The State of the British Press

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Megan Dickson - Journalism Undergraduate, University of Roehampton

Former editor of The Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, reflects on the future of journalism amidst a world of fake news, with the release of his book ‘Breaking News: The Remaking of Journalism and Why It Matters Now.’

“What is your concern about the state of the news now?” Journalist Samira Ahmed opened the talk with.

“We live in a world of information chaos,” replied Rusbridger. “Which is frightening because if you do not know what is true and what isn’t then societies cannot really work.”

When there is more information available to us online than we need and public trust in mainstream news is at an all-time low, the future for journalism seems challenged. Throughout the interview, Rusbridger repeatedly makes his case for journalists and traditional newspaper organisations. “As professionals, journalists have better judgement and are able to sort through the truth to inform us in a way that makes us better citizens,” Rusbridger says.

Technology, including social media, has changed the way in which we produce and access news. Ahmed agreed, saying it has not only influenced the way she operates as a journalist, but how she thinks too.

In 1995, when Rusbridger was first appointed editor of The Guardian, he told the audience how he would have 11 hours to create a newspaper. Now people expect to read things instantly and the internet provides a forum where anyone can publish. This can lead to a large volume of false information.

The Guardian is notoriously known for investigative journalism and exposing stories often ignored by the rest of the British press. The most famous example being the phone-hacking scandal, which led to the closure of The News of the World in 2011. “When you live in Britain, there are checks and balances and that makes democracy. This was an example of those checks and balances failing,” said Rusbridger.

Rusbridger added: “I think there are enough ethical failings in the British press for us to be worried about.” He also mentioned how he saw the British press coverage leading up to EU referendum as a failure of balanced reporting.

Despite these failings and concerns over the press’ future, it is essential that journalists who are committed to finding the truth still exist. “It is vital that in a trouble world, where even the president of the US lies through his teeth every day, that we have reliable sources of information,” Rusbridger said.

The industry is at a crucial moment. As Trump continues to identify news as fake, it creates mass public confusion. “This is why Trump is so dangerous,” said Rusbridger. “If he says that journalists are enemies of the state, in the supposed land of the free, then what message does that send to other places around the world?”

Trust in journalism in Britain is currently very low, and this became the core principle behind the title of Rusbridger’s book, Breaking News: The Remaking of Journalism and Why It Matters Now. “We have to remake journalism,” he said. “To try and win that trust back.”

Journalism, at its best, sifts the truth from the untruth. In a world of information chaos, professional journalism has never been more important.