As iPad fever allegedly grips the UK, it’s worth remembering that the quest to condense news onto something small enough to carry but big enough to read is itself old news.
Back in 1901, people were just as excited when the then Alfred Harmsworth (later Lord Northcliffe) created what was arguably the world’s first tabloid.
Harmsworth did so as a guest editor on Pulitzer’s New York World, as a circulation-raising stunt for the paper and as an experiment for his own purposes.
As the half-sized, logically-arranged, ‘Daily Timesaver’ rolled off the presses, the assembled journalists toasted it (and the new century) with champagne.
“It is surely a pleasure to engage tonight in what may prove to be an epoch-making international episode in the history of journalism. If our blanket sheets shall in time become napkin sheets, so to speak, the change will date from the experiment we are making tonight,’ said one of Pulitzer’s executives.
The paper sold out and newsboys hiked the prices of the few remaining copies. The demand was, according to reports in the World the next day, “the most extraordinary in the history of the newspaper business.”
Furthermore, in “something heretofore unknown in the annals of the morning newspapers of this country…the forms of the ‘tabloid’ issue were put back on the presses and another large edition run off” at 3pm in the afternoon, for a morning newspaper.”
Another Pulitzer executive sent his boss a memo saying: “Nothing for years has attracted so much attention in the newspapers of the country as your Harmsworth edition. … everywhere the edition seems to have been the universal topic.”
Some of the above has been unearthed as part of my research into the 1901 event, as an example of something akin to a tabloid fault line in the monolith of Anglo-American journalism.
It might be over-ambitious to trace a link from the Timesaver to the iPad. But it’s always worth taking a long view when the press starts using the word ‘fever’ to explain anything other than a temperature.