After reading chapter 5 of The Creation of the Media, I found a few interesting points. While this course looks at the history of media and communication in America, a few of the things I was curious about deal with the British telegraph and postal systems compared to the American ones. Obviously, there would be a few fundamental differences with the two nations having different political systems and just the physical size difference, but how would the state telegraphs of Europe play out as staples forms of mass media versus the private companies or monopolies of the American telegraph.
Starr mentions that the nationalization of the telegraph and subsequent mandate of the Post Office to improve the system made telegraphs more popular because the price was reduced (1). Even though the number of telegraphs sent in Britain doubled in two years’ time, the system was still operating at a deficit, unable to keep up with the payments of upgrading and expanding the system. This is similar to how the American Post Office worked at a deficit as well for a time. Even though Britain’s physical size is quite small when compared to America, its telegraph communication system did not turn around a profit. While the price of telegraphs decreased and the frequency at which they were sent increased, the market for telegraphs didn’t take off like Scudamore anticipated (2). At this time would letters still have been a common form of communication? It seems like letters would have been cheaper and easier to send.
Another thing I found interesting was the Intelligence Unit of London. The three companies that made up this unit would not allow for any other wire service to be implemented. With this being the only way to pass news throughout the country in a timely manner it is strange to see how many issues there were with the system. Starr explains how editors would be frustrated by errors and delays in what was sent to them to print by the Intelligence Unit (3). This reminded me of the incident we discussed in class regarding the War of 1812. While the Treaty of Ghent was signed in December of 1814, news of the treaty didn’t arrive in Washington DC until February of 1815. A two month delay in news sent by the Post Office seems crazy, so how long would a telegraph be delayed? Compared to mailing news, the telegraph in general was a faster system so would the delay in news also be shorter? I can see how letters might be delayed or possibly contain errors, but how does that work for a telegraph? Would it be the result of someone not sending the right signals for the message or perhaps the person who received the message copied it incorrectly? Another complaint of the editors was the quality of the material the Intelligence Unit would send them (4). According to the editors, often messages would be of a poorer quality or just contain completely irrelevant or boring information. In a telegraph system who would decide what info is sent and to where it would go? If the information that was sent to newspapers was not satisfactory, was it possible to request additional information or different stories altogether? However, once the Intelligence Unit was no longer needed, and wire services became nationalized, more news was sent daily and more provincial papers were able to receive telegraphs. There was one last question I had from this chapter and that is in regards to the transatlantic cables that connected Britain and American telegraphs. The telegraph cartel created by Havas, Wolff, and Reuters didn’t specify which group would maintain a news connection with America, but Britain ended up having the power to sell news across the sea. Starr says that this put a British filter on the news that Americans received (5). To what extent would this filter be? Would British telegraphers send over propaganda or just reiterate what was in their national news?
- Paul Starr, The Creation of the Media (New York: Basic Books, 2004), 178
- Ibid., 178
- Ibid., 179
- Ibid., 179
- Ibid., 180