Breaking the covenant

A former Guardian editor tries to demythologise journalism
by
April 2021, no. 430
Buy this book

News and How to Use It: What to believe in a fake news world by Alan Rusbridger

Canongate, $32 hb, 319 pp

Breaking the covenant

A former Guardian editor tries to demythologise journalism
by
April 2021, no. 430

Is there a profession on Earth more mythologised than journalism? It’s hard to think of one. All that talk about the principles of the Fourth Estate, of keeping the powerful in check and guarding the public interest. In the days of well-funded journalism, university graduates were ushered into weekly shorthand training and could not advance further until their hand flew across the page at an unlikely 140 words per minute. Distinct from other forms of employment, the newspaper ‘profession’ (or is it a trade?) developed a weird and delightful lexicon around its daily production: page layouts were ‘furniture’, sub-editors were taught to avoid ungainly paragraph breaks known as ‘widows’ and ‘orphans’, while copy that was spaced out too sparsely was deemed to be ‘windy’. Meanwhile, many journalists, myself included, were seduced by the clubbish and contrarian quality of the profession, with offices resembling pool halls after 10 pm, rather than formal workspaces. There were certainly no key performance indicators to abide by, let alone an annual performance review.

Johanna Leggatt reviews 'News and How to Use It: What to believe in a fake news world' by Alan Rusbridger

News and How to Use It: What to believe in a fake news world

by Alan Rusbridger

Canongate, $32 hb, 319 pp

Buy this book

Comment (1)

  • The problems are manyfold, to say the least. One of the major issues is that as major revenue earners, most of the media outlets in this country have been swept up by corporations and wealthy individuals who, to give them a perverse form of credit, are at least as much driven by profit as they are by ideology (who doesn't doubt that the Murdochs will rebrand themselves as climate warriors over the course of the next decades). Simple answers to complex problems clearly sell. Journalism is an imprecise practice, but try explaining that to the one in four Australians who, it has been demonstrated, can't recognise the prime minister in a line-up and could no more name, say the minister for health than name the Secretary-General of the United Nations. The falling away of an understanding of how complex and nuanced the development of Western civilisation was is a root cause.
    Posted by Patrick Hockey
    31 March 2021

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