News cameramen, Washington DC, 1938
Created in 1911 by Charles Pathé, this form of film was a staple of the typical North American, British, and Commonwealth countries (especially Canada, Australia, and New Zealand), and throughout European cinema programming schedule from the silent era until the 1960s when television news broadcasting completely supplanted its role. The National Film and Sound Archive in Australia holds the Cinesound Movietone Australian Newsreel Collection, a comprehensive collection of 4,000 newsreel films and documentaries representing news stories covering all major events.
The first official British news cinema that only showed newsreels was the Daily Bioscope that opened in London on May 23, 1909. In 1929, William Fox purchased a former Broadway theater called the Embassy (now a visitor center operated by the Times Square Alliance). He changed the format from a $2 show twice a day to a continuous 25-cent programme, establishing the first newsreel theater in the USA. The idea was such a success that Fox and his backers announced they would start a chain of newsreel theaters across the USA. The newsreels were often accompanied by cartoons or short subjects.
In some countries, newsreels generally used music as a background for usually silent on-site film footage. In some countries, the narrator used humorous remarks for light-hearted or non-tragic stories. In the U.S., newsreel series included The March of Time (1935–1951), Pathé News (1910–1956), Paramount News (1927–1957), Fox Movietone News (1928–1963), Hearst Metrotone News (1914–1967), and Universal Newsreel (1929–1967). Pathé News was distributed by RKO Radio Pictures from 1931 to 1947, and then by Warner Brothers from 1947 to 1956.
An example of a newsreel story is in the film Citizen Kane (1941), which was prepared by RKO's actual newsreel staff. Citizen Kane includes a fictional newsreel "News on the March" that summarizes the life of title character Charles Foster Kane while parodying The March of Time.
On August 12, 1949, 120 cinema technicians employed by Associated British Pathé in London went on strike to protest the dismissal of fifteen men on the grounds of redundancy while conciliation under trade union agreements was pending. Their strike lasted through to at least Tuesday August 16, the Tuesday being the last day for production on new newsreels shown on the Thursday. Events of the strike resulted in over three hundred cinemas across Britain having to go without newsreels that week.