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Title: What was parliamentary reporting? A study of aims and results in the London daily newspapers, 1780-1796
Authors: Harris, Ian
First Published: Jun-2020
Publisher: Wiley for Parliamentary History Yearbook Trust
Citation: Parliamentary History, 2020, 39 (2), In Press
Abstract: The nature of these newspaper reports – that is, the character of their principal content - has never been studied, despite its obvious importance and, as we shall see, its marked differences from our Hansard. This article relates their nature to a vital feature of parliamentary leadership, the ability to lead the argument in debate. The practical reasoning in parliamentary deliberation and justification, especially what speakers contributed towards the outcome or ‘the sense of the debate’, predominated in these reports. This implied a need for reporters to concentrate on the ‘substance’ of speeches and their bearing on the motion. One result was that speeches which were judged to define or develop arguments pro and con were treated at length, the defining speeches most extensively and others in proportion to what they added. Conversely, speeches which re-iterated known positions or which were irrelevant to the arguments in hand were omitted or downplayed, even if they were important in some other way, whilst whole debates which added little to ongoing discussion could be treated quite briefly. But if being a frontbencher did not guarantee coverage, being a backbencher was no bar: the criterion was the importance of a speaker’s contribution, whilst the manner of coverage accented what was contributed. The reporters’ concerns emphasized debates that promised significant change in matters of national importance, but gave relatively little attention to recurrent or localised business as such. Their writing – they were known as debate writers or news writers - was interpretation answering to evaluative and selective criteria rather than a record in a simple sense. Their work is not to be understood in the same terms as a modern Hansard, and in particular not as a defective Hansard, but rather was such that it requires further work on a wide range of new research questions if it is to be understood to best effect, a requirement which suggests a need to study it critically before using it as source material.
ISSN: 0264-2824
Links: TBA
Embargo on file until: 1-Jan-10000
Version: Post-print
Status: Peer-reviewed
Type: Journal Article
Rights: Copyright © 2020, Wiley for Parliamentary History Yearbook Trust. Deposited with reference to the publisher’s open access archiving policy. (
Description: The file associated with this record is under embargo until 24 months after publication, in accordance with the publisher's self-archiving policy. The full text may be available through the publisher links provided above.
Appears in Collections:Published Articles, School of Historical Studies

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