depth, and the ability to topple corrupt governments by informing readers--are not obvious attributes of journalism but derive from more than a century of debate. He analyzes the various historical conceptions of the British press that helped to create its modern role, and demonstrates that these conceptions were intimately involved in the emergence of mass democracy in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Hampton surveys a diversity of sources--Parliamentary speeches and commissions, books, pamphlets, periodicals and select private correspondence--in order to identify how governmental elites, the educated public, professional journalists, and industry moguls characterized the political and cultural function of the press. The resulting blend of cultural history and media sociology demonstrates how once optimistic visions of the press have given way to more pessimistic contemporary views about the power of the mass media.
With clarity and panache, this book shows that many competing conceptions continued to influence twentieth-century understandings of the press but did not remain satisfactory in new political, cultural, and media environments. Visions of the Press in Britain, 1850-1950 provides a rich tapestry against which to understand the contemporary realities of journalism, democracy, and mass media