REVIEWS AND RESPONSE
What they are saying.
Ian Jack, Guardian
“As editor of the Guardian from 1995 to 2015, Rusbridger published investigations and campaigns that will rank high in any history of journalism.....I should say that I know and admire Alan Rusbridger and that I regularly contributed to the Guardian under his editorship. The book he has written is eloquent in its argument for well-resourced journalism, and never better than in its central narrative of how an old profession struggled to cope with a new technology that threatened it with obsolescence.”
- Ian Jack, former editor of the Independent on Sunday. Guardian, September 1 2018.
Harold Evans, Observer
“Rusbridger has written a book of breathtaking range. Three books neatly linked, you might say: a memoir; adventures remaking and remaking the Guardian; and a penetrating examination of the corruptions of social media. ..We are privileged to eavesdrop on editor Rusbridger’s bracing arguments with himself on how traditional media might best survive in our post-truth era. ...
Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp had come to feel it was above the law because it was. I found I was newly sickened by Rusbridger’s tautly compelling narrative of their investigation in the face of threats, smears, spying, the suborning of the police, and the hostility of other media companies and their editors. ..The brilliant Breaking News is essential – and entertaining – reading for anyone who cares a whit about the hallmark of a democratic state being more than a lavatory wall.”
- Harold Evans, former editor of the Sunday Times, Observer, September 2 2018.
John Mair, Press Gazette
“Alan Rusbridger is a quiet giant of modern British journalism. Like it or loathe it, he and his Guardian set the agenda over the two decades of his editorship. Phone hacking, Wikileaks, Snowden, The Panama Papers et al, the “Graun” was at the heart of most of the big stories. Now he has written a memoir (of sorts) and a manifesto for the future of journalism. It is a cracking read as you would expect of a great writer.
He, like John Birt at the BBC, saw the future and it was digital. Simply, the internet was going to transform journalism and lead to the (near) death of print as a platform. His view... was presciently right long term, less so short term. It took bravery and it took money.... From the small acorn of Guardian Unlimited, the “paper” has expanded to the huge digital treasure trove is it is today – full of content, full of innovation and multinational with Australian and American editions making it truly 24/7.
The paper has survived on all platforms, thrived on some. Rusbridger also offers lessons for all journalism on how to adapt and not die. British newspapers have been woeful in their embrace of the web. Too little, too late.
So, what is there to learn from Rusbridger’s Guardian?
Good journalism always shines through, but needs imagination, willpower and money. It also needs to be realistic. Some Rusbridger’s innovations, like “open journalism”, were perhaps an idea too far – you also need to find a way to pay for it. Rusbridger never solved that conundrum.... But none of that takes away from his greatness as an editor. Buy this book, read it on any platform you can find. It is an important text.”
- John Mair, a former BBC producer and media academic, is the editor of 25 books on journalism.
Ray Snoddy, Irish Times
“By any standards Alan Rusbridger’s 20-year reign as editor of the Guardian was remarkable and will inevitably be defined by three massive stories that could have gone so badly wrong... All three are well known but in Breaking News you get the inside story of the loneliness and unexpected self-doubt of the editor who must decide whether to go or not, knowing that in the case of the Snowden revelations, jail could easily have been the outcome..
The other, and more significant meaning of the title Breaking News – breaking as in breaking or even one day broken news – is even more important. What if in the end there was no means of financing what Rusbridger has previously called “independently verifiable information”?
Can newspapers survive, and if so, how can they, and teams of independent, professional journalists, be funded in the age of Facebook and fake news, where journalists are “enemies of the people”, as President Trump would have it...
At great cost and significant risk to the future of Guardian Media, the not-for-profit organisation has finally fought its way to a situation where a combination of digital, member contributions and journalism funded by charitable foundations has exceeded the core contributions from print. It has been a long and difficult journey and not one available to most publishers.
Breaking News is a significant book for newspapers, journalism and anyone who cares about their increasingly vital contribution to an informed democracy in the midst of information chaos and fake news.
At the end we can all agree on Rusbridger’s conclusion: “Trust me, we do not want a world without news.” By which he means of course accurate, professionally checked news, hopefully whether worthy of not.”
- Raymond Snoddy is a former media editor of the FT and the Times.
Robert Kaiser, FT
“Rusbridger was probably the best and most successful British newspaper editor of his time...
We love a good newspaper yarn, and Rusbridger provides a dandy. Some of the best reading in Breaking News is found in Rusbridger’s accounts of the Guardian’s greatest hits under his baton. In his two decades as the paper’s editor, the Guardian did more consequential reporting than any other British paper. ..
Readers of his book will get a clear picture of the tumult that has rocked the industry. The onslaught of technologically driven challenges has been relentless.
Rusbridger was an adventurer in this strange new world; his instincts were to plunge ahead. He succeeded in making the Guardian a truly global product; he found readers in far greater numbers than his newspaper had ever had before
The internet and its progeny...transformed a broadly profitable industry into a business basket case....But the Guardian had found a new way to survive that seemed to be working. It promoted 'membership' for readers who would agree to support it with financial contributions. ... Since he retired some 800,000 readers have made a contribution, improving the paper's bottom line.”
- Robert Kaiser is a former managing editor of The Washington Post.
Stewart Purvis, Media Society
“Alan Rusbridger has written a hell of a good book about journalism.”
- Stewart Purvis, a former Professor of Television Journalism at City University London, was Editor-in-Chief and Chief Executive of ITN.
Allan Massie, Scotsman
“This is a fascinating book and, I think, an important one. Journalism will survive in some form or another, but the extent to which it will endure as a professional activity - by which, I mean, the activity by which some men and women earn their living - is uncertain.”
- Alan Massie is Scottish journalist, columnist, sports writer and novelist.
Ian Burrell, i Newspaper
“Breaking News is important. Like the paper Rusbridger edited it might not be a big money-spinner but it needs to be read.”
- Ian Burrell is a former media editor of the Independent and columnist for the Drum.
“It was my good luck – and the world’s – that Alan Rusbridger was the Guardian’s editor when powerful governments tried to prevent the paper from revealing that they had deceived and disempowered their citizens. Alan is a fearless defender of the public interest who has had a singular career in journalism. His book is an urgent reminder that there is still a place for real journalism – indeed, our democracies depend on it.”
- Edward Snowden, whistleblower.
“Alan Rusbridger is the best, bravest, and most innovative editor of the age. And here are the stories of the age: How the Guardian broke some of the biggest news of the century. How he faced down the powerful men who tried to stop him. How he met the challenges the internet brought. How he reinvented journalism for a new reality. These are important stories, told with eloquence, intelligence, and grace. Breaking News is a vital chronicle of this time of disruption.”
- Jeff Jarvis, author of What would Google do?
“In his career as a journalist, Alan Rusbridger lived through the physical transformation of the press from type to screen. He experienced the collapse of its business model, the rewiring of its connection to the public, its fateful collision with the surveillance state, and its global struggle to survive with enough strength to keep publishing what power does not want published. His account of those years is here. It is called Breaking News. It should be bought, studied and taught in university classes because we have to make the free press movable across tech eras and subsidy systems. Rusbridger’s immersion experience in bringing the Guardian across is beautifully rendered — and unique”
- Jay Rosen, professor of journalism at NYU.
“Just when we were feeling lost in the dark labyrinth of fake news and journalism in crisis, Alan Rusbridger lights his torch and leads the way. Essential.”
- Steve Coogan, writer and actor.
“Alan Rusbridger is not only one of the greatest editors of recent times, he was also one of the most innovative. In Breaking News, he expertly and entertainingly interweaves his personal journey as the Guardian’s top editor with the trials of a news industry in upheaval. The lessons he draws are urgently important as we stare down even more perilous times for journalists and the public who rely on them”
- Vivian Schiller, CEO Civil Media, former President of NPR.
Iain MacWhiter, The Herald
“There are no endings, happy or otherwise”, he writes in this engaging, informed and readable account of his 20 years as Guardian editor. Rusbridger is rightly proud of achievements, like the Pulitzer Prize for the Snowden revelations, which revealed the bulk collection of data. But Breaking News isn't an exercise in nostalgia for the “legacy media”. In fact, he seems rather eager to say good bye to all that. It's a right riveting read, as we say in the trade
- Iain MacWhirter, Political commentator, former Lord Rector, Edinburgh University
John Lloyd, Literary Review
“Alan Rusbridger has a claim to have been the most successful editor of The Guardian since C P Scott, who edited the paper from 1872 to 1929 and is still in a way its presiding spirit. During his editorship (1995–2015), Rusbridger steered the paper, often showing real courage, through a series of stormy stories and, for the most part, emerged with an enhanced reputation. He rode the wave of digitalisation at a time when ‘nobody knew anything’ about the future and won a bunch of awards for The Guardian’s website. He gave substance to the paper’s slogan ‘the world’s leading liberal voice’.
Rusbridger’s calm, reserved manner allowed him to preside stoically over a paper at times convulsed with ideological dissension…Of …lasting importance was the work, beginning in 2009, of the reporter Nick Davies, who discovered that journalists working at the News of the World were routinely hacking the mobile phones of celebrities, politicians and others. Davies’s researches proved accurate: in fact, he underestimated the extent of the practice, which turned out to be routine in other tabloid newsrooms too. The great service he and The Guardian did to journalism produced a torrent of spite: the ‘dog does not eat dog’ rule had been flouted, and thus open season on The Guardian was declared, with the Daily Mail in the lead.
Rusbridger’s editorship was, in the main, a boon, characterised by much good reporting, especially on politics, robust commentary, the development of a fine website (owing much to the early work of the ‘visionary’ Emily Bell) and a keen eye for injustices. The Guardianremained high-minded …. High-mindedness attracts resentment but can be put to good use…In Oxford, he has moved to make his college more accessible to students from state schools and ethnic minorities: a liberal reformer, still, much in the mould of C P Scott.”
- John Lloyd - former editor, New Statesman. FT columnist and former Director, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Oxford University
Ed Miliband, Reasons to be Cheerful podcast
“A brilliant and riveting book. Very very important.”
- Ed Miliband is an MP and former Leader of the Labour Party
Lucy Scholes, The National
“An impassioned rallying cry in the defence of quality journalism”
John Keenan, Prospect
“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.”
Lydia Wilkins, Mademoiselle Women
“I was intrigued by this book; after all, virtually everything Rusbridger achieved at The Guardian was taught to me as case law when studying for my NCTJ…Rusbridger is very much a journalist’s journalist; he doesn’t strike me as the editor who would have been locked away, churning out in-house missives, appearing to shout at a staff member. (This I have witnessed at other newspapers.)
If you’re a journalist in training, or somebody who has just ‘started out’, I recommend that you read this book; it’s perceptive, and I think that we all have a lot to learn. Breaking News may be describing the “how” of the industry: how digital has impacted the publishing of print media, how media ethics changed, etc.
Breaking News is essential reading; it’s also a refreshing analysis. It’s informative, entertaining, as well as self-deprecating.”
Henry Marsh, neuro-surgeon and author of Do No Harm. New Statesman
I particularly enjoyed this book. In places it’s as exciting as a thriller (and the good guys win) but is also gave me a new understanding of the difficulties that now confront good journalism.
Tom Stoppard, TLS
Breaking News found a ready audience in me. Rusbridger’s subtitle, ‘The remaking of journalism and why it matters now,’ is a true prospectus. Well written and unskimped, this will be a painful document when we wake up one morning with nothing to read at breakfast except our smartphones.
James Meek, LRB
Rusbridger’s career happened to coincide with vertiginous disruption. It began when newspapers were still made by men hand-working giant machines that set words from drops of molten metal; he stepped down from the Guardian just before the election of a US president able and willing to lie directly to more than fifty million readers from a device in his pocket. If at times the book does read like a retelling of the greatest hits of the Guardian under Rusbridger’s editorship, this could be justified, too, as a ledger of the kind of public service journalism that might not have been pursued had the Guardian and its like not been around, from the investigation into Jonathan Aitken, who ended up being jailed for perjury, to Nick Davies’s exposure of tabloid phone-hacking, which led to the closure of the News of the World.
For Rusbridger the culmination of his editorship was the Guardian’s role in the revelation in 2013 of industrial-scale spying by Western intelligence agencies on their own citizens, thanks to Edward Snowden’s release of thousands of files purloined from the NSA.
Jill Abramson, former executive editor, New York Times
Alan has written three riveting books in one
Michael White, British Journalism Review
This is hardly a memoir, let alone a score-settling one. He writes more in sorrow than anger of the ‘media elders’ who patronised or bullied him, but also got it wrong. Understatement and discretion prevail. Damn!
Monetisation of the net has proved elusive for all but the tech FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google) whose surge to dominance shattered his paper’s financial projections (and everyone else’s) just as he was stepping down in 2015. It became expedient to blame him….This is a serious book which has predictably been largely ignored or rubbished (“Boring” - the Sun) in Fleet Street, an industry which believes in openness and accountability for everyone except itself. ‘Dog doe not eat dog.’ But Rusbridger ate a few and survived retaliatory bites.
This books is … a heartfelt reassertion of the enduring importance of independent journalism to speak truth to power, not cut-and-paste fake news. As well as editing the paper, fending off libel and prosecution threats while watching sales and ad revenue soar, then tank, tech groupie Rusbridger grappled with all these promising dead ends and fallible visionaries. It must have been exhilarating but exhausting…Everyone made big mistakes. The Guardian didn’t have the money to make expensive ones…
Yet there is a paradox at the heart of Breaking News. Its hero is not the cutting-edge techi optimist he so admired..it is an old-fashioned, investigative reporter, scruffy and obsessive…Nick Davies [was a ] dogged loner who broke the phone-hacking story and many others which caused pal Alan sleepless nights and who gets as many index entries here as Murdoch, whose nemesis he was. Harry Potter is a romantic.”
David Uberti, The New Republic
Rusbridger understands the stakes: He edited The Guardian as it made a Herculean attempt to morph from a mid-sized British newspaper to international standard-bearer for progressive news, and saw all of the obstacles. Rusbridger’s Guardian is instructive of the possibilities and limits of journalism in this world. He has seen how digital media can liberate new voices but also ravage the business models that used to support newsgathering. What remains unclear is just how many institutions like The Guardian can survive—and how often their civic mission and commercial interests will clash…
The Guardian’s American invasion, which culminated with the launch of Guardian US in 2011, proved a thrilling contrast to the agonizing retrenchment elsewhere in the media industry..The Guardian has stuck with its ideal of open journalism by enticing some readers to pay without forcefully excluding those who don’t. Rusbridger’s successor, Katharine Viner announced, last month that 1 million people worldwide have voluntarily supported The Guardian over the past three years. Results from the fiscal year that ended in June suggest that more than half of them are regularly donating members, including upward of 70,000 in the United States. The endowment has stabilized, revenue is on a slight uptick, and Viner hopes to break even by next spring. But survival for this would-be flagship for progressive news hinged on tempering global ambitions just at the moment when its mission might have been most urgent, as liberal democracy teetered in countries across the world. ..The Guardian remains unique among these English-language media in its ownership, mission, and model. In this sense, it’s no surprise that Breaking News is descriptive of structural problems rather than prescriptive in how to respond.