local, national, international, or technical organization that gathers and distributes news, usually for newspapers, periodicals, and broadcasters.
As early as the 1820s a news agency, the Association of Morning Newspapers, was formed in New York City to gather incoming reports from Europe. Other local news agencies sprang up, and by 1856 the General News Association—comprising many important New York City papers—was organized. Out of this agency emerged in the 1870s the New York Associated Press, a cooperative news agency for New York papers that sold copy to daily papers throughout the country; the United Press began in 1882. Ten years later these organizations were merged, but the same year a rival agency, the Associated Press of Illinois, was founded.
In Europe three international agencies had arisen—Agence Havas of Paris (1835); the Reuter Telegram Company of London (1851), known simply as Reuters; and the Continental Telegraphen Compagnie of Berlin (1849), known as the Wolff Agency. These began as financial-data services for bankers but extended their coverage to world news. By 1866 national agencies were arising in many European countries; they covered and sold news locally, relying on the major services for coverage and sales abroad.
After the Associated Press of Illinois signed exchange contracts with the worldwide networks, the United Press went under (1897). In 1900 the Associated Press of Illinois, desiring to restrict its membership, reincorporated in New York state and was thereafter known as the Associated Press (AP); in 1915 the United States forbade the agency to restrict its members' use of other services. A Supreme Court decision in 1945 ended the exclusion of members' competitors. In 1906 William Randolph Hearst founded the International News Service (INS), available to papers of other publishers as well as his own. The United Press Association, usually called United Press (UP) although there was no connection with the earlier organization, became an affiliate of the Scripps-Howard newspapers and sold reports to others.
The AP, UP, and INS grew steadily, and by the 1930s their foreign operations freed them of dependence on the European agencies, which tended to reflect national viewpoints in political news. In 1958 INS was merged with UP, forming United Press International (UPI). Since the 1980s, UPI has had a series of owners and undergone extensive downsizing; many other agencies have reduce the number of their employers since the late 1990s, as new agencies have been forced to adjust to changes in newspaper publishing and broadcasting due to the rise of the Internet. After World War II many agencies, including Reuters, AP, and Agence France-Presse (the renamed Agence Havas) became cooperatives owned by their member publishers. In 2008 Reuters was acquired by the Thomson Corp., which became Thomson Reuters. CNN, the television news network, began offering a wire service to newspapers in 2008.
Government ownership of news agencies stems from the early 1900s. In 1904 the St. Petersburg (later Petrograd) Telegraph Agency was founded by the Russian government. In 1918, Soviet Russia founded Rosta, the Russian Telegraph Agency, by merging the telegraph agency with the government press bureau, and in 1925 Rosta became TASS, the Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union. Renamed the Information Telegraph Agency of Russia in 1992 and known as ITAR-TASS, it became the official news service of Russia. Since 2014, when it was renamed Russian News Agency TASS, it has been known as TASS. In 1915, Germany established a service called Transocean to broadcast war propaganda. The New China News Agency (Xinhua), founded in 1931 as the Red China News Agency, maintains official news and financial service wires, publishes dozens of newspapers and magazines, has its own advertising and public relations firms, and runs a school of journalism. Since 1990 independent news agencies have appeared in Eastern Europe, including Interfax in Russia and A. M. Pres in Romania.
From 1915 until the 1940s, news agencies in the United States transmitted most copy over telephone wires to teletypewriters in newspaper offices. The late 1940s, however, brought the introduction of Teletypesetter machines, which allowed the stories from the agencies, in the form of perforated paper tape, to be fed into typesetting, or linotype, machines, without the use of human operators. In using Teletypesetters to save labor, publishers ceded to the agencies some of their editing prerogative, thereby standardizing usage and writing style in newspaper stories.
Newspapers moved from linotype to photocomposition in the late 1960s to 1970s. Information is now transmitted by satellite service or the Internet, and newspapers reconstruct the information in their own format. Most news agencies also offer their clients photographs, news analyses, and special features; for radio and television stations they transmit news-broadcast scripts, video, and programming. Since the advent of computer technology, many news services have become available on line, and their products are also available for mobile phones and other devices.
- See K. Cooper, Barriers Down (1942, repr. 1969).
- UNESCO, News Agencies, Their Structure and Operation (1953, repr. 1969).
- V. Rosewater, History of Cooperative News Gathering in the United States (1930, repr. 1971).
- Atwood, L. E., International Perspectives on News (1982).
- The International News Services (1984). ,
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