British news media date back to the origins of the modern newspaper in the 18th century and continue to be one of the most dynamic and controversial national news media into the 21st century. British news media include newspapers, television, radio and Internet, mostly based in London. British media reach large audiences in England and around the world, with television news broadcasts estimated to account for almost 30 percent of television viewing, more than 40 percent of English people reading a daily newspaper and in excess of 80 percent using the Internet.
British radio and television news are dominated by the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), which is publicly funded by a licensing fee. Several major daily newspapers are published. They were usually classed as either "broadsheets," which were considered more serious and professional, and "tabloids," which were generally sensationalistic and focused on stories of celebrities and scandals. Major newspapers abandoned the broadsheet format, and the only daily broadsheets that remain are The Daily Telegraph and the Financial Times. British newspapers are associated with political viewpoints, with The Guardian considered a liberal paper and The Daily Telegraph oriented toward a center-right perspective. Among tabloids, The Sun and the News of the World were leading periodicals until the News of the World closed following a major phone tapping scandal in 2011.
The earliest newspapers, often called periodicals because they were published periodically, appeared in Europe in the 18th century. In England, the first major periodical was The Spectator, which was written and published by Joseph Addison and Richard Steele from 1711 to 1712. This early newspaper was a single-sheet publication in which Addison and Steele wrote about topics of the day. Their purpose was not to report on current events but to cultivate an audience of educated and well-mannered readers. The Spectator was often read in the newly popular coffee houses of London. Both the newspaper and the coffee houses are credited with creating a new "public sphere" in 18th century Britain, in which an increasing number of people were informed about and involved in politics, art and social issues.
Fleet Street, a London road that is synonymous with the English printing trade, became the home of many British newspapers starting in the early 18th century. By the middle of the 18th century, there were 12 London papers and 24 regional papers, and newspaper circulation had reached nearly 7 million copies per year. At this time, daily papers began to appear, focusing mostly on financial news. Weekly papers continued in the tradition of The Spectator to offer essays on moral and social subjects, but they also started to cover major world events, such as the Lisbon earthquake of 1755.
The British news media continued to grow, and the first half of the 19th century was a golden age of newspaper production. At that time, the British news industry was publishing more than 50 papers in London alone, and as many as 100 in the rest of the country. During this period, the periodicals began to gain independence through the sale of advertisements and no longer relied on government subsidies to finance their publication. Further increases in circulation came at the start of the 19th century when taxes on newspapers were repealed. Two other important trends in British media also developed during this time: The industry became more professionalized and enjoyed increased journalistic standards, and newspapers became more strongly associated with particular political parties and viewpoints. Until the middle of the 19th century, papers were dominated by their publishers and reflected their perspectives almost exclusively.
The last Fleet Street newspaper was published at the end of the 1980s. Despite many important changes in the industry, British media continue to be an important business and to play a prominent role in public life. In the 20th century, newspapers in England, as in the rest of the Western world, were influenced by the technological development of the telegraph, which allowed reporters to send information quickly from distant locations, including overseas. The importance of this new method of reporting news led to the creation of wire news services. Circulation also continued to increase during this time, and by the middle of the century, more than two-thirds of the English public read a daily paper, and nearly all Britons read at least a Sunday paper. Finally, English newspapers, like their American counterparts, gained further independence from the influence of individual publishers, as media conglomerates began to buy local and national papers. At the beginning of the 21st century, the British publishing industry was a more than £20 billion business employing in excess of 150,000 people.