Jul. 18th, 2011

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The Ben Bradlee of Phone Hacking 'Guardian' editor Alan Rusbridger wouldn't let investigation die By Dylan Byers

Rupert Murdoch has met his match. For years now, the News Corp. head has seemed bulletproof, or at least Teflon-coated; scandal has seemingly slid right off him. But suddenly the ongoing furor over phone hacking in the U.K. has put his media empire in real peril. His News of the World has been closed down. His $12 billion deal to take over all of British Sky Broadcasting has been scrapped. Some of his closest associates—even his son James—are at serious risk. And none of that would have happened were it not for the fierce, dogged persistence of Alan Rusbridger and The Guardian, the newspaper he runs.

Rusbridger has been at The Guardian for decades; he's been editor since 1995. And he's had plenty of success in that time. (Rusbridger and The Guardian have, for instance, played a pivotal role in the Wikileaks saga.) But none of it compares to this. By the time the dust settles, the paper may well have brought down, virtually single-handedly, not just a media giant but an entire government. But this moment in the sun for Rusbridger and The Guardian comes at a time when the paper itself is facing an uncertain future. A trust that has kept the paper alive is drying up, the parent company's losses totaled $53 million last year alone, and layoffs are imminent. But as his recent coup shows, though the walls may sometimes be crumbling around him, Rusbridger is committed to forging ahead, to pursuing major investigations even when no one else is paying attention.


“I had lots of conversations with people who appeared not to want to listen to what we were saying, including the future Prime Minister [David Cameron],” Rusbridger said. “That went for the police, that went for the MPs, it went for the regulator, and it went for other journalists. So we said, 'If we’re going to do this, we’re going to have to do it alone.'”

Like many of his employees, Rusbridger is practically a lifelong Guardian man. He joined the paper as a reporter in 1979 and has been there ever since. “Alan has spent almost all of his professional life at The Guardian, and has been editor for 16 years,” New York Times executive editor Bill Keller observed in an email to Adweek, “which means it is Alan's Guardian in a sense that few other papers are creatures of their editor.”

That's true. But if you had to pick a man for this role from Central Casting, you almost certainly wouldn't pick Rusbridger. Ben Bradlee, The Washington Post editor who ran that other legendary investigation once upon a time, was a man who looked the part—the kind of man who, his own reporters once said, would "grind his cigarettes out in a demitasse cup during a formal dinner party." Rusbridger, 57, is different—he looks more like Harry Potter's lonely uncle than the kind of man capable of bringing down Rupert Murdoch.

But he was willing to stick with the phone hacking scandal even when it seemed like no one outside The Guardian cared at all. All told, the paper has been on this story for five years now. Though it looks like a wise investment in retrospect, those were five years during which Rusbridger was sacrificing not only money but the time and efforts of some of his best reporters for a story that could very well have gone nowhere.MORE




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