London newspapers are something even travelers will run into as many are available for free from distributors standing on street corners. Reading a local paper as you have a sit in one of the many parks or squares around town is a great way to integrate into local culture and catch up on news from a different perspective.
London newspapers have a long and rich history, with seeds dating to the medieval era of Town Criers, when the majority of people could not read or write and the Sovereign sent criers through the streets to broadcast news and new laws, sometimes in ballads and songs. The term “posting a notice” comes from the Town Crier tradition, as the crier would loudly announce his news and then nail the broadside to a post. Criers were provided royal protection because they often brought bad news and announced new taxes. This was one of the seeds for the tradition of freedom of the press, and to this day criers are protected by the laws of old England.
By the seventeenth century, when literacy was more widespread, many different publications, posters, and pamphlets started appearing, and newspapers in London England began to attain importance in the city, which at the time included only the area around Westminster and what is now Central London. By the 1720s, twelve London newspapers were being published, offering both rumor and hard news, and beginning the tradition of scandal publications that the London Sun and The Daily Mirror continue to fill today.
The venerable London Times began publication in 1785, when it was known as the Daily Universal Register (it became the Times only three years later). In its more than 200 years of publication, it has lent its name to many other papers around the world, from the New York Times to The Times of India. The London Times maintained its broadsheet format until 2004, when it switched to the more compact tabloid size to bolster its readership among younger people and commuters using public transportation. This respected paper also gave its name to the ubiquitous Times New Roman typeface, which was extremely legible even with the low tech printing process used for newsprint.
The London Times was the most important news publications in the world through the 1850s, even though there were 52 London newspapers by the turn of the century. However, by 1855, taxes on paper and stamp duties were removed, and there was a huge growth in new publications. The Manchester Guardian (established in 1821) was a chief competitor of the Times, and grew to be one of the most famous publications in the world by the 1890s. Today, it is published as the Guardian of London, and remains a chief competitor of the Times and a respected source of foreign news for most of the UK former colonies from Africa and India to Australia and Canada.
Today’s London Sun was first published in 1964. It floundered until it was purchased by Australian-American Rupert Murdoch of the Mirror Group of publications. He re-launched the Sun as a tabloid in 1969 with a front page about horse doping, and this began the tradition of scandal papers that include today’s London Star. Today, they both sell papers with a heavy emphasis on yellow journalism—sex, scandal, and gossip—with huge front pages designed to shock, and scantily clad women on page three known as the Page 3 Girls.
Traditionally, the London Sun was a liberal paper, originally supported by labor unions, and the Times was a conservative publication. The Sun, however, endorsed Margaret Thatcher in 1979, creating its own scandal. Today, newspapers throughout the UK tend to favor either one political side of the spectrum or the other, and are favorites with the working blue collar segment, the financial arena, or staunch conservatives.