Learning to Be a Reporter: “Get the Story, Stuff the Opposition”

British editor Alan Rusbridger at his first newspaper job at the Cambridge Evening News:

The newspaper was owned by one Lord Iliffe of Yatttendon, a largely absent figure who owned a 9,000-acre estate 100 miles away in Berkshire. More important to me was Fulton Gillespie, the chief reporter, known as Jock—a growling silver-haired Glaswegian with dark glasses and the stub of a cigar permanently lodged between bearded lips.

Jock  became my personal tutor. He was not a graduate, but a coal miner’s son who had left school with no certificates of any kind and had started work as an apprentice printer. . . .

Early in my time as a trainee reporter Jock told us about the ritual for covering Scottish hangings. This involved befriending the murderer’s soon-to-be-widow by promising to write a sympathetic account, possibly hinting at a campaign to demand a 11th-hour reprieve. Once he’d extracted the quotes and purloined the family photographs the reporter would, on exit, shout at the distraught soon-to-be-widow that her husband was a evil bastard who deserved to rot in hell.

‘Why did you do that?’

‘So the next reporter to turn up wouldn’t get through the door.’

That was what real reporting was about. Get the story, stuff the opposition.

—From Breaking News: The Remaking of Journalism and Why It Matters Now, by Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian for 20 years.


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