The newly digitised Manchester Observer (1818–22) was
England’s leading radical newspaper at the time of the Peterloo meeting
of August 1819, in which it played a central role. For a time it enjoyed the
highest circulation of any provincial newspaper, holding a position comparable
to that of the Chartist Northern Star twenty years later and
pioneering dual publication in Manchester and London. Its columns provide
insights into Manchester’s notoriously secretive local government and
policing and into the labour and radical movements of its turbulent times. Rich
materials in the Home Office papers in the National Archives reveal much about
the relationship between radicals in London and in the provinces, and show how
local magistrates conspired with government to hound the radical press in the
north as prosecutions in London ran into trouble. This article also sheds new
light on the founding of the Manchester Guardian, which endured
as the Observer’s successor more by avoiding its
disasters than by following its example. Despite the imprisonment of four of its
main editors and proprietors the Manchester Observer battled on
for five years before sinking in calmer water for lack of news.
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). Staged and fabricated content was also common during the
American-Spanish war, and it continued through the ‘penny press’ era in the US,
where duelling editors sought to grow their readership with fantastical and scandalous accounts
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Although it is not new, two factors are making the challenges of disinformation far more acute
today. The first is technology. The internet has led to an explosion of all information sources
– both truthful and false – and the sheer quantity of sources makes it
– such as double-entry bookkeeping or the printing press – are invisible
to most of us precisely because they form part of the rules that we play by now ( Eisenstein, 2005 ; Soll, 2014 ). The paradigm shifted before our time, and we
recognise it only with hindsight. Such paradigm innovation is however part of the 4Ps
model developed by John Bessant and Joe Tidd ( Tidd
et al. , 2005 ) and adopted by Elrha’s Humanitarian Innovation Fund to categorise different types of innovation
looming environmental disasters. Domestically, the liberal social contract is
coming apart in many Western states as the coalition of those who have not benefited from the
decades of wealth accumulation after 1979 turns to populist politicians and looks for scapegoats,
with experts, immigrants and Muslims seen as prime targets. The commitment to liberal
institutions that create limits to the scope of political competition – rights, the rule
of law, freedom of the press – and to the basic level of respect due to all persons, be
they citizens or refugees
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