Book Review: The Remaking of Journalism – Alan Rushbringer

Humanists tend to describe themselves as people who make decisions that are evidence-based. They claim to be people who rely on written or otherwise-published material which has been debated, referenced and reviewed by others who know about the subject. “Fake news”, whether in the arena of politics, economics , science or news itself is to be shunned.

The trouble we (the public including humanists) have is how can we decide that the material before us is material on which we can rely.

This is the central theme of Rushbridger’s book, Breaking News, a substantial review of journalism in the last 30 years, which encompasses some of the great changes in the digital world which newspapers have inhabited and in which they seek a future. Many Guardian readers may have picked up this substantial tome looking for a

history of the newspaper in the last few decades. That is not the book’s purpose – although Rushbridger does use key events and stages in the paper’s history to chart the changes he describes. Rather it is a polemic both about the Guardian’s survival and the survival of independent journalism, in the digital age.

The good news is that the Scott Trust, the Guardian’s ethical owners, and the Guardian Media Group the business group behind the newspaper, appear to have thought about a longer life more deeply, than some other newspapers. The Guardian now has a greater reach (more digital contacts, including subscribers) throughout the UK, the USA and Australia than the BBC and international competitors. The Guardian is now an online publication read worldwide on its website. The digital publication is the prime face of the newspaper for the many, from which the print versions culls its pages for the few.

Journalism, Rushbridger demonstrates, is not a profession that has common standards, let alone common interests. If you want to sell newspapers you must attract readers willing to pay a cover price or a digital subscription, and advertisers wanting to sell their wares. Readers of the print form and advertisers are disappearing, nearly gone in 2018. Investigative journalism is not cheap, and here is the rub.

In one of his many entertaining chapters, Rushbridger explores why it was that the Daily Telegraph made a substantial profit while most national newspapers built up annual losses that challenged the resources of their owners. His conclusion was that the managers of the newspaper spiked journalists’ stories that were critical of either actual or potential advertisers.

So, a most rewarding read from Rushbridger. Towards the end of the book he reveals that the Guardian, as did all its competitors, misread the digital revolution…few had realised that the main platform for people seeking reassurance from good journalists was … not the PC, the laptop, or the tablet…but the mobile phone.

John Bishop, October 2018

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