With the advent of Internet, news agencies may have lost some of their shine but they are still a very much part of the global communication of news. A number of technological developments have taken place since their birth, but news agencies continue to exist, contrary to the threat to their existence seen by many. The role of news agencies or press agencies as gatherers of writers and distributors of news from around a nation or the world to newspapers, journals, radio and television broadcasters, government agencies and other users continues as it did in the years of yore. Who can miss the credit lines in the cover of television screens or in brackets or in small print at the beginning or end of print news-stories?
It was Charles-Louis Havas (1783-1858) who was the pioneer in this business. It was he who gave the name Agence (agency). Before Havas invented the news agency business, the main source of foreign news to newspapers was newspapers of foreign countries. In 1832, he set up a foreign newspapers translation bureau and bookshop in Paris. In 1835, it was called the Agence Havas, the first worldwide news agency. In 1840 by using carrier pigeons, Havas landed news in the newsrooms of Paris newspapers?midday news from the Belgian press and 3:00 p.m. news from the same day'sBritish newspapers. Once Samuel Morse'selectromagnetic telegraph was introduced in France five years later that Havas started installing Morse machines. Havas was also responsible for setting up the first advertising agency in 1852 to create revenue for its newspaper clients and help them pay for the agency'sservice. Gradually the agency became a public corporate and two of Havas'semployees, rather prot?g?s?Paul Julius Reuter and Bernhard Wolff founded news agencies bearing their names in London and Berlin respectively. In 1933 Wolff'sagency became the most important German news agency named after him as he was the driving force behind the whole enterprise. Meanwhile Paul Julius founded Reuters, the world news and information organisation in July 1816.
Slowly and gradually evolution of news agencies all over the world began. The basic reason for such an evolution was the desire of newspapers to give the widest possible coverage of news. Individual newspapers were unable to cover the cost of such news collection. At that time, only two options were present ? either share the cost of news collection or pay another enterprise which would sell them such collection of news. However, a third option soon emerged when like business houses, even the national governments came to realise the importance of news. This was done by using ?a variety of means or combinations of methods that included direct ownership and control, tariff concessions for use of the State communication facilities, intervention in news content, and overt or covert subsidy or direct financing of news agencies.?
The non-aligned nations decided to get together and exchange and disseminate information on mutual achievements in all domains through newspapers, journals, radio, television and information media in their countries Hence a pool was started in January 1975: ?Despite the extraordinary diversity among them, the non-aligned countries share a common past, a common present and a common future?, to quote the former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. In 1976 in Delhi, she said, ?The European language we speak itself becomes a conditioning element?we imbibe their prejudices. Even images of ourselves, not to speak of the view of other countries, tend to conform to theirs.?
The situation in the post-Cold War era with disintegration of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia has led to depletion in the strength of news agencies like TASS and Tanjug though AFP and AP continue to run strong. Meanwhile we have witnessed unimaginable growth and diversity of the business of news agencies. Even Charles-Louis Havas could not have imagined such stupendous growth?from the carrier pigeon and telegraph to mobile phone and the Internet?in less than two centuries.
This is a comprehensive analytical work on news agencies in the past 25 years by K.M. Shrivastava, a media professional and professor at the Institute of Mass Communication at New Delhi. It is a praiseworthy effort to fill the void created in the field of journalism, media studies and international communication. It also enables us to realise that we are unknowingly consuming the products of news agencies through various media ? from newspapers to mobile phones.
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