What is journalism today? Who should do it, and is there a general agreement on standards and approaches? What about ethics? Technology has dramatically changed how journalism is produced and consumed, and the public often learns about what’s happening (or what allegedly is happening) first from digital devices. Alan Rusbridger, the greatly respected editor-in-chief of Britain’s The Guardian from 1995 to 2015 and a very successful pioneer in internet journalism, was in the thick of this journalistic and technological transformation.
Rusbridger’s Breaking News: The Remaking of Journalism and Why It Matters Now is a vivid and compelling insider’s account of how he and other journalists, including those in the United States, coped with these changes. “The ultimate defense of journalism is that it remains a public good,” he writes—but how do we measure or value that? Rusbridger was at the helm of The Guardian during rapid changes in the journalistic landscape, and there were no examples to follow. Social media was attracting the users, the technology and the money, leading Rusbridger—and journalists and editors everywhere—to question whether to focus on print or digital output and readerships. How does an editor bridge these two worlds of print and digital? Most editors like to be in control of their content, but on the internet, no one is in control. The Guardian was, at the time, a tiny organization trying to play in a very big league, yet it still managed to consistently win major awards for both its print edition and its website.
Breaking News details how The Guardian managed to land major scoops, including the truth about phone hacking perpetrated by London tabloids and the disclosure of U.S. diplomatic cables. The Guardian received a Pulitzer Prize for the revelations of Edward Snowden’s National Security Agency files, which were first reported on by Glenn Greenwald, who was definitely not a “proper reporter.”
Rusbridger asserts that the truth about journalism is, as the late political reporter David Broder wrote, “Partial, hasty, incomplete . . . somewhat flawed and inaccurate,” or as Carl Bernstein, who worked with Bob Woodward to break the Watergate scandal, said, journalism is “the best obtainable version of the truth.”
As he concludes his important memoir of a great editor’s experience, Rusbridger acknowledges that no one knows what is going to happen in the news business in the future, but, he writes, “Trust me, we do not want a world without news.”