In conversation with Alan Rusbridger, former Editor of The Guardian. By SASHI KUMAR
EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE
If we look at some of the premises of the shift to digital, and if digital were to play out fully in journalism as well, it would be a big departure in the way you narrativise, in the way you tell your story. For instance, would the linear form of story telling be valid any more?
Well, I don’t want to fall in the trap of… a lot of people who come to these things want A or B. You can’t say that linear writing is gone forever because sometimes the most efficient way of telling a story for somebody who’s sitting on a bus is to tell a story; a story is a very effective way of telling it. For another person, you can imagine something more like a tree — you can come in, and you can follow links, and you can see what most interests you about this story and that would be non-linear. Or, you can imagine a blog which lasts all day, which has a sort of temporal plane if we were to follow the subject for a period of time. Or, it may be you didn’t deal with words at all, like I was doing yesterday, you just draw things; or construct something which has filing cards, where the story has a kind of longer tail and you can explore it through different ways of categorising it. So, it’s not that linear story telling will go, but it’s just that it will be one technique amongst many.
You have been speaking about an open journalistic structure, or framework. For instance, you said you’d like The Guardian to be a site from which you can seek out the best news stories even on the sites of other news organisations. Do you think eventually there will be a very thin line between an information aggregator or search engine like Google and a journalistic site, not perhaps of the optimal variety like The Guardian, but say sundry others? Wouldn’t journalism then resemble a Google Plus kind of information seeking?
Well, Google is algorithms and we’re human. I think that’s still quite a big distinction. Algorithms are better at some things and the human brain is better at others. If all you want is an algorithm, then Google will beat us every time. It’s absolutely, astonishingly brilliant in what it does. But, if I wake up in the morning and I think what do I need to read today, Google’s probably not going to tell me the five things that I need. But Andrews Sparrow, our political correspondent, will say: I’ve read these things. This is interesting for the following reason. So Andrew Sparrow is being useful. And he’ll do the same thing at lunch time and again at six o clock, and that’s the only thing I need to read.
Is confidentiality of source under very dire challenge now?
Yes, yes. Mobile phones are tracking devices. They are microphones, they are listening devices. They are an unbelievable weapon of intrusion into our lives. And so, if anybody is interested enough to find out that you and I are having this conversation, then if you’ve got your mobile phone in your pocket, it would be a matter of seconds to work out that we were together at this moment. Or, they can follow our metadata, and they can follow our texts and our emails. So we are in a world in which the assurance a journalist gives to a source, that I won’t reveal who you are, is meaningless; in a world where governments say we are not going to respect that in future. With the British government, the implications might be that you just lose your job. If I am going into Pakistan or Russia or China, and the dissidents are going to talk to me, then lives are going to be at risk. So, I do think that Western democracies, in so cavalierly abandoning the protection that journalists offer sources, are setting a terrible example for the rest of the world.
Sashi Kumar is Chairman, Media Development Foundation and Asian College of Journalism, Chennai.«