The years following sound’s advent represent a “Golden Age” for the American newsreel, thanks to the era’s sensational global events. The field was dominated in the U.S. by five series: Fox Movietone News (the largest of these organizations, launched in 1927), Pathé News (the oldest, dating to 1910), Hearst Metrotone News (dating to 1914; renamed News of the Day in 1937), Paramount News (begun in 1927), and Universal News (begun in 1929). The enormous popularity of newsreels even saw the emergence of dedicated “newsreel theaters,” which enjoyed a sustained – if small-scale – presence in some of the nation’s cities during these years.
A significant innovation in newsreel form was introduced in the spring of 1935 by Time, Inc.’s March of Time series, distributed through RKO: whereas most newsreels were twice weekly one-reelers focused on up-to-the-minute news, The March of Time was a monthly two-reel series that set new standards for depth of reportage by focusing on a limited number of subjects per issue (after May 1938, only one per episode). Awarded an honorary Oscar in 1937 for “having revolutionized one of the most important branches in the industry,” the March of Time series nonetheless had scant influence on newsreel production at other studios.
The 1930s also provided the most dramatic moment in newsreel history when, on May 6, 1937, the German Zeppelin Hindenburg burst into flames in front of the Fox, Hearst, Pathé, and Paramount news cameras. (The famous “Oh, the humanity” eyewitness account was Herbert Morrison’s, reporting for NBC radio.)