The riots of recent weeks got me thinking about news reporting and how well-connected we have become. Many of us sat up late into the night watching the chaotic scenes unfold on TV and footage filmed on mobile phones, while scanning online for live updates on the local situation. Social networks were used to source and spread the most up to the minute news, with broadcasters and reporters confirming the stories afterwards.
The downside is that social networks can also be used to spread inaccuracies, gossip and deliberately misleading information. (Reports of Torres leaving Liverpool on a magic carpet during the transfer season spring to mind). During the riots, there were frustrated pleas of ‘pictures please!’ wherever there was a report of an incident, as no one was quite sure what to believe. Pictures gave the reports authority.
Art in Revolution: Liverpool 1911 includes footage from the British Pathé archive
It is hard to imagine the visual impact that moving images and news reports would have had on the public when they were first broadcast. The first newsreels in Britain were shown in cinemas by Pathé, from June 1910, according to this excellent documentary series, 'The Story of British Pathé'. It was Charles Pathé that pioneered the development of the moving image in the 1890s. You can watch episode one again on BBC iplayer. (Please note that it comes with a warning due to the nature of the news broadcasts included).
We’re very lucky to have traced this Pathé film of the 1911 riots in Liverpool in support of the Art in Revolution: Liverpool 1911 exhibition so early in British Pathé’s history. It makes fascinating viewing - although the images are very different to the riots scenes that bombarded our screens earlier this month. Without being filmed, the events would quite literally have been confined to 'history books'.
The age of the newsreel heralded a true revolution in reporting. Now mobile technology has taken that to a whole new level, and we are seeing ‘citizen journalists’ capturing events of national and international significance as they unfold.
The next episode of 'The Story of British Pathé' is broadcast on BBC 4 at 11pm on Wednesday 24 August. You can see ‘Art in Revolution’ at the Walker Art Gallery until 25 September.