Harmsworth’s Daily Timesaver: the world’s first tabloid as an experiment in placing speed at the heart of the reading experience

Robert Campbell
University of South Wales

This proposal represents a significant new post-doctoral development
in my study of an under-reported episode in journalism history in
which Alfred Harmsworth, founder of the Daily Mail, acting as guest
editor, turned Joseph W Pulitzer’s New York World into a prototype
tabloid to mark the first day of the 20th century (January 1 1901).
The newspaper, nicknamed the Daily Timesaver, was arguably the
world’s first tabloid. It was returned to its regular format the
next day – but not without prompting debate at the time which, until
this research, has faded into the margins of newspaper history. I
presented interim findings in New York (Campbell, 2011) but on
completion of my PhD (Campbell, 2014) am now able to shed fresh new
light on the subject. My thesis is that Harmsworth’s experiment was
with the temporal nature of the reading experience. He proposed a
problem – information overload – and offered a solution in the
form of bite-sized news contained within a tabloid format. It was an
unusually pervasive attempt to address the transaction at the heart of
the reading experience: not the surrender of small change for the
cover price, but of the more precious reader resource of time.
Harmsworth’s vision (short-lived, at least at the time) was to erode
the autonomy of the reading experience, while persuading readers that
it was what they had wished for. As such, my work challenges a
prevailing normative approach to tabloids that focuses on news versus
entertainment, and offers instead insights drawing on concepts of
periodicity, speed, and material versus represented relationships. My
proposal addresses the themes of the conference in that it is a case
study of an individual publication of note and a significant
editor/owner. The research is based on archival evidence from the
Butler Library at Columbia University in New York, plus US press
reports of what became a news event in itself, and a close reading of
the Timesaver.

Newspapers and Periodicals in Britain and Ireland from 1800 to 1900