The former editor tells of his dealings with Julian Assange and Edward Snowdenby John Keenan / October 17, 2018 / Leave a comment
When Alan Rusbridger took the reins as editor of the Guardian in January 1995, Amazon was in its infancy, to tweet was a little-used verb and Tony Blair was poised to tear up Clause IV, the Labour Party’s historic commitment to socialism. By the time Rusbridger stepped down 20 years later, his newspaper’s US outpost had been awarded a Pulitzer Prize, Facebook and Google were carving up traditional media, and Jeremy Corbyn was ahead in the race to lead Labour.
Not all editors are able to write well. Rusbridger can and he tells the story of his tenure with wit, candour and insight. Two of the many remarkable characters that crossed his path—Edward Snowden and Julian Assange—became the subject of Hollywood movies and at times this book reads like a thriller. Someone from GCHQ warns Rusbridger that the Russians could be holed up in the flats opposite the Guardian, picking up conversations by beaming lasers at the paper cups on his desk; he has his house swept for bugs when he publishes the sensational details of the phone hacking scandal; Assange marches into his office late at night to denounce the mainstream media.
Elsewhere the tone is more academic. Rusbridger details the paper’s often painful transition from delivering the news to British teachers and social workers, to leading the field of serious newspaper websites. The metamorphosis was essential but demanded a heavy price. “I wasn’t the business brain in the company,” Rusbridger cheerfully writes, but he is clear-eyed about the fact that modern editors must show an understanding of the balance sheet that their predecessors would have regarded as unnecessary.
Rusbridger is also disarmingly frank. What conclusion has he drawn from two decades as an editor? “Nobody knows anything.” It’s not quite true. Rusbridger knows more than most and this book is often funny, occasionally frightening and always informative.
Breaking News: The Remaking of Journalism and Why it Matters Now by Alan Rusbridger (Canongate, £20)
Alan Rusbridger is a guest of the Prospect Book Club on November 19th