Books & Literature

Book Review: Breaking News, by Alan Rusbridger

A potted history of The Guardian alongside Rusbridger’s own journalistic career, primarily looking at the massive disruption of traditional journalism by the digital revolution, particularly when he was editor there from 1995 to 2015.

Breaking News provides a potted history of The Guardian alongside details of Rusbridger’s own journalistic career. His main narrative concerns the massive disruption of traditional journalism by the digital revolution, particularly when he was editor there from 1995 to 2015.

Rusbridger writes about how newspapers were seemingly helpless in the face of the massive changes, no matter how quickly they tried to keep up and The Guardian was often in the forefront of new strategies and developments to maintain readership. Newspapers had always relied on revenue from classified ads and display advertising but as these moved inexorably into the online realm, readership of print newspapers plummeted, as did profits.

Although The Guardian became the most read digital newspaper, overtaking The New York Times in 2014, revenue was still a problem. Some newspapers opted for a paywall system but Rusbridger instead opted for a more collaborative style of journalism in which citizen journalists could participate. As social media platforms expanded exponentially, it was no longer practical for professional journalists to be the only ones reporting.

Perhaps the best known example of this collaboration was WikiLeaks cache of classified American cables provided to the paper in 2010. It was also the first non-American publication to win a Pulitzer Prize, shared with The Washington Post, when it published documents from Edward Snowden.

Under Rusbridger, investigative reporting, sometimes requiring years of probing, was also well supported. Writer Nick Davies exposed the scandal of phone hacking by Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World which resulted in the publication being closed down. The paper’s patient and accurate reporting also exposed a Tory MP as a fraud and brought down two of British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s ministers.

Interwoven through all these threads is the question of why quality journalism matters to society. Without it, where would we find reliable and accurate news – especially important in a time when the most powerful man on the planet calls the media ‘the true enemy of the people’ and one of his spokespersons blithely speaks of ‘alternative facts’. This is, of course, nothing new. There has always been ‘fake news’ – we often believe what we want to believe, however unconscious our bias. What is new is the speed in which stories can be spread around the world and thus the lack of time to check for facts and accuracy.

I need to tell you I’m an avid reader of, and subscriber to The Guardian but nonetheless believe the questions raised in this book are important ones we all need to consider.

Reviewed by Jan Kershaw

Rating out of 10:  9

Distributed by: Allen & Unwin
Released: September 2018
RRP: $45

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