Breaking and Remaking News for a New Reality
Despite a crisis of trust, surging populism, and falling revenues, journalism’s purpose has never been clearer
Alan Rusbridger was editor in chief of the Guardian from 1995 to 2005. He is now principal of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, and chair of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.
In a world of fake news and information chaos, we need more journalism. That was the elevator pitch — at least, inside my own head — as I embarked on a book about the revolution in news which is still ripping through our industry with the force of a Category 5 hurricane.
We’ve now stood on the brink of this existential crisis long enough to be frightened. A society that cannot agree on a factual basis for discussion or decision-making cannot progress. There can be no laws, no votes, no government, no science, no democracy without a shared understanding of what’s true and what isn’t. Of course, a commonly agreed basis of facts is only the beginning. Societies with no independent source of challenge or scrutiny are also not to be envied.
And so, I argued to myself, it should be obvious that we need to go back to journalists for the answer. We knew you’d miss us when we were (almost) gone. Now that you know how dark the world can be without us — or enough of us — perhaps you’ll treasure us a bit more in the future?
That was how the book had framed itself in my mind. Throw in a few chapters denouncing social media, chuckle at the utopian dreams we once nursed of the internet transforming the world, and the book would write itself.
That would have been a comfortable book to produce, but the longer I kicked the ideas around in my head, the less simple it became. I started sketching it out in 2016 against the backdrop of the most consequential referendum in modern British history: the in-out decision over the U.K.’s membership in the European Union.
Like the crisis with our weather systems, this is a crisis in the climate of information. In its own way, it has the potential to be just as deadly.