Wire services

Paul Julius Reuter

Specialized newsletters go back to the Renaissance and the birth of banking and stock markets. No matter how the news of major events is carried—by telegraph or messenger or carrier pigeon—even a few hours of advance notice can be profitable on a stock market or in commodities trading. But these news services were meant for an elite audience.

For most readers, news from other countries came from newspapers carried in the mail, translated, edited, and then reset into type. The process could take days or sometimes weeks.

Charles Louis Havas, Paul Reuters, and Bernard Wolff changed the world by creating news agencies that used the telegraph to rapidly transmit information. Charles-Louis Havas (1783–1858) started his working life as a supply officer for the French military, serving in Nantes, France. Later he was a banker, a cotton importer, and a newspaper entrepreneur. Because of his work in both imports and news, he found it easy to view information as an international commodity.

In 1830, following the July Revolution, Louis-Philippe succeeded to the French throne. Having strong liberal tendencies, Louise-Philippe proclaimed freedom of the press, and Havas saw the need for better organization of information and news traffic (Havas 2015). His first step was to set up a foreign newspaper translation bureau in Paris. The bureau was also a bookstore and a focal point of international politics and information. Three years later it became Agence Havas, the world’s first news agency (Shrivastava 2007).

In the beginning, Havas used carrier pigeons to bring news from the morning’s British newspapers to Paris by 3.00 p.m., in time for the evening editions. When the telegraph arrived in France in 1845, Havas was the first to use it. The Havas agency became a publicly traded company after the death of Charles-Louis Havas in 1858, and was the largest of the world’s news agencies for almost a century.

Berhnard Wolff and Paul Reuter were two Havas employees who, with the help of Havas, founded two other major telegraphic news agencies. Wolffs Telegraphisches Bureau started in Berlin a year after the Revolution of 1848 and the liberalization of press laws. Wolff was manager of the National Zeitung, founded that year, which started a policy of carrying news dispatches by telegraph from Paris, London, Amsterdam, and Frankfurt. By 1869, WTB was so closely associated with the government that it had offices in the main postal and telegraph building.

Paul Reuter was a journalist and bookstore owner who married a British banker’s daughter. He and his wife left Germany after the collapse of the revolution of 1848 and he began working for Havas in Paris as a translator. Seeing opportunity in the expanding telegraph, Reuter moved to Aachen, Germany, in October of 1849 and opened a news and stock service. Aachen, that year, was the end of the line for the telegraph from Berlin.

When the French opened a telegraph line from Paris to Brussels, Reuter was in the middle.  He began filling in the 140-kilometer (90 mile) gap across the border by using carrier pigeons and express riders. As the telegraph network expanded, Reuter stayed ahead. He moved to London and opened an office in the heart of the city’s financial center one month before the new London–Paris submarine telegraph cable started operating.

Havas was also influential in the creation of other news agencies. Guglielmo Stefani (1819–61) was a journalist from Venice who joined the 1848 revolution and fought for Italian independence from Austria. He was imprisoned by the Austrians but then exiled, and in 1853, with help from Havas, he set up Agenzia Telegrafica Stefani. After his death, Havas acquired half of the agency, which continued as the major Italian news agency until 1945.

Havas also linked up with a Spanish news agency established by Nilo Maria Fabra, a Barcelona journalist, in 1865. The Agencia de Noticias (news agency) Fabra merged with two other agencies in 1939 to form EFE, the world’s largest Spanish-language wire service.

European telegraphy tended to be more diverse than the US, and so international cooperation was necessary. In May 1865, a convention decided to adopt Morse code as the international telegraph alphabet and to protect the right of everyone to use international telegraphy.

The group continued to meet regularly, and eventually became the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the oldest organization incorporated into the United Nations system in the mid-twentieth century (ITU 2010).

The big three European wire services were able to dominate the competition. In  1870, Havas, Reuters, and Wolff formed a cartel that dividing up territories for exclusive news services. Wolff ’s Telegraph Bureau (WTB) would serve northern and eastern Europe; Reuters would serve the British Empire; and Havas would serve the Mediterranean and Latin American regions (Storey 1951). The cartel agreement was extended into the US with a deal between Reuters and the AP.

The European wire services were often seen as semi-official agencies of their respective governments. Wolff ’s had little choice in 1933 when the Nazis merged the agency with smaller competitors. Havas and Stefani were also left without choices when faced with fascist governments. After the war, Havas was replaced by Agence France Press, Stefani was replaced by Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata (ANSA), and Wolff ’s was replaced by Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA).

Today a dozen major news agencies from the era of the telegraph—especially AP, Reuters, AFP, EFE, and DPA—compete in twenty-first-century global news markets.

Name Dates Country Founder Modern Name

Havas

 1835–1945 France Charles-Louis Havas AFP – Agence France Press

Associated Press

 1846–present United States Moses Beach AP

Wolffs

 1849–1933 Germany Bernhard Wolff DPA – Deutsche Presse-Agentur

Reuters

 1851–present Britain Paul Reuter Reuters

Stefani

 1853–1945 Italy Guglielmo Stafani ANSA – Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata

Fabra

 1865–1939 Spain Nilo Maria Fabra EFE

Itar-Tass

 1925–present Russia St. Petersburg Tel. Agency (1904) ITAR-TASS

Xinhua

 1937–present China Red China News Agency (1931) Xinhua

Press Trust of India

 1947–present India AP India (1909) PTI

Kyodo

 1947–present Japan Domei News Agency (1936) Kyodo

United Press Int’l

 1958–2000 United States United Press (1907) and Int’l Press (1909) (inactive)

Inter-Press Service

 1964–present International Roberto Savio IPS