Reading the local paper: Social and cultural functions of the local press in Preston, Lancashire, 1855-1900

Hobbs, Andrew orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-5943-475X (2010) Reading the local paper: Social and cultural functions of the local press in Preston, Lancashire, 1855-1900. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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This thesis demonstrates that the most popular periodical genre of the second half of the nineteenth century was the provincial newspaper. Using evidence from news rooms, libraries, the trade press and oral history, it argues that the majority of readers (particularly working-class readers) preferred the local press, because of its faster delivery of news, and because of its local and localised content. Building on the work of Law and Potter, the thesis treats the provincial press as a national network and a national system, a structure which enabled it to offer a more effective news distribution service than metropolitan papers.

Taking the town of Preston, Lancashire, as a case study, this thesis provides some background to the most popular local publications of the period, and uses the diaries of Preston journalist Anthony Hewitson as a case study of the career of a local reporter, editor and proprietor. Three examples of how the local press consciously promoted local identity are discussed: Hewitson’s remoulding of the Preston Chronicle, the same paper’s changing treatment of Lancashire dialect, and coverage of professional football. These case studies demonstrate some of the local press content that could not practically be provided by metropolitan publications. The ‘reading world’ of this provincial town is reconstructed, to reveal the historical circumstances in which newspapers and the local paper in particular were read. Evidence from readers demonstrates the many ways in which they used the local press, both collectively and individually, including its use in sustaining local identities and sense of place. However, the local press was only one factor among many in the development and sustenance of local identities.

The originality of the thesis lies in its introduction of empirical reading evidence into English newspaper history, its challenge to the taken-for-granted but problematic concepts of ‘local’ and ‘national’ newspapers in this period, its detailed study of the journalistic techniques used to capitalise on local patriotism, and its critique of many theories of nineteenth-century press history which have been based on a minority of the period’s newspapers, those published in London.

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