NEWSPAPERS AN IMPORTANT SOURCE OF HISTORYThe media is meant to convey messages to the public. Messages are conveyed for the most part through an adroit mix of news and entertainment.
The proportion in which they are mixed together differs from one medium to another. This being largely dependent upon the nature of the channel through which, and the format in which, messages are sought to be conveyed.
Entertainment Factor :
In contrast to the quantum of entertainment in these media, the entertainment component in the print media is the least, and the information component the most. Moreover, the information content carried by newspapers is not only more complex, but is also available after the day for reference, and for the reconstruction of the period. Because of these characteristics, newspapers carry “The burden of history.”
Primary Source of History :
Actually, newspapers are among the most important source of history, next only to archives. They not only supplement the archival material as a source of history, but are also indispensable since they report events and record developments day by day; these developments provide the context in which a certain document has been prepared, thereby providing linkages between one document and another, and bringing out their
significance in the making of an historical event.
Newspapers are Reconstructing History :
In reconstructing history, one should, of course, in the first place tap the archival source as well as depend primarily on them. In the advanced countries, due attention is paid to the business of preserving archival materials. But in countries such as ours, seldom are the documents deposited by a political figure in his own life time; instead, they are usually left to his heirs to do with them as they please. Thus, a good deal of material never gets deposited in the national archives, and is lost to posterity through sheer neglect. Even what is deposited is available only after thirty years or so after the event, or after the death of the political actor. Till such time as the archives on a particular event become accessible to researchers and scholars, what other source is there for reconstructing the event-except the newspapers?
Source of History :
Briefly stated, newspapers are a source of history for the following reasons :
They report events and record day to day developments; they also carry report, resolutions, manifestos, and proceedings of political parties, as well as important speeches and correspondence of political figures. They record even the minor developments while documents concentrate usually on major events. Social, religious,
cultural and economic developments, among others, are also reported, and these are important for reconstructing even the political history of a given period.
In a sense, newspapers also do the task assigned to oral history; they provide the background of an event, the ways and wherefores of a decision, and the reactions to them. These reactions are usually given in statements, pro or contra, issued at the time respectively by the proponents or opponents of a decision; reactions come also in letters, columns and editorials Thus, newspapers tend to reflect not only public opinion, but also currents and cross currents on various developments at a given period of time. Indeed,
without newspapers we would not be able to trace out trends, at first nebulous, but crystallizing themselves overtime.
Not every newspaper could, however, claim to be source of history. Actually, dependence on only one newspaper could be grossly misleading since newspapers have their particular viewpoint, occupying various points on the political spectrum. Just as in the ease of documents, internal evidence needs external validation before being accepted as evidence, newspaper reports would also need validation from other sources. Hence more than one newspaper, usually one with a divergent policy, need to be consulted to arrive at the truth, especially on controversial marital matters.
Even so, for newspapers to become an authentic source of history call for at least four prerequisites. They must be autonomous; they should have integrity; they should be comprehensive in their coverage; and they should be neutral and objective-neutral not in the sense that they should have no editorial policy or opinion of their own, but that editorial opinion should be confined to the editorial page, and should not spill over into
the news columns.
Third World Newspapers and History :
In third world countries, newspapers have a tendency to be biased, if not one sided. These patronized by the government, as is the case with a group of newspapers in India, tend to be mere government gazettes. In contrast, some others seem to tailor not only their editorial policy but also what they published in their news columns with an eye on the future. For instance, any one talking in terms of ‘nationalities’ today seems of
India. While one should have no grouse against any sort of tilt in a paper’s editorial policy (since it has the inalienable right to tilt its editorial policy any way it likes according to its own and sole discretion), a tilt in its news columns to fall in line with its editorial policy would all the time remain suspect in the eyes of neutral observers and researchers. Both these categories of newspapers cannot by themselves be depended upon
as a true mirror of the state of affairs at any given moment, although they could serve as being supplementary to each other. Hence the needs to consult more than one newspaper to get a more balanced picture.
Comprehensiveness is Necessary :
To be an authentic source of history, comprehensiveness of coverage is also important. This means, a newspaper has to be a complete newspaper-complete not merely section-wise or topic-wise, but in a qualitative and more meaningful sense. A newspaper that gives or seeks to give adequate coverage to sports, economic and cultural news, besides international, domestic and city news, is today usually considered a
complete newspaper; but a more rational criterion would be whether it reports all sorts of events, even those considered not so significant at the time, and whether it publishes all sorts of opinion, even those considered not too popular, even radical, at a given time, and those divergent with its own editorial policy. it is on this basis alone that the integrity of a newspaper is to be judged, that measure of its neutrality and objectivity (in its news columns) is to be assessed.