Review: Breaking News by Alan Rusbridger

When I was growing up, the newspaper that I wanted to work at, more than anything, was The Guardian under Alan Rusbridger’s editorship. The Guardian at the time was producing brilliant stories, be it phone hacking, Spycops, global warming, Edward Snowden…

Anyway: I was delighted to find out that Rusbridger has written a book. Titled Breaking News: The Remaking of Journalism and Why It Matters Now, it’s an analysis of news, how it has changed, while reflecting on Rusbridger’s twenty years editing The Guardian. (Read an extract here.)

First impressions: 

Breaking News is a hefty tome; at nearly five hundred pages, there’s a lot that’s going to be covered. I also had the impression that this editorship is almost seen as an ‘era’-enough so that a reviewer described it as almost being three books in one. Needless to say, I was intrigued by this book; after all, virtually everything Rusbridger achieved at The Guardian was taught to me as case law when studying for my NCTJ. (This clip should give you some insight.)

The book itself: 

It’s advisable to read this without any pre-set expectations; I had originally misunderstood what this book is about, interpreting it to be a kind of autobiographical-manifesto blend. (Lesson learnt: always read the press release.)

One of the things that struck me from the beginning of the book is the kind of journalistic jokes that are between the lines; for instance, a remark about “we felt superior” in the introduction, “I was, in due course, due to fail my shorthand exam. But I still qualified to become a journalist. Sort of”, or “We became life-long friends… and got up to mischief”. (That’s a reference to Nick Davies.)

Rusbridger is very much a journalist’s journalist; he doesn’t strike me as the editor who would have been locked away, churning out in-house missives, appearing to shout at a staff member. (This I have witnessed at other newspapers.) It was these references that made this book likeable.

One of the central themes of the book-and one that is analysed assiduously-is ‘Fake news’. Despite being a subjective term-to either attack journalism, or to describe a literal “false story”-it’s becoming a problem. The introduction ends with the phrase “The stakes for truth have never been higher”. But I can’t help but wonder: what is the solution to this?

I also love the contrast between old and new media throughout Breaking News; chapter one even begins with the description of what an ‘old’ newsroom would have looked like, complete with the subs and printing presses. Now it’s digital media, twenty four seven. (And today sounds dull by comparison, I think.)

I do think, though, that the topics could have been chosen with more care; there’s an emphasis on digital media, as you’d expect. (After all, it’s about news, and the state of journalism today!) But at times there’s a lot about creating the digital side of The Guardian; I’d have liked to have known more about the journalistic side, what precautions were taken with stories such as Snowden, thoughts about the Leveson judicial review, thoughts about the John Ford revelations. Some of this is included, but not in as much detail.

It’s a bit too specialised; at times I had to re-read a passage, having not understood it.

Conclusions: 

If you’re a journalist in training, or somebody who has just ‘started out’, I recommend that you read this book; it’s perceptive, and I think that we all have a lot to learn. Breaking News may be describing the “how” of the industry: how digital has impacted the publishing of print media, how media ethics changed, etc. We need a “what”-what we need to do next, what we can do better.

Breaking News is essential reading; it’s also a refreshing analysis. It’s informative, entertaining, as well as self-deprecating.

Breaking News is published by Canongate; Alan Rusbridger is also holding a series of events related to the book. 


Disclaimer: At my own request, I was gifted a copy of Breaking News for the purpose of a review.

1 Comment

  1. john ford
    September 11, 2018 / 3:18 pm

    Well done, Lydia

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