“Mummy, what is that man for?” was the query famously requested by a younger lady at a rally addressed (at nice size) by Gladstone. An analogous query occurred to me as I opened this e book by the previous editor-in-chief of the Guardian: what is that this e book for? Also: what’s it, precisely?
The title means that it’s a consumer’s information to information. But, in reality, it’s nothing like that. Instead, it’s a compendium of jottings and mini-essays organised alphabetically from A (for Accuracy) to Z (Zoomers). The motivation for writing it was Alan Rusbridger’s concern on the decline in belief in information organisations through the pandemic. Four years on from being full-time within the newsroom, he writes, he wished to carry “an insider’s perspective to the business of journalism, but also to look at it from the outside. [Rusbridger is now head of an Oxford college.] How can we explain ‘journalism’ to people who are by and large sceptical – which is broadly what most of us would want our fellow citizens to be?”
Given that Rusbridger is, for my part, one of many two nice newspaper editors of the previous half-century (the opposite is the late Harry Evans), something he writes concerning the press goes to be value studying. His goal, he says, is to discover a number of the issues about journalism which may assist readers to determine whether or not it deserves their belief.
The query, then, is: has he succeeded?
And the reply? “Up to a point, Lord Copper”, to use that timeless quote from Scoop, Evelyn Waugh’s savage demolition job on our commerce. Journalism is just not – certainly, in a free society can’t be – a “profession”. And, in Britain not less than, it’s best described as a really tough commerce that rides on the again of a fiercely aggressive trade. Given that, any evaluation of its trustworthiness has to give you a combined reply.
Which is what Rusbridger’s “subjective and a bit random” (his phrases) strategy supplies. The fact about such a chaotic and messy enterprise has to replicate the advanced and complicated actuality. So perhaps his alphabetical strategy makes pragmatic sense: it allows him to riff on stuff he feels to be vital and gloss over issues which are extra ephemeral. And the construction actually implies that this isn’t a e book to be learn end-to-end, however, relatively, one to be dipped into as time and curiosity permits.
Many of the mini-essays are helpful distillations of his expertise in, and data of, the trade. He is superb on the local weather disaster, investigative journalism (not surprisingly, given the sterling work the Guardian did on his watch), the hazards of being pushed by metrics, how to cope with the inevitability of errors, nationwide safety and who (or what) is a “journalist” these days. He is frank concerning the “omertà” code inside the British media which ensures that canine typically doesn’t eat canine, however extra forgiving than he needs to be about the best way nearly each different media outlet in Britain studiously prevented mentioning the Guardian’s investigation of phone hacking till it grew to become unattainable to ignore.
Rusbridger can be perceptive on hyperlinks and the mysterious reluctance of some prestigious information organisations to use them – even immediately. Uniquely amongst established journalists, he takes critically the work of Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman on “manufacturing consent” – in different phrases, the political economic system of mainstream media. He has a surprisingly tolerant mini-essay on newspaper proprietors, the ruthless, corrupt and generally unhinged billionaires who’ve owned and exploited British newspapers over the a long time: a rogues’ gallery from which the Canadian Roy Thomson was the exception who proved the rule.
It was good to see his tackle “craft” and, particularly, on Nick Tomalin, a gifted journalist who was tragically killed by a missile through the Yom Kippur battle, and who is legendary for his succinct record of the necessities for fulfillment within the commerce – “ratlike cunning, a plausible manner, and a little literary ability”. Rusbridger goes on to record the opposite necessities that Tomalin cited however which by no means made the dictionaries of quotations. They included a knack with trains and petty officers, a very good digestion and a gradual head, well-placed family, good luck, an implacable hatred of spokesmen, directors, attorneys, PR males and “the strength of character to lead a disrupted life without going absolutely haywire”.
Given that an A-Z survey is declaredly subjective, there are nonetheless some omissions that strike not less than this reviewer. The foremost one is Rusbridger’s shocking tolerance of the astonishing irresponsibility of Britain’s most dominant newspapers: the best way they proceed to make use of ethical fools as columnists (Boris Johnson, in spite of everything, owed his prominence till not too long ago to his “work” for the Telegraph); their incessant drip-feed of sexism, xenophobia and racism over many a long time; their nearly complete lack of gender and ethnic range; their pathological hostility to the NHS and native authorities; and the megaphones they supply for his or her rightwing proprietors. If Britain is turning into ungovernable it’s they, relatively than social media, who ought to bear many of the blame. Just to take an instance at random, the Sun’s slandering of Liverpool followers at Hillsborough occurred when Mark Zuckerberg was 4. The Facebook founder has made a very good begin on undermining democracy around the globe. But in contrast with Rupert Murdoch, he’s simply an novice.
•John Naughton is director of the Press Fellowship Programme at Wolfson College, Cambridge
• News and How to Use It: What to Believe in a Fake News World by Alan Rusbridger is revealed by Canongate (£18.99). To order a duplicate go to guardianbookshop.com. Delivery expenses might apply