British journalism is in trouble — Rusbridger's new job shows us why
Alan Rusbridger is a hard act to follow.
Perhaps that’s why so many in British public life are replacing their top staff with Alan Rusbridger.
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Five years after he fully and finally left the Guardian — amidst some smoke and light gunfire regarding the future direction of the paper — the owlish Assange-fan is back at the helm of a British magazine.
Alan has just been announced as the new editor of Prospect. The left of centre ‘journal of ideas’ that has published Clive James, David Goodhart and Joseph Sitglitz.
Clearly, Alan is a man who can delegate. In 2010, while Guardian hacks were up against another round of redundancies, he was both writing a book about learning to play a fiendishly hard Chopin piece on the piano, and, presumably, learning to play a fiendishly hard Chopin piece.
Nonetheless, the breadth of the 67 year old’s post-Fleet Street sinecures is impressive: Principal of Lady Margaret Hall College, Oxford. Member of the Facebook Oversight Board. Chair of the Reuters Institute for The Study of Journalism. Six years on the Board of the Royal National Theatre. Author of two books, and a screenplay for BBC1. Presently, he is lending a hand to the Irish on their Future of Media Commission.
So at a moment in his life when most might be looking to pass the reins to a younger generation, why does Alan feel like he’s in some old cop film – just when he thought he was out, they hauled him back in for one last job?
It might be something to do with a generational equivalent of the property gap in British media.
Over the past decade, it has become standard practice that everyone who works in a modern newsroom is 25. A decade ago, faced with massive cost-cutting, editors realised that sitting at your desk churning out Google-jobs on Dua Lipa’s lip ring does not require seasoned writers. Indeed, that perhaps it never had. Voluntarily or not, everyone ‘went freelance’. The old byways — of local newspapers and sub-editors’ desks, were abolished. And with them, much of the mentorship went out of the game.
At the the other end of the pipeline, the lack of a path to seniority has created a twilight of the final generation old enough to remember liquid lunches, expense accounts; or at least never to have heard the dread words ‘…but it will be excellent for your portfolio’. David Remnick has been editor of the New Yorker for twenty-four years. Anna Wintour has presided over Vogue since Coco Chanel was still sleeping naked.
If there is a dearth of management talent, perhaps it is because the management talent never made any more of it, any more than their generation made new townhouses in the Chilterns.
Andrew Neil was famously made editor of The Sunday Times at 33. Amol Rajan leapfrogged to the top of the Independent at 29. As the Baby Boomers extend their Indian summer, future Amols and Andrews may have to do the job market equivalent of waiting for their parents to die before they can turn the keys on the beachfront pad.