Almost as if the digital revolution never happened, the newsroom of The Times once again resounds to the clatter of the old-fashioned typewriter.
Nearly three decades after Rupert Murdoch’s UK newspaper publisher revolutionised the industry by moving to Wapping and ending the “hot metal” era, his flagship title has reintroduced the distinctive sound of old Fleet Street.
To the surprise of Times journalists, a tall speaker on a stand has been erected in the newsroom to pump out typewriter sounds, to increase energy levels and help reporters to hit deadlines. The audio begins with the gentle patter of a single typewriter and slowly builds to a crescendo, with the keys of ranks of machines hammering down as the paper’s print edition is due to go to press.
The development, which was described as a “trial” today by publisher News UK, has caused some bemusement among journalists, one of whom tried unsuccessfully to turn the sound off. The idea is one of a series of experiments introduced as The Times and other News UK titles have departed Wapping for new offices in the Baby Shard, London Bridge, South London.
The Times’s initiative coincides with a revival of interest in the typewriter, a trend which the newspaper reflected on Page 3 today, with a report on how the actor Tom Hanks has developed the Hanx Writer app, which simulates the sound of an old-fashioned typewriter and has gone to the top of the iTunes app store in the US. Hanks, it noted, can tell the difference between the sounds of an Olivetti, a Remington and a Royal typewriter model.
Whether journalists on The Times feel a similar sense of nostalgia is unclear. George Brock, a former Times journalist, and professor of journalism at City University, London, said the sound was unlikely to rekindle memories among current staff.
“Typewriters disappeared from newsrooms in the late 1980s. There will be very few people there who remember the noise of massed bands of typewriters in the newsroom,” he said. “They will have to find out whether a crescendo of noise will make reporters work better or faster.”
Michael Williams, who began his newspaper career at The Times’s old offices in London’s Gray’s Inn Road in 1973, and is now a senior lecturer in journalism at the University of Central Lancashire, saw merit in the idea.
“People feel to some extent disengaged from the thrill of producing a newspaper, which is galvanising”, he said, referring to the relative quiet of modern newsrooms, where interviews might be conducted by email or instant messaging rather than phone, and where digital publishing is continuous.
The introduction of the typewriter speaker was “a playful idea”, said Lucia Adams, deputy head of digital for The Times and Sunday Times. “Technology has always been an important part of what The Times has done and the typewriter might be an old technology but it’s still a technology.”
The new Times newsroom on the 11th floor of the Baby Shard also features large digital display boards reflecting the public response to stories published online.
News UK is set to stage Newseum, an exhibition of newspaper technologies which will be hosted by the Saatchi Gallery in London next month.