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The Rise Of Television News Agencies

Zuzana Zabkova
MA Dissertation; History of Film & Visual Media
Birkbeck College, London, 2009

Acknowledgements
I am grateful to Dr Chris Paterson, Adrian Wood, Linda Kaye and Dr Luke
McKernan for their guidance and invaluable advice. I am also indebted to all
those who took time to talk to me about their experiences in the early
television agency business; especially Kenneth Warr and Terry Gallacher,
but also John Flewin, Reese Schonfeld, Andrew Ailes, Derek Evans and
Brian Madden. My thanks also has to go to Peter Bregman for sharing his
knowledge of the Fox Movietone collection with me and to Alwyn Lindsey,
Director of International Archives at Associated Press, for putting me in
touch with many of the above.

Table of Contents

Introduction...4
Literature Overview..9
The place of Newsreels in the News Provision Chain..10
Convergence of Newsreels and Television News in the US..15
Television News Agencies...23
INS-Telenews.....26
CBS Newsfilm....33
United Press Movietone....36
BCINA/Visnews.....47
Conclusion51

Introduction
The inspiration for the subject of this dissertation thesis came from
my daily work with the United Press International Television News
(UPITN) collection as the project manager on a major restoration project
undertaken by the Associated Press Film and Video Archive. We had a basic
understanding of the origins and the production context of the films in the
collection; namely that this was the legacy product of a television news
agency operating in the 1970s. As we tried to find out more about the
company and its internal workings, we were struck by the scarcity of
published and company internal literature on an organisation, which after all,
was one of only two major television news agencies at the time. It quickly
became apparent that not only was there very little information on UPITN,
but that the entire television news agency business, in the present and the
past, has largely been left out from the popular and academic discourse. Yet
the analysis and understanding of the development of global newsgathering
networks and their current practices is vital. Television news agencies are
integral to the system of news production that has shaped our common

visual memory and understanding of contemporary events for over half a


century.1
The histories of news reporting by the major European television
stations and US networks have been written, and much attention has been
paid to the news values that govern their production methods and the
selection of news items for inclusion into news programmes. Yet it is
generally the case that broadcasters do not have the means to station their
own reporters and camera crews in all corners of the world, and have come
to rely on television news agencies to supply filmed news items to them. The
fact that the material made available to television stations has already gone
through a selection process made by their suppliers - the television news
agencies is often omitted or downplayed in such accounts. One major
attempt to rectify the situation and complete the picture has been made by Dr
Christopher Paterson in his PhD thesis entitled News Production at
Worldwide Television News (WTN): An Analysis of Television News Agency

On the APTN website it is claimed that Video captured by AP Television News can be
seen by over half of the worlds population on any given day. Even though this figure is
necessarily an estimate and is taken from the companys promotional literature, it
nevertheless testifies to the global reach and impact of the APTN product.
Anon, APTN Company Overview, APTN company website, Accessed, 26th July 2009.
http://www.aptn.com/80256FEE0057BF4E/(httpPages)/43E6D3165367B78280256FF80
04A1474?OpenDocument.
5

Coverage of Developing Countries.2 Paterson builds on the New World


Information and Communications Order debates of the 1970s and early
1980s, and analyses the role of the television news agencies in the
international flow of news with the consequences for the coverage of
developing countries. Although Patersons dissertation emphasizes
contemporary production processes within the international television news
agencies, he provided the first exhaustive account of the industry as a whole.
Paterson completed his thesis in 1996 but, by and large, media and
communication scholars did not follow up on his pioneering work, even
though further research and elaboration of the themes introduced are much
needed. It is out of the scope of this work to attempt another such
comprehensive account.3 Paterson writes that the current processes can only
be well understood within two broad contexts: firstly, the political economy
of international television news, and, secondly, the historical development of
these companies and the news distribution system in which they participate.4
The aim here is to elaborate on the latter; the historical development of the
television news agencies and, more precisely, the birth of television news
2

Christopher Andrew Paterson, News Production at Worldwide Television News (WTN):


An Analysis of Television News Agency Coverage of Developing Countries, PhD Thesis,
University of Texas, 1996.
3
Dr Paterson is now working on a book to bring his PhD Dissertation up to date and
incorporate new research.
4
Paterson, 1996, p.102.
6

agencies in the late Forties and early Fifties and the consolidation of the
television agency business in the following decade. The focus will be on the
chronology of industrial relations as well as the technological developments
and the accompanying shift in the positioning of the newsfilm within the
established chain of news provision.
A prevalent assumption is that television news agencies are directly
descended from the newsreel companies, and that the big wire agencies were
also instrumental in their formation.5 Upon closer examination, it becomes
apparent that the early development of television news agencies was much
more complex than that. Whilst continuities from the age of the newsreels
are clearly identifiable, these do not necessarily take a commercial form. Of
the dozen or so internationally established newsreel companies, only two
were directly involved in setting up a television news agency. It is therefore
difficult to speak of an industry wide shift from the provision of newsfilm
for the theatrical screen to catering to the television news market. Of the
major news agencies operating in the Fifties, only United Press (UP) and
International News Service (INS) took the bold step to set up a television
division. Reuters did become involved with a television agency at an early
5

For example, Nicholas Pronay implies that the newsreels did not so much fade away
and die as evolve into other forms, namely television news agencies; Nicholas Pronay,
British newsreels in the 1930s: Their Policies and Impact, History vol. 57. no 189,
February 1972, p.72.
7

stage but was not a founding member. The Associated Press tried twice and
failed twice to set up its own television news agency before it eventually
succeeded in 1994, almost 50 years after it undertook the first tentative
steps.
Whilst it is important to outline in sufficient detail the chronology of
events, this can only be done in a meaningful way if attention is also paid to
the context and environment into which the first television news agencies
were born and in which they operated. Questions arise, such as why did the
newsreels not turn to the television news market en masse? How did
businesses react to a changing market kindled by new technology? What
were the commercial and economic forces, and the industrial relations?
What was the wider context of news provision? And how did the newly
established television news agencies operate? What were the challenges,
what shape did the product take and why? Which were the genuine
continuities and what was truly new about the television news agency
business? It may not be possible to find the answers to all of the above
questions. This work is an attempt to provide an overview of an era in which
motion picture newsgathering was redefined.

Literature Overview

There is no one text that would comprehensively record and analyse


the history of television news agencies. What limited information exists on
the development of television news agencies can usually be found in the
form of brief chapters in books concerning the international news wire
agencies. Another source of information are the biographies of news
cameramen and other industry personnel. These tend to take an anecdotal
form and rarely offer a contextual perspective. Trade magazine and
newspaper articles of the period prove to be invaluable primary sources but
have to be approached with caution, as these would often have been based
on press releases by the companies themselves. Long-term company
archives are rare, as some companies have ceased to exist and others have
undergone many changes in ownership. Therefore, vital documentation, such
as contracts, business strategies and financial reports is hard to come by.
Often, the only document of the early television news agencies is the actual
product; the 16mm film archives. As such, conducting interviews with
people who were active in the industry at the time is a crucial tool for
research into this subject. Unfortunately, many are deceased and a largescale oral history project should be undertaken without any further delay.

Some of the people I spoke to have told me that they had planned to write up
their experience upon their retirement, but not one of them has realised this
intention.

The place of Newsreels in the News Provision Chain

It is not necessary to provide a detailed history of the newsreels


as this has been done extensively elsewhere.6 Newsreels, compared to
television news agencies, are better researched and understood. As such,
what follows is an examination of only those aspects of the newsreels, which
are directly relevant to the rise of television news agencies. One such aspect
is the shift of the core of the newsreel business from Europe to North
America and the concurrent consolidation of newsreels as part of the motion
picture industry. The newsreels originated in Europe with the French Path
Journal in 1909, soon followed by newsreels in other European countries.
Whilst originally, the newsreel business was driven and innovated by
European companies, newsreels also quickly took hold in America. By the
mid-1920s, just before the introduction of sound, the newsreel was standard

For a listing of key texts on newsreels and Cinemagazines see the BUFVC website,
Accessed, 13h April 2009.
http://www.bufvc.ac.uk/oldwebsite/databases/newsreels/learnmore/books.html
10

fare in theatres on both sides of the Atlantic. The coming of sound, which
made the newsreels even more popular, tipped the balance toward North
America. As Hollywood studios adopted sound they became the dominant
parent companies of the newsreels, and by the 1930s the newsreel had
become a quintessential American medium.7
The newsreel business was not greatly profitable and generally only
survived if part of a larger concern, or subsidised by corporate or
governmental funds. Yet the Hollywood studios had an interest in sustaining
the newsreels because they were popular, completed the cinema programme,
endowed the owners with prestige, and the competition was offering the
same. The newsreels thus operated within an entertainment environment (the
cinema) where they were not the main attraction. They could not afford to be
challenging, since the exhibitor had to please everyone in the audience.
Another factor contributed to the light-hearted tone of the newsreels; to
maximise profits, distributors offered newsreels cheaper to exhibitors after
the first run. The longer a newsreel ran, the cheaper it became and a
newsreel could be shown for weeks, moving from first class houses to the
cheapest cinema on the high street. Producers thus had to find subjects

Luke McKernan, newsreels: Forms and Function, text received from author, London
2009, p.4. The essay is also published in Richard Howells, Robert Matson (Eds.), Using
Visual Evidence, McGraw-Hill Education, London, 2009.
11

which were not too date specific, but at the same time had a newsy feeling
to them over an extended period of time. They would therefore often resort
to subjects such as fads, fashions, inventions, quirky items, sport, the
movements of royals, etc. Furthermore, the bulky 35mm cameras and sound
equipment were not suited to the filming of immediate action in a
challenging environment. Nevertheless, when positioning the newsreel the
emphasis on entertainment is often overstated. The newsreels had a place
and a role to play in the wider context of news provision. Newsreel
production and distribution methods placed a heavy constraint on the speed
with which newsreels could deliver news to cinema audiences. After a
story was shot, the film had to reach one of the assembly points where it
would be developed, edited and bestowed with a commentary. The finished
newsreel then had to be distributed by airplane, train or ship to the
subscribing cinemas. This meant that by the time the newsreel reached the
screen, it had often lost its topicality. Unable to speed up the process or
increase the frequency with which they were issued, the newsreels
acknowledged and exploited their position at the end of the news chain.
Luke McKernan, a newsreel historian, notes that the newsreels often took
their cue from other media that stood at the head of the news chain; the
newspapers and radio. The role of the newsreels was to provide the pictures

12

in animation of stories that were known to their audience they completed


the picture.8 McKernan makes an important point in that the newsreels, like
other media, cannot be considered in isolation. Newsreels played only one
part in a wider apprehension of the news of the moment. The complete
picture was comprehended and visualised by the public through a
multiplicity of outlets. It is necessary to acknowledge that choice of media
was already there and that various media outlets were aware of their role in
the news provision chain, and learned to bank on that position. The
interdependent communication network grew in complexity. When
television entered the market, all the established providers of news had to reevaluate their role in the news-provision chain.
WWII boosted the importance of the newsreels as the most important
source of visual news from the front. The newsreels had matured during the
war; they now brought hard and often unpleasant news to the cinema screen.
Dedicated newsreel theatres sprung up in the 1930s and freed the newsreels
from the entertainment exhibition environment, if not an entertainment
production context. Operating newsreels theatres became a viable business
proposition, so much so that three chains of newsreel theatres began
operating in the US: Trans-Lux, newsreel Theatres, Inc. and Telenews.

Ibid, p.3.
13

Europe, which for obvious reasons was keener on war news, had an even
greater number of dedicated newsreel theatres than the US.9 After WWII, the
following companies produced and distributed newsreels in the US: WarnerPath (distributed through RKO), Hearsts News Of The Day (distributed
through MGM), Universal, Paramount, and Fox Movietone. There were also
a number of local services that operated on the fringe of the industry. In
Britain five newsreels dominated the screens; Gaumont-British News, Path
Gazette, British Paramount News, British Movietone News and Universal
News. Although these companies stepped into the post-war era with an
optimistic outlook and a boosted confidence, they soon encountered
existential challenges as the environment within which they operated began
to undergo radical changes. Ironically, one such challenge was self-inflicted;
by stepping up their game in the provision of hard news during the war, the
newsreels created new expectations in their audiences that they could not
live up to or chose not to build upon. Ultimately, the parent companies were
first and foremost feature film producers, and the newsreels formed only a
small part of their businesses. The reluctance to embark on a more serious
journalistic path at a time when audiences began to expect it contributed to

Raymond Fielding, The American newsreel; A complete History, 1911 1967, 2nd
Edition, London, Jefferson, N.C.; London : McFarland & Co., 2006, p. 145.
14

the decline of the newsreels. Television, of course, later realised the vast
journalistic potential of the newsfilm and exploited it to the maximum.

Convergence of Newsreels and Television News in the US

As WWII ravaged Europe, American dominance of the entertainment


and information industries and the development of associated technologies,
was consolidated. United Kingdom, Germany and other European countries
began developing television technology in the 1930s, but during the war
efforts came to a halt. The US, whilst also downsizing its television project
during the war, was nevertheless able to continue improving television
technology and establish industrial relations. Post-war Europe was not a
fertile ground for the new medium, but in the US the television boom
quickly set in. Therefore the American market was the first to be confronted
with a demand for newsfilm specifically shot got television and it was here
that the television news agencies came into being. The first decade after the
war was full of upheaval as newsreel producers, news wire agencies,
telecommunication companies and television stations all had to adjust to
new realities. Ways had to be found in which to participate and profit from
the new opportunities. Rapid developments on the television scene caused

15

turmoil in the newsreel industry, even though the threat of television was
initially downplayed. In a 1948 trade magazine article, newsreel executives
claimed that television newsreels would wet public appetite for theatrical
newsreels and while television audiences were still relatively small,
television newsreels could not cut into theatre attendance. This view
conflicted sharply with opinions expressed by television men, who professed
that theatrical newsreel operation would soon be made obsolete by television
newsreels.10 Newsreel producers did perceive the magnitude of their
competition, however, and began allying themselves with the television
interests. In 1948, American trade magazines reported a flurry of activity by
newsreel companies in view of the anticipated television boom. Paramount,
it seemed, had the most advanced television plans; the studio had been active
in television since 1939, when Television Productions Inc. was formed,
operating a Hollywood television station. Paramount was involved with a
television station in Chicago and was affiliated with Allen B. DuMont
Laboratories, which run the WABD station in New York.11 In 1948,
Paramount news was lining up a national sponsor for a new ten-minute daily
television newsreel to be produced by the regular Paramount News staff.
10

Doris Sultan, All Newspaper Wire Services Rush Into Television Field, Boxoffice,
National Executive Edition, January 3, 1948, p.8. Accessed, 16th June 2009,
http://issuu.com/boxoffice/docs/boxoffice_010348-1/8
11
Ibid, p.8
16

The reel was to be released five or six times a week. Negatives would be
flown into New York for processing and the prints would then be dispatched
to television stations. Paramount intended to vary the reels for theatrical and
television audiences in that there was to be more emphasis on dramatic
effects on the theatrical reels.12 Besides supplying newsreel footage to its
own and other television stations, Paramount News experimented with a
system for screening news events from a television receiver in theatres.
Paramount hoped some day to install its television receiving equipment in
other circuit houses.13 Eventually, the scheme was abandoned, presumably
because of the very high costs involved and Paramount did not build on its
early involvement in television news any further. Attempts to get a foothold
in television news by other newsreel producers were equally short lived; in
1948, Universal discussed a tie-up with United Press, a news wire agency,
for a daily television newsreel. But the talks were called off and Universal
began to discuss a daily newsreel with the American Broadcasting Company
(ABC).14 Although Universal maintained some presence in television, it did
not take the shape of a newsfilm syndication service for the television
12

Anon, Paramount and U-I join daily television feed, Boxoffice, Canadian Edition,
February 7 1948, p.16, Accessed, 16th June 2009, http://issuu.com/boxoffice.
13
Sultan, January 3, 1948, p.16.
14
Doris Sultan, Video newsreel Producers Looking For Sponsors, Boxoffice, National
Executive Edition, June 19, 1948, p.16, Accessed, 16th June 2009,
http://issuu.com/boxoffice/docs/boxoffice_061948/16.
17

market. Warner Path News did not develop any plans for special television
newsreel films and MGM-Hearsts News Of The Day went only as far as
providing film for the CBS television newsmagazine and documentary
programme See It Now. The March Of Time newsreel managed the transition
to television more successfully, but did not turn to the business of
newsgathering for television either. Rather, The March of Time built upon its
documentary style tradition and in the autumn of 1951 began work on a
television series entitled Crusade in the Pacific. The only two US newsreel
companies to embark on the business of gathering newsfilm for television
were Telenews and Fox Movietone. Both newsreels entered a deal with a
news wire agency; Telenews with INS and Movietone with UP. INSTelenews did not survive beyond the Sixties, but the United Press
Movietone (UPMT) television news agency operated under various names
and various owners until the Associated Press bought it up in 1998. As such,
the legacy of UPMT is kept alive to this day in the form of Associated Press
Television News.
After WWII television was ready to take off in the US, with the
Networks coming into their own between 1947 and 1948. The first television
news services were no more than newsreels themselves. In August 1945,
NBC premiered the weekly NBC Tele-Newsreel with film supplied by

18

various newsreel companies. A year later, the Esso Newsreel was


introduced, running ten minutes from Monday to Thursday and fifteen
minutes on Sunday.15 Later the R.J. Reynolds tobacco company combined
with Fox Movietone News to produce a ten-minute daily newsreel for NBC
called The Camel News Caravan. CBS also bought footage for its news
programme from a newsreel; Hearsts News of the Day. The newsreels did
not alter their operations; they merely added television stations to their list of
customers. The formula of sponsored newsreels produced using theatrical
newsreel footage meant that early television newscasts had a distinct
newsreel look with a preponderance of typical newsreel subjects. But
postwar television news coverage improved rapidly, as did the quality of its
picture. Through the 1940s and 1950s, the networks concentrated their news
coverage not on newscasts but on special events; a strength of the young
medium.
In the early Fifties, two events led to a huge television boom in the
US; the first was the laying of high frequency coaxial cable from East to
West with which the spanning of wide areas by television became possible.
This combined video and audio transmission line made direct switches from
coast to coast possible. The networks profited the most from the new coaxial
15

Douglas Gomery, Shared Pleasures, A History Of Movie Presentation In The United


States, University of Wisconsin Press, Wisconsin, 1992, p.153.
19

cables as independent stations could rarely afford to make use of the


expensive new communication technology. By using coaxial cable, the
networks were now able to transmit news from one end of the country to the
other in an instant. This gave the networks immeasurable advantage in the
speed of delivery of newsfilm over independent television stations, but also
over theatrical newsreels. In realising the vast opportunities that the advent
of the coaxial cable opened up, network executives began to aggressively
expand and evolve their newsgathering and news reporting operations. Selfsufficiency in domestic newsgathering suddenly became viable for the
networks but made independent stations all the more dependent on a thirdparty newsfilm service. The other major development was the lift on the
freeze on new commercial stations in 1952. The FFC could finally provide
enough UHF channels to accommodate more stations. The lifting of the ban
resulted in an explosion in commercial television stations from 97 in 1950 to
429 in 1955.16
Television stations and networks put relatively little effort into
covering day-to-day, routine news until the early Fifties. It is thus difficult to
argue that the new medium arose to fill the audiences need for more visual
news created by newsreels during the war. Rather, it is striking that
16

Edward Bliss Jr., Now the News, The Story Of Broadcast Journalism, Columbia
University Press, New York, 1991, p.221.
20

television took so long to tap into this demand and to fully exploit the
opportunities for news reporting that the new medium offered. In the
beginning, the few stations on the air seemed more a curiosity than a
competition. Nonetheless, US newspapers bought into television and by
1947 Newspapers owned six of the fifteen stations broadcasting.17 TV grew
rapidly in the early and mid-1950s, presenting newspapers with a competitor
both for advertising revenue and for consumers time. As televisions
audience and influence increased, so did print journalists respect for their
competitor. A distant dream for the newsreels; television could now break
news ahead of the newspapers. Even if the newsfilm was delayed, television
stations could still bank on the impact that motion pictures would have on
their audiences. Television thus invaded territories hitherto monopolised by
the newsreels, newspapers and radio respectively. The advantage the
newsreels had was that they offered high quality moving pictures. In this
sense, newsreels could still score over television in the Sixties. The
newsreels, in anticipation of colour television, began to film in colour
whenever possible. Various attempts were made to emulate the style of
television news reporting and to evolve the newsreels stylistically through

17

David R. Davies, The Press and Television 1948 1960 in The Postwar Decline Of
American Newspapers, 1945 1965, Praeger Publishers, Westport, 2006, p.49, p.50,
p.52, p.54.
21

the inclusion of talking heads, interviewers and vox pops.18 But it was too
little, too late; newsreels no longer conformed to the fashions and values of
the time and no longer constituted a genuine merit to the public. They
remained tied to the distribution patterns of the cinema circuits and were
thus doomed to be late with news that audiences now expected to see on a
daily basis.
The growth of television also led to a change of practices and norms
in other news outlets. In the US, the promises of colour television prompted
newspapers to begin printing in colour. By the late 1950s half of all
newspapers were printing some spot colour, and one-quarter were printing
full colour, with colour most often used in advertising. Forty to fifty
newspapers were running news photographs in full colour by 1958.
Television also forced newspapers to deliver afternoon editions to readers
homes earlier in the day before families began their evening television
viewing. The re-shuffle of positioning of the various media in the news
chain was also reflected in content; since television increasingly beat
newspaper in breaking news, newspapers embraced a more analytical
approach to news reporting. Radio stations began rebuilding programming
around music and talk and magazines changed from general interest to

18

McKernan, 2009, p.8


22

specialised interest such as sports.19 Eventually, a curious role reversal took


place; whilst earlier audiences would flock to the cinema to see newsreel
pictures of events they read about in the newspapers, televised news events
now increase viewers curiosity about those events, inciting them to buy
newspaper to read about what they had just seen.20

Television News Agencies

Currently, two companies dominate the field of commercial wholesale


of television news images; Reuters Television and AP Television News.
Both companies have their headquarters in London, but AP Television News
is a subsidiary of a US organisation. This represents an interesting
geographical shift of the centre of motion picture newsgathering back to
Europe. Television news agencies came into being in North America in the
late Forties and early Fifties since it was there that the demand for television
newsfilm first arose. The Associated Press was one of the first organisations
to attempt to exploit the new opportunities in the television news market. In
November 1947, AP broadcast a television newsreel of Princess Elizabeths
wedding over three stations; CBS in New York, the Philadelphia Inquirer
19
20

Davies, 2006, p.53-60


See Davies, 2006, p.53-60 for examples.
23

station and on a Baltimore station.21 Although, in an article from November


1947, the stations are said to have secured the film from the Associated
Press Television newsreel Service,22 there is no further evidence that the AP
actually offered such a service on a regular basis. The Royal Wedding film
seems to have been a one off until early 1948, when the AP again
attempted to offer a newsreel service to its member television stations. But
the agency gave up after only about three weeks when it found costs were
enormous.23 Boyd-Barret concluded that the AP put its toe in the water too
soon in the late 1940s.24 Even though it is true that the television boom
really only arrived the 1950s, timing was not the only reason for the failure.
The AP underestimated not only the cost but also the complexities of
running a worldwide motion picture newsgathering operation and wrongly
believed that simply providing its reporters with camera equipment would
do the job. Both UP and INS took a different approach and entered the
21

Sultan, January 3, 1948, p.16.


Sam Chase,Royal Nuptials Tip Videos Mitt on Future News Coverage, The
Billboard, November 29, 1947, p.15. Accessed, May 2009,
http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=ASEEAAAAMBAJ&pg=PT14&dq=%22Royal+Nu
ptials+Tip+Video%E2%80%99s+Mitt+on+Future+News+Coverage%22#v=onepage&q=
%22Royal%20Nuptials%20Tip%20Video%E2%80%99s%20Mitt%20on%20Future%20
News%20Coverage%22&f=false
23
Anon, newsreels Flop On Tele, High Costs, Time Lag Are Main Factors, Wpix
Follows Camel Exit, The Billboard, Vol. 61, No.7, February 12, 1949, p.15
http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=M_YDAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA15&dq=%22newsreels
+Flop+On+Tele%22#v=onepage&q=&f=false
24
Oliver Boyd-Barrett, The International News Agencies, Constable, London,1980, p.
p.238.
22

24

television market in partnership with companies which already had


experience in the gathering of motion picture news; United Press tied up
with Fox Movietone and INS with Telenews.25 The rush by the wire services
into the television newsfilm field in the late 1940s was not only motivated
by the opportunities of a new market. Newspapers, which were wary of
tying up with radio when the medium first hit the airwaves, did not want to
miss the boat this time and began setting up or buying out television stations.
Wire services had an interest to keep television stations owned by their
existing customers supplied with filmed news events, even if this did not
prevent them from adding other television stations to their customer base.26
By the mid Fifties, three companies established themselves in the field of
newsfilm syndication; CBS Newsfilm, INS-Telenews and United Press
Movietone. Visnews (formerly BCINA), a British agency, also came onto
the scene at that time. With INS-Telenews faltering in the early Sixties and
CBS Newsfilm operating on a smaller scale, Visnews and UPMT were soon
to become dominant in the field. The competition between these two
companies was fierce and lasted for decades. The Associated Press finally
entered the business successfully in 1994 and, for a brief period, the three
25

Trade press articles from1948 indicate, however, that the UP was already producing its
own newsreel before tying up with Movietone. See; Boxoffice, Canadian Edition,
February 7 1948, p.16 , Boxoffice, National Executive Edition, January 3, 1948, p.8.
26
Sultan, January 3, 1948, p.8.

25

companies competed in a crowded market. When the Associated Press


bought up WTN (the then latest incarnation of UPMT) in 1998, the industry
was left again with only two major television news agencies; Reuters
Television (formerly Visnews) and AP Television.

INS-Telenews

The prospects of the newsreel business appeared so good in the late


1930s that a new newsreel, Telenews, entered the field. This was a business
enterprise that did not emerge from the movie industry. Announced in 1938,
the venture was a pure and simple investment by a syndicate of New York
business leaders. Paul Felix Warburg, a millionaire banker, and Angier
Biddle Duke, a tobacco magnate, supplied the money and former reporter
and then real estate speculator Alfred A. Burger handled the day-to-day
operations. The chain would be vertically integrated, with its own camera
crews, editors, sound technicians, and distribution staff, as well as a chain of
newsreel theatres. The first Telenews theatre opened in San Francisco on 1st
September 1939. For over twenty years Telenews operated a chain of
thirteen newsreel theatres across the United States and continued to run an
operation to create newsreels for its houses as well as other independent

26

theatre operators.27 In the postwar era, Telenews tapped into the emerging
television market with more foresight than its competition. Perhaps, this was
due to the fact that Telenews was not produced by a big Hollywood studio
and the production of newsfilm was actually the companys main business.
As such, Telenews was more open to pursuing new avenues and finding
ways in which to survive in a fast-changing industry. Already supplying
television stations with its theatrical newsreels, Telenews tied in with INS on
a deal to supply stations with daily newsreel films especially produced for
television in January 1948. INS was owned by William Randolph Hearst
who himself was no stranger to the newsreel business. In 1913, the Hearst
organisation began producing its own newsreel. Joining in 1914 with
William Selig, the movie producer, Hearst provided the reporters to hunt out
exclusives and Selig provided the experience in the moviemaking field.28
The Hearst-Selig News Pictorial was thus a precursor to the successful
scheme of a wire agency collaborating with a newsfilm producer. In 1918,
after several other attempted alliances, Hearst ventured alone and his
newsreel became the internationally acclaimed News Of The Day. Hearst
released his product first through Universal and then MGM. Not missing out
on the opportunities that television afforded, News Of The Day was later
27
28

Gomery, 1992, p.150, p.151.


Ibid, p.142.
27

released to television stations in a silent version so that the stations could


write their own commentary. Most prominently, Hearst provided film for
Edward R, Murrows television documentary series See It Now. News Of
The Day did not feature in the INS-Telenews deal.
In the INS-Telenews collaboration, INS did not film its own
newsreels. The newsreel films were produced and released by Telenews
Productions. INS-Telenews was the first service to offer newsreel motion
pictures to television on a daily basis. A Boxoffice article from January 1948
details the INS-Telenews operation as such: television newsreel negative
was to be flown to New York for processing. Thereafter prints were flown
out to nine regional INS-Telenews offices for distribution. These outlets
were in Cleveland, Chicago, San Francisco, Detroit, Milwaukee, Denver,
Dallas, Los Angeles and Seattle. INS-Telenews also planned to equip these
offices with film processing equipment so that local film could be developed
speedily. All reels were to be printed on both 35mm and 16mm. At the time,
Telenews operated 14 theatres in the US. Some of the 35mm films prepared
for the television newsreels were to be shown in Telenews houses.29
INS-Telenews serviced independent stations but its main customers
were the networks; the DuMont Television Network showed the INS-

29

Sultan, January 3, 1948, p.8.


28

Telenews reel but the programme was dropped already in 1949 and the
network itself ceased operating in 1955. From 1948, The Columbia
Broadcasting System (CBS) also carried the INS-Telenews daily newsreel.
CBS distributed the news to all the stations of its chain by coaxial cable, so
that the number of copies needed was reduced. CBS received the bulk of its
footage from the newsfilm provider and within a year the network became
the most important client for INS-Telenews. The American Broadcasting
Company Network (ABC) also relied heavily on INS-Telenews for newsflm.
The ABC contract went beyond the usual syndication pact in that frequently,
ABC supplied the reporter-contact man for stories, while INS-Telenews
provided the camera crew and processing. Under this arrangement, ABC had
the right to first use the film stories to which its men were assigned. INSTelenews was then able to issue the film through its normal syndication
channels.30
INS-Telenews made crucial adjustments to its theatrical newsreel in
order to make the product more suitable to the needs of television stations.
Originally, INS-Telenews produced a daily newsreel for its clients. The
format of the television newsreel mirrored that of a theatrical reel. The
newsreel was an entity with opening and closing titles, a predefined
30

Bob Siller, Ted White, Hal Terkel, Television And Radio News, MacMillan Company,
New York, 1960, p.189
29

selection of stories in a set order, the whole piece overlaid with a


commentary. Such a newsreel could only be used in its entirety and therefore
lacked the flexibility that television stations needed. INS-Telenews first
undertook the step to drop the commentary and the reels were released to the
television stations with scripts to be read by an announcer. If there was a
speech, statement or some other usable sound it was supplied on an optical
track. Since the scripts were more easily prepared than sound commentary
put on the film sound track, this also speeded up the production process and
television stations could receive the reels sooner. The switch from 35mm to
16mm film was another groundbreaking development.16mm cameras were
better suited for television newsgathering than the bulky 35mm equipment
and were also the more economic option. By the mid Fifties many television
stations did not even have equipment compatible with 35mm film. Most
importantly, INS-Telenews altered its service and replaced the newsreel with
single newsfilm clips. Stations would still receive a similar number of stories
as they would in a newsreel (eight to ten items), but now they could easily
eliminate stories they did not want and write their own commentary for the
chosen items. Even if the format and delivery methods may have changed,
television agencies use the system of single story provision to this day.

30

Another change was in the content of the syndicated stories; more space was
devoted to foreign items and hard news in general.31
While INS-Telenews was leading United Press-Movietone in the
number of stations subscribing for many years, the newsfilm service fell on
hard times when it lost the CBS-TV business in early 1953. The CBS action
not only took about $7000 a week from the INS-Telenews exchequer, but
the network would also shortly go into competition with a newsfilm
operation of is own.32 In January 1954, INS-Telenews was purchased by
Hearst Enterprises and began to share material with the News Of The Day
series. By then INS-Telenews had some 150 staff cameramen and
stringers.33 It released a daily newsreel five days a week and a weekly sports
edition for US television stations. The daily issues were about 250 meters
long with about 36 to 40 copies being made and 18 of the sports edition.
INS-Telenews offered many items from the United Nations and generally
secured about four times as much film material as it actually used. In view of
its special features, INS-Telenews cost up to four times as much as ordinary

31

This view is supported by two texts from the Fifties: Bob Siller, Ted White, Hal Terkel,
Television And Radio News, MacMillan Company, New York, 1960, and Peter Baechlin,
Maurice Muller-Strauss, newsreels Across The World, UNESCO, Paris, 1952.
32
Billboard May 2, 1953, p.12 Telenews Seeking New Distributor
33
Siller, White, Terkel, 1960, p.184.
31

newsreels. 34 As the networks built up their national transmission


connections and developed their own newsgathering operations, they were
keen to shed reliance on costly third party syndication services. INSTelenews never recovered from losing the CBS contract. In the US, the
market was crowded with the three networks doing most of the
newsgathering themselves. INS-Telenews was left to compete for
independent stations contracts with United Press Movietone. As opposed to
its competitor, INS-Telenews failed to develop its business in the now
burgeoning European market. In May 1958, United Press acquired the
Hearst-owned INS and became UPI. The United Press Movietone newsfilm
agency was originally not part of the deal35, but it is possible that Hearst saw
UPMT as the stronger agency of the two and UPMT later became a
subsidiary of UPI. INS-Telenews faded away in the early Sixties. The
UCLA Film & Television Archive holds the INS-Telenews films from 1954
1962 as part of the Hearst Metrotone News collection.36 The southern
division of Telenews continued to cover local, national and world events

34

Peter Baechlin, Maurice Muller-Strauss, newsreels Across The World, UNESCO, Paris,
1952, p.66.
35
Richard M. Harnett, Billy G. Ferguson,Unipress, United Press International, Covering
the 20th Century, Fulcrum Publishing, Colorado, 2003, p.183.
36
Joshua Amberg, ARSC Study Guide, UCLA Film & Television Archive, Hearst
Metrotone News Collection, Los Angeles, Date Unknown, Accessed, June 2009,
http://www.cinema.ucla.edu/pdfs/FTVStudyGuides/hearst_newsreel.pdf.
The pre 1954 INS Telenews archive is held by CinemaArts in the US
32

news at a Florida station. This collection is now held at Historic Films


archives in New Jersey.37

CBS Newsfilm

As a television network, the main activity of CBS did not consist of


newsfilm syndication. The CBS Newsfilm division nevertheless has to
feature in any account of early television news agencies, since CBS
Newsfilm became a major player in the domestic market and also syndicated
its newsfilm internationally more aggressively than other US networks. CBS
was not pioneering in newsfilm syndication. In the late Forties, the network
relied heavily on a fledgling agency, INS-Telenews, for film. The contract
was signed to broaden CBSs own coverage for its daily news programme.
Although INS-Telenews had made adjustments for its television customers,
such as using 16-mm cameras and delivering service daily, there were
discouraging aspects to dependence on a syndicated service. It was felt, that
INS-Telenews, even though it was more flexible than other newsreels, was
still too newsreel-oriented and did not cater to televisions specialised news
37

Anon, Historic Films, Southern Telenews Library (1958-1978), Accessed, June 2009,
http://www.historicfilms.com/library_pages/telenews.html . Due to the wide circulation,
it is likely that parts of the INS-Telenews collection are held in other archives (e.g. the
BFI Archive hols a Telenews collection).
33

requirements. The biggest issue with reliance on outside film suppliers was
that the CBS News department had no control over the INS-Telenews
assignment desk. CBS could sometimes suggest stories for coverage, but
mostly had to accept what was delivered. Its personnel had little impact on
the product and there was little opportunity to coordinate the efforts of its
reporters with INS-Telenews crews.38 Devising a method to create its own
film product was essential and CBS started experimenting with having a
network of stringers across the country. A real push for improving film
coverage came in 1953 when the number of stations on the CBS Network
grew from 66 to 113, due to the lifting of the three-year FCC freeze. Plans
were proposed for the establishment of a CBS newsfilm organisation
adequate to furnish a service to the news department. To offset some of the
cost of a worldwide newsgathering operation, the newsfilm unit was to
deliver a syndicated service to local television stations, now beginning to
come on the air in increasing numbers.
The syndication service did not become a reality straight away. With
the Telenews contract expiring in May 1953, CBS had to concentrate on
setting up its newsgathering operation. The venture was officially announced
on 8th April 1953. CBS Newsfilm was to function as a supplier to the news
38

Sig Mickelson, The Decade That Shaped Television News, CBS In The 1950s, Prager,
London, 1998, p. 20.
34

department and would operate in close coordination with news management.


Its assignment staff would work with the news director and program units.
Finally, an exchange agreement was put in place with the BBC and ORTF in
France. The CBS News organisation started on the 15th May 1953 but it was
not until September that it went into syndication with KLZ-TV in Denver as
its first customer. Televisa in Mexico followed shortly as the first
international customer.39 Beyond its daily syndication films, CBS Newsfilm
also offered clientele extensive coverage of sporting events and put out a
weekly 15-minute sports program. Similarly, it issued a weekly 15-minute
news review, and a 30-minute year-end review. The BBC cancelled the CBS
contract as early as 1954 as the service did not add enough to their input to
justify continuation. But ITN, was on the horizon and CBS started
approaching the new UK broadcaster to help setting up their news
organisation. At the beginning ITN was more a customer, with an exchange
partnership envisaged at a later point. Growth by 1960 had been enormous;
CBS Newsfilm was serving every major market in the United States and
thirty-nine clients in twenty-seven countries. There were now staff members
and contract personnel in eight major capital cities outside the United States,
and in six cities within the country. The newly formed CBS News division

39

Ibid, p.117
35

had been given special status as an autonomous unit within the CBS
corporate structure.40

United Press Movietone

In the early 20th Century, two American newspaper publishers; E.W.


Scripps and William Randolph Hearst shared a problem the Associated
Press refusal to serve their newspapers. The AP prohibited its customers to
subscribe or provide news to any other service. This rule was enforced when
the AP discontinued service to Scripps newspapers that exchanged news
among themselves. Scripps desperately needed a wire service for his
afternoon papers. He had to have cable news from overseas and a national
news report. Unable to break the AP stranglehold on wire news, Scripps
decided to start a comprehensive service of his own.41 Scripps launched
United Press in 1907. Two years later, Hearst formed INS to compete with
AP and UP. The INS pioneered sensational news coverage and operated on a
smaller scale than the UP and AP. The United Press achieved great standing
and respect during the two World Wars. Although UP became a serious
competitor to the Associated Press, it retained its underdog status, not least
40
41

Ibid, p.5, p.200.


Harnett, Ferguson, 2003, p.12, p.27, p30.
36

because the AP was always the wealthier organisation. Not being owned by
its newspaper members meant that the UP could venture into new media
more readily. The UP was the first major press association to make its
reports available to radio, and took an early plunge in television. From
September 1947, UP offered a daily five-minute still wirephoto show but the
agency was anxious to get started with films. In 1948 UP began discussing
joint production of a television newsreel with various film companies,
Universal and Fox-Movietone amongst them.42 The choice eventually fell on
Fox-Movietone, long foremost in the newsreel field, and the first of the
newsreel companies to enter television.43 Although United Press Movietone
(UPMT) is generally credited as the first television newsfilm agency,44 the
agreement between United Press and Twentieth Century-Fox Movietone to
shoot newsfilm for television stations was only announced on July 13, 1948
a good six months after the INS-Telenews service was started up. UPMT
nevertheless plays the most significant role in the history of television news
agencies. It too was pioneering and along with INS-Telenews introduced
crucial innovations and procedures that became intrinsic to the business of
motion picture newsgathering. Yet while INS-Telenews faltered in the early
42

Sultan, June 19, 1948, p.16.


Anon, Paramount and U-I join daily television feed, Boxoffice, Canadian Edition,
February 7 1948, p.16.
44
Boyd-Barrett,1980, p.238.
43

37

Sixties, UPMT grew steadily and became the first television news agency to
operate on a truly international level.
Until the television boom in the early Fifties, the UPMT operation
was low-key with only a handful of domestic clients. Some sources actually
date the beginning of the syndication operation with 1951.45 At first,
production was exclusively in 35mm. From 1952 some stories were shot on
16mm but 35mm footage continued to be the mainstay. Fox-Movietone
continued to produce and distribute its 35mm theatrical newsreel. Peter
Bragman of Movietone News, the archive now holding the entire US
Movietone and UPMT output, says that although the production of newsfilm
for the theatre and television were separate operations, there is some16mm
and 35mm overlap. This would indicate that stories shot for the FoxMovietone newsreel would also be supplied to UPMTs television customers
and vice-versa. The Movietone archive holdings indicate that a general
switch to the 16mm format for the television market happened in 1955. By
1953 UPMT delivered each story as a separate film clip rather than all the

45

e.g. William C. Payette, Just Like Radio, News Develops as TV Staple; 52 Key Year,
The Billboard, September 20, 1952, p.11.
http://books.google.com/books?id=RhoEAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA11&dq=%22United+Pres
s%22+Fox+Movietone&lr=. Or Anon, Fox Is Ending Domestic newsreel; New Format,
Boxoffice, September 2, 1963, Accessed, May, 2009.
http://issuu.com/boxoffice/docs/boxoffice_090263/8
38

stories in the shipment on one reel. 46 That UPMT by this time moved away
from newsreel-style editing is further supported by the fact that the entire
16mm UPMT archive consists of individual stories.47 UPMT quickly
expanded its coverage and processing facilities. The two companies cooperated so successfully that by 1952 more than half of the television
stations on the air were served by UPMT, receiving 15-25 stories per day and a total of 200 minutes of newsfilm a week. 48 The stories were mostly
silent so that the anchor could read the script. Suggested narration was
supplied (3 words to a second) and the shotlist would be teletyped to clients.
The films were supplied without natural sound, apart from important sound
bites such as press conferences. The average film stories run 45 seconds to a
minute or more. The version issued by UPMT was intended as an edited
version. However, clients were entirely free to edit the film further even if
the average length of each story did not leave a great deal of room to
manoeuvre. The change in assignment desk from a newsreel to a news wire
agency was reflected in the subject; The Movietone theatrical newsreel
46

Gene Plotnik, The Story Behind newsreel TV Films, The Billboard, January 17, 1953,
p.17., Accessed, May 2009.
http://books.google.com/books?id=GQsEAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA17&dq=%22united+pres
s%22+movietone&lr=&as_pt=MAGAZINES.
47
Telephone interview with Peter Bragman, Director of Archives at Fox Movietone
News;, 26th June 2009. See also the US Fox Movietone News website;
http://www.movietonews.com/the_fox_movietone_newsreel.html.
48
Payette, The Billboard,1952, p.11.

39

leaned toward lighter stories, such as animal antics or sports. In political


terms it was conservative, and in the 1950s strongly anti-communist,
supporting McCarthyism. Whilst Movietone would have found it difficult to
sell its reel to theatres in the south if it included stories about desegregation,
the films intended for television could carry controversial subjects such as
civil rights. Compared to the theatrical newsreel the television film also dealt
with more hard news, such as national politics, and with time more
international news.49 The Networks were reluctant to rely on agencies for
their newsfilm due to the fact that they had no control over the assignment
desk and sometime the quality of the newsfilm did not measure up to their
requirements or did not match their style. UPMT therefore supplied mainly
to independent television stations. The agency tried to compete with the
three big television networks. However, CBS, NBC and ABC could all
afford the bill for leasing coaxial cable from coast to coast. UPMT couldnt
and therefore had to keep relying on airlines, trains and couriers to move its
film; a far slower delivery method. As networks stepped up their own news
gathering activities in the mid Fifties, UPMT could not find enough clients
in the US and had to look for new markets.

49

This view was supported in telephone interviews with Reese Schonfeld, 1956 UPMT
Copyboy & 1973 UPITN Vice President and Managing Editor (May 2009) and Peter
Bragman of Fox Movietone News Archives (June 2009)
40

The UPMT product had already been sold abroad through United
Press foreign offices but the agency was on the look out for a major
European client. By now television stations in Europe were coming on air in
large numbers and Europe was becoming a viable market - especially
Britain, with the BBC leading the field since the end of the war. Up to this
point the BBC had been relying on its own cameramen and briefly on the
CBS syndication service but with the prospect of ITN coming on air in
September 1955, the BBC had to find ways to improve its coverage. UPMT
offered a one-month trial contract free of charge to the BBC. In previous
years, UPMT had relied on the Movietone outlet in the UK, but since the
BBC was worried that the service would be too US oriented and with the
prospect of more European clients coming on board, UPMT established a
permanent office in London. With the UK office UPMT could offer a more
localised service. When the trial service finished in September 1955 the
BBC signed a lucrative contract for seven years and became the companys
first television client in Europe.50 Soon, other stations wanted a trial service

50

The annual subscription amounted to 153,000. Anon, British Broadcasting


Corporation v. Johns (Inspector of Taxes), February March, 1964, Accessed, July 2009,
http://209.85.229.132/search?q=cache:6GMq1AGY71MJ:oxcheps.new.ox.ac.uk/new/cas
ebook/cases/Cases%2520Chapter%25205/British%2520Broadcasting%2520Corporation
%2520v%2520Johns.doc+British+Broadcasting+Corporation+v+Johns.doc.&cd=1&hl=e
n&ct=clnk
41

and by Christmas UPMT had a dozen clients, counting many of the big
stations in Europe. 51
At the beginning UP and Movietone were not in the same building;
the British Movietone head office was at 22 Soho Square, also the location
for Kay Laboratories where all the film was processed. The UP group were
based at the UP headquarters in Bouverie Street. They had a small office on
the second floor with access to the UP wire service. The staff at Bouverie
Street consisted of Richard S. Clark, Kenneth Warr, Martin Bishop, George
Carey, Ian Fawcett and later Kenneth Coyte, but more people had to be
employed soon with more clients and more film to process. A hand-wound
telephone linked the two offices and UPI teleprinter to communicate written
material.52 The United Press Movietone collaboration was modelled on the
US experience; to begin with, Movietone shot in 35mm and the film would
be reduced to 16mm for UPMT. In 1955 the BBC switched to 16mm and the
British UPMT division followed suit. The arrangement was that Movietone
would supply the newsfilm collected though its network of freelancers and
permanent staff of cameramen all around the world. UP would choose what
subject they wanted and these items would be given priority so that a print of
51

Terry Gallacher, UPMT, UPIN, UPITN, Head of Commercial Productions 1964


1983, Internet Interview and Email exchange, July 2009.
52
Andrew Ailes, 1959 1963 UPMT. Copy boy to sub-editor, Subsequently senior posts
at Visnews, Telephone conversation and email exchange, May 2009.

42

the story would be delivered to the BBC for them to include in their nightly
bulletin. Increasingly, the story leads came from UP. Kenneth Warr explains
that Movietone were used to make features and lacked a sense of
newsworthiness. He gives an example of a rail strike; a Movietone
cameraman was sent to Paddington to cover the story but returned with no
film, saying that nothing was happening and that no one was there. Yet these
were exactly the pictures Warr was after. UP provided the editorial services;
wires, assignment, writers to do the shotlisting and suggested commentary.
UP was also responsible for sales and distribution. UP made an effort to find
freelance cameramen through its worldwide network. Many were equipped
with the 16mm clockwork Bolex camera.53 These cameramen were of
widely varying capability and some were taught on the job. This meant that
they had to spend time alongside a proven cameraman. Guidance came from
the newsreel cameramen who had for years been covering the news without
the aid of a journalist or even detailed written instructions.54 In general, there
was a lot of continuity from newsreel days in staff. Some UPMT editors had
been in the business since the Twenties. They were used to 35mm film and

53

Andrew Ailes, Getting My Feet Wet, Archive Zones, Focal International, London
Date? p.1
54
Terry Gallacher, 2009.
43

hated 16mm. They called it spaghetti. 55 The London UPMT office was
responsible for world coverage, except for North America. If US wanted
something from France, for example, they would call the London office who
would then liaise with its bureau in France. Vice-versa, if an American story
was needed in the UK, London would get in touch with UPMT in NY. But
usually both sides knew what kind of stories should be supplied anyway.
Each day there would be a duty journalist who would occupy the slot. This
position got its name from the desk arrangement where the occupier was
surrounded on three sides by a desk. It was his job to nominate the list of
items to be chosen for dispatch. It was the skill and expertise of the duty
journalist to decide which client received what. The BBC contract stated that
the broadcaster would receive all the stories of the day, but other clients
could not afford the full service.56
In 1961 UPMT moved to Denham Studios. Here both companies
occupied neighbouring offices on the first floor. The arrangement allowed
the two companies to operate at closer range and, at the same time, get the
film developed on the premises by Rank Film Laboratories. The new
55

Reese Schonfeld, Me and Ted Against the World : The Unauthorized Story of the
Founding of CNN, Harper Collins, New York, 2001, p.4.
56
Kenneth Warr, Scriptwriter, August 1955 Aug 1969 UPMT/UPIN, Desk Editor,
London Editor, eventually Managing Editor, Conversation in Bath Upon Avon on May
20th 2009 and written exchange, June 18th 2009.

44

location also allowed for faster access to Heathrow, vital for receiving and
dispatching film. Efforts were made to secure further clients over the next
years. As time went by, the television news service required stories that
Movietone would not normally cover. This led to more and more material
being shot specifically for the television service. There was now a certain
amount of friction between the companies since Movietone believed that UP
were asking for more than their entitlement.57 On 30th September 1963, UP
and Movietone divorced. Although UPI-Movietone was succeeding in
making a profit for UPI, with sales in Europe and South America as well as
the United States, Fox executives wanted to get out of the deal because they
felt they were not making enough from it. 58 Prior to this, in 1958, UP had
acquired the Hearst-owned INS and became United Press International
UPI. After the split from Movietone, UPI set up a corporate entity; UPINewsfilm (UPIN). By agreement UPI-Newsfilm continued to provide some
stories to British Movietone. UPIN took on staff cameramen around the
world, very often former Movietone staff now on the UPI payroll. They
were located in the local UPI Bureau offices, which meant they could easily
be contacted through the wire. Such an arrangement existed in Paris,
Frankfurt and Rome. In the US, there were UPIN offices in New York and
57
58

Warr, Bath, 2009


Harnett, Ferguson, 2003, p.300.
45

Washington with staff crews and in London six staff cameramen were on
hand. The client list continued to expand as stations around the world
commenced broadcasting. In Europe, the client list included, ORTF
(France), WDR Cologne, ZDF and ARD (Germany), RAI (Italy), NOS
(Netherlands) BRT/RTB (Belgium) and the majority of countries of the
Eastern Bloc. By the 1960s most of the Middle East had begun broadcasting
and the majority of them became clients. UPI, having broken away from
Movietone, now believed that it was essential that they teamed up with
another major client. Negotiations took place around Europe but the one that
seemed for some time to be favourite was a German Broadcaster.59 These
negotiations did not come to fruition and the pressure to find a big
client/partner increased when UPIN lost the BBC contract. ITN was the
obvious choice; a big broadcaster already running its own small syndication
business. But it took four years before UPI actually joined with ITN to form
UPITN in June 1967. The company moved away from Denham and joined
up with ITN at their headquarters in the Kingsway. It was not an altogether
happy union but the business grew, and the news agency enjoyed its heydays during the Seventies. UPI was plagued by financial difficulties and
embroiled in various scandals that had negative consequences for UPITN. In

59

Kenneth Warr, conversation Bath, May 2009


46

the early Eighties, UPI sold off its last shares of UPITN, and the company
name was changed to Worldwide Television News (WTN) soon thereafter.60

BCINA/Visnews

The formation of Visnews, the British television news agency that


came to dominate the field, is closely linked to the history of another agency,
United Press Movietone. The BBC was relying heavily on the UPMT
newsfilm service from 1955 onwards. Whilst the two companies enjoyed a
good relationship, managers at the BBC felt uneasy about depending on an
American company for their newsfilm. Despite UPMTs effort to provide a
customised service to the BBC by opening a UK office, it was felt that the
material was limited to matters that were mainly of interest to American
clients, which at the time formed UPMTs main customer base. The BBC
needed films from countries to which Britain had colonial ties. Another
problem was that the films obtained from UPMT had an American slant to
them which was undesirable with controversial subjects such as

60

Refer to Paterson, 1996, for an exhaustive account of the UPITN period. The UPITN
archive is held by AP Archive; www.aparchive.com. The UPMT archive is shared
between the British Movietone News archive, http://www.movietone.com/, and Fox
Movietone News archive in the US, www.movietonews.com
47

McCarthyism.61 Since there was no British agency to turn to, the BBC set
out on a project to counter the American monopoly. A driving force behind
the undertaking director-General of the BBC, Sir Ian Jacob, wanted to
establish a British agency so as not to leave the whole field to the
Americans.62 It was clear that the BBC could not go it alone and needed a
strong partner. An approach was made to Reuters, a news agency with which
the BBC already stood in a close relationship. Reuters was not willing to
participate and eventually the BBC joined with other television stations in
establishing a television news agency. In February 1957, the British
Commonwealth International Newsfilm Agency (BCINA) was formed by
the BBC, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and Australian
Broadcasting Commission (ABC). The three stations were joined by the
Rank Organisation, then a major British film production firm, which brought
together the newsreel libraries of Gaumont and Universal, as well as British
Paramount News whose laboratories Rank owned. As opposed to the UPMT
set up where the newsreel producer was responsible for shooting the
newsfilm, the Rank involvement was limited to the use of its laboratories. In
1958, New Zealand Broadcasting (BZNZ) joined BCINA as an investor.

61

Andrew Ailes conversation, May 2009, Also, British Broadcasting Corporation v.


Johns, 1964
62
British Broadcasting Corporation v. Johns, 1964.
48

Kenneth Warr, working for UPMT at the time, remembers that before
the formation of BCINA, BBC asked whether its editors could spend some
days with UPMT to see how an agency worked. No hint of BBC forming its
own television news agency was given and UPMT naively welcomed the
BBC editors and showed them everything they could. Later the formation of
BCINA was suddenly announced.63 UPMT was surprised but confident that
it could cope with any competition. It took two or three years for BCINA to
find its feet. BCINA began by distributing film footage shot by BBC, ABC
(Australia) and CBC crews around the world, but gradually built its own
network of staff and stringer cameramen. Like UPMT, BCINA was also
located in West London for ease of access to Heathrow Airport. Some of the
original staff had been taken from newsreel companies, but former UPMT
people also largely staffed BCINA. The agency could offer much higher
wages than UPMT and many journalists and cameramen came over. Andrew
Ailes, one of the journalists to leave UPMT for BCINA, felt that the agency
was heavily overstaffed when he first joined. But as the television news
business grew in the Sixties and the pressure on agencies increased, BCINA
was in a better situation to meet the demands, due mainly to the solid

63

Kenneth Warr conversation, Bath, May 2009.


49

financial backing it enjoyed.64 In 1960 Reuters took an interest and


purchased its first shares in BCINA and later acquired more shares as Rank
withdrew. In 1962 NBC allowed BCINA to access their TV news network
for syndication in the service and two years later BCINA re-branded to
Visnews.
Initially, the operations of Visnews were sufficiently limited for the
BBC to continue to take UPIN (former UPMT) newsfilm. In 1965, the BBC
decided that it did not need the UPIN service any longer. This was a
devastating blow because the lucrative BBC contract covered the entire
agency operation with a profit margin. Since the contract also said that UPIN
would not sign with another UK station at a lower cost (i.e. ITN, which
could not afford to pay as much), the BBC was UPINs sole UK customer.65
To make matters worse, when UPMT/UPIN negotiated with the European
stations, the rates were set very low to encourage new clients. When
BCINA/Visnews came into the market, they were obliged to match the UP
rates or fail to enlarge their client list. BCINAs advantage was the power of
its founder members who probably made it possible for them to even
undercut UPMT/UPIN in some cases. While UPIN had to find new ways to
finance and making a profit out of its newsgathering operation, Visnews
64
65

Andres Ailes, telephone conversation, May 2009


Warr, Bath upon Avon, May 2009.
50

continued to grow. In the Seventies, both UPITN (former UPIN) and


Visnews were going strong and although each agency claimed supremacy
over the other, Visnews was the stronger of the two for many years. Reuters
acquired full control of Visnews in 1992 and in 1993 Visnews changed its
name to Reuters Television.

Conclusion

The origins of television news agencies have received little attention


in academic discourse. The subject is usually dealt with superficially in the
form of brief chapters within works concerning wider areas of research, such
as the histories of news wire agencies. Not only historical facts, such as
dates of events or company histories have been neglected, but also the
context within which they stood. It is important to understand the forces that
were at play and the changes in the market, which advanced the industry. A
re-evaluation of the role that newsreel companies and news wire agencies
played in establishing television news agencies is necessary. Continuities
from the newsreel era can easily be traced in the early television agencies,
mainly in the operational structure, staff and to some degree the in the
product itself. Upon closer examination, however, television news agencies

51

cannot be regarded as having descended from the newsreels. The newsreels


were firmly embedded in an entertainment context and formed only a small
and not necessarily profitable part of the Hollywood Studios business.
When it became necessary to step up the game and turn to serious
newsgathering, the majority of newsreels shied away. On the other hand, the
two newsreels that went into syndication for television were instrumental to
the innovation of the product and production methods and setting new
industry standards. The news wire agencies were acutely aware of the new
market and the need to get involved. Yet Reuters and the Associated Press,
the two giants in the field, did not participate in the first ventures. This fell to
the two smaller agencies; UP and INS. The formula of marrying up a film
producer with a news wire agency was successful but not the only option;
BCINA was set up without the initial involvement of either and became very
successful. The demand for television newsfilm initially arose in America
and it was there that television news agencies first came into being. As the
Networks grew and solidified their newsgathering operations, the agencies
were forced out of the American market. Only UPMT made a successful
leap across the ocean to Europe and became the first agency to operate on a
truly international level. A new competitor, one that was set up by its major
client, the BBC, soon faced UPMT. The arrival of television news upset the

52

established chain of news provision in the Forties and Fifites in America as


well as in Europe. As television news reporting improved in the following
decades, all other news outlets had to adjust to the new realities. Television
news agencies played and continue to play an instrumental part in
establishing television news as one of the most important sources of news.
These are the major themes that emerge out of the examination of an
era that transformed the gathering of motion picture news. This work is
necessarily limited to being an overview of the most important
developments at the beginning of the television agency business. Further indepth research is much needed. It is likely, that more primary sources can be
uncovered and further interviews with industry protagonists should be
carried out. Another line of inquiry which should be pursued is the
relationship between US Networks and the television news agencies with a
view to the newsgathering activities of the Networks themselves. In this
account, the main focus has been on developments in North America as this
is where the business first started, but the European television news market
and its early news exchange systems also merit further research. There are
many other aspects of television news agency history which lend themselves
to further research. The history of television news agencies is a fascinating
subject, one that offers plenty of opportunities for pioneering research.

53

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