How to read the Daily Telegraph

Boy, those period newspapers that I keep posting aren’t half difficult to read if you’re not used to them! It does seem like they’ve been specifically designed to be as unfriendly to the reader as possible; and yet, this is the golden age of British newspapers. So, here’s how you actually find things in the Telegraph; it does have its own slightly ridiculous logic. Think of pre-decimal British currency, with thruppences and farthings and guineas and half-crowns. 12 pennies in a shilling, 240 pennies in a pound. Why does anything need to make sense when the sun never sets on the British Empire, bigads?

(The answer to the question “Why the Daily Telegraph?” is “Unlike any other paper, they’re posting their entire WWI archive for free day-by-day.” In an ideal world I’d prefer to have the Times or the Daily Mail, and then have the Manchester Guardian as a counterpoint, but they’re all sitting on their archives, the greedy bastards.)

(This is the example paper I’m using, from the 23rd of October 1914.

I clicked the link, what do I do now?

I link to the splash page for each day; it gives you a little dinky reader app to browse the paper with, and then below it, whoever’s job it is to work this thing picks out a few articles that they found interesting. They do a very good job and their recommendations are usually worth checking out at some point. I do recommend that you click “Download the whole paper PDF and view”, which does exactly what it says on the tin. I find their reader app to be quite janky sometimes.

But, at any rate, you’ve opened the paper, and instead of a modern headline or any kind of important stories, you’ve found a shitload of irrelevant crap under the title on Page 1! The first thing we need to understand before I can discuss the format is that nothing is fixed, not even the number of pages in the paper. It will all deviate and change depending on what’s been happening and where the news is.

Quickstart Guide

Annoying, isn’t it? The first place for a new reader to turn is actually Page 8. The left-hand columns of this page are usually given over to theatrical listings, but then halfway down the third column you’ll find a list of contents; and the next column over will contain today’s leader (the British term for an editorial). The rest of the page is a crapshoot; sometimes you’ll find opinion columns here, sometimes letters to the editor, sometimes something completely different.

The next place to turn is Page 9. The far left column will almost always contain the daily official communique from France, always in bold type, with everything the general public needs to know about what happened yesterday. The page containing the official communique is also where all the big war news appears. This is where you’ll find the headlines about “Great Battles”, “Amazing Reverse”, “Germans in Rout” and so on. War news generally then continues onto Pages 10 and 11 as well. If the paper is currently running a charity appeal, its details will be in here somewhere also. The grand total in pounds (instead of shillings) is always to be found at the top of the rightmost column on one of these pages.

If you can’t find the day’s communique, just keep looking at the far left column. As long as you’re out of the first month or so of the war, there’ll be a communique and I’ve yet to see it appear anywhere on a page other than the top of the leftmost column.

Finally, Page 12 is usually a picture page. This is where maps usually appear, or stirring images of the troops, or some general. But today is an exception; the paper received the official dispatch from the Battle of Heligoland Bight, so chooses to put that on Page 12 instead. Today, the picture page has been bumped to Page 3; sometimes it moves to 11 or 13, or disappears entirely.

So that’s how you can find out what the war news was in today’s paper. Now, here’s what’s in the rest of the thing. I should note at this point that there is no regular letters page or column; when the Telegraph prints letters to the editor, it just shoves them in wherever it feels like, usually near an article related to the subject of the letter.

A Typical Format

All those hedges above put aside for a moment, this is what a typical Telegraph might look like, from front to back. It’s usually 16 pages long.

Page 1 always contains a grab-bag of odds and sods that are almost (but not quite) indistinguishable from the classifieds page. These include Births/Marriages/Deaths, personal notices, notices for the attention of the public, and legal and financial notices. Think of it more like an office pin-board than a newspaper front page.

Page 2 always has financial news; the stock market, property values, War Loans, bond issues, insurance matters, and so forth.

Page 3 is usually the courts page. This is where you find out who’s suing who for libel, what the latest sensational murder case is, and who’s getting divorced. In my example paper, this information has been jammed in around the picture page, but usually it gets most of Page 3 to itself, with sundry domestic news taking up any spare space.

Page 4 carries a lot of advertising, usually related to the specialty column that appears here. This contains a different weekly column each day; the example paper has the Literature column. I’ve also seen columns on engineering, gardening, motoring, and theatre in this position. Random, general domestic news usually gets shoved in underneath it.

Page 5 is hard to predict. Often this page will be dominated by today’s casualty report of officers and men killed, wounded or missing. It’s also s a relatively popular space for a full or half-page advert. You’ll also find more general domestic news, funny stories from the war, and the odd letter to the editor.

Page 6 is usually the main domestic news page. You’ll also often find floating around here updates on various charitable campaigns.

Page 7 is more of the same. When Parliament is in session, reports of the day’s proceedings in the House of Commons often appear here.

Page 8, as mentioned, contains the contents, theatrical adverts, leaders, opinion, and the odd letter to the editor.

Pages 9-11 are usually devoted to war news, letters to the editor, and the newspaper’s own charitable activities, if any.

Page 12 is the usual picture page, with more war news around it.

Page 13 is the hardest to predict. The longest casualty reports I’ve seen often end up stripped over Pages 12 and 13. On Saturdays, Mrs Eric Pritchard’s “A Page for Women” (how generous!) usually appears here somewhere.

Page 14 usually has whatever sports news there still is, particularly horse-racing and billiards.

Pages 15 and 16 have the classified adverts. Which are all right if you like that sort of thing. Situations vacant, rooms to let, property for sale, and so on.

Hopefully this makes the Daily Telegraph archive slightly less intimidating! Once you get used to it, it only takes about five minutes to flip through the paper; and although both myself and the archivist flag up articles we found interesting, there’s plenty else in there that might catch your eye but not mine.

26 thoughts on “How to read the Daily Telegraph

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