It took nine days before the readers of the Market Harborough Advertiser are eventually brought up to date with the momentous events in Sarajevo when the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were assassinated.
Like the national papers last week, the Advertiser’s coverage condemned the assassination and sympathised with the Austro-Hungarians – all less than a month before they were at war with Britain.
This was not the Advertiser or Fleet Street pounding a ‘peace in our time’ policy that was out of sync with the Establishment, this was merely the reporting of how the Establishment was reacting.
The Advertiser’s report moved the story on from a simple recounting of the events of June 28 to the reaction from the higher echelons of Government.
The story begins: ‘In the House of Commons on Tuesday, the Prime Minister moved that a humble address be presented to his Majesty expressing the indignation and deep concern with which the House had learned of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his Consort, and praying his Majesty would be graciously pleased to express to the Emperor of Austria on behalf of the House, their abhorrence of the crime and profound sympathy with the Imperial and Royal family, and with the Government and with the peoples of the dual Monarchy.’
There is more of the same with the Emperor and the Archduke variously described as ‘gracious’, ‘sagacious’ and ‘a heroic head of a mighty state’.
The article continues: ‘The Emperor of Austria and his people had always been our friends and in the name of the Commons and nation of the United Kingdom, in the presence of this last and most inscrutable affliction, they respectfully tendered to the Emperor and to the great family of nations of which he was the venerable and venerated head, their heartfelt and most affectionate sympathy.’
There is nothing from the Establishment, or the Advertiser’s reporting, to suggest any forthcoming animosity, even allowing for the social niceties when it is expected that nothing negative is said at times of bereavement.
The Advertiser was not alone, merely part of the local and national Press pack: the Daily Telegraph of July 6, 1914, reports on the funeral of the Archduke in much the same vein.
A ‘well-informed Correspondent’ writes: ‘It may confidently be expected that the[Austrian] Monarchy will continue to pursue the pacific and steadfast policy which is notoriously dear to the aged Emperor and his confidential advisers. Nor will the loss of the Heir Apparent … affect that policy in the long run.’
However, there is one short sentence in the Advertiser’s report of the assassination that, with hindsight, appears prophetic: ‘Such an incredible crime, the Prime Minister observed, almost made us despair of the progress of mankind.’
It took the Advertiser just 52 lines of a single column to tell the story compared to nearly 200 lines devoted to whether Fleckney should get its own public water supply because only two of 11 wells in the village provided anything drinkable.
It may seem a strange choice of priority for the Editor, but the readers of the Advertiser expect a comprehensive coverage: they want news of national and international import – especially the tales of individual tragedy – but they also want to know what is happening in their community.
It is a choice made by local paper editors and their readers today: for instance, readers of the Harborough Mail website will see today’s main story is about modernising a town care home but there is access to national and international news too, albeit with a lower priority, with a story about US rapper Kanye West being booed off the stage at the Wireless festival.
In future weeks we will see how the Advertiser manages to balance its reporting of the conflict between the decisions of state and the fate of individual soldiers and the need to maintain some normality in life.
Check out this week’s Harborough Mail for current news from the Market Harborough area.