Back in June, I was invited to speak in Amsterdam at a "Royal Symposium". It turned out I was sharing the platform with a writer on the media whom I had long admired, not least for his searching New York Review of Books essays on how the US press covered the war in Iraq – Michael Massing.
- • Previously on Cif: Alan Rusbridger asked readers for their thoughts about the fourth estate's future
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I did the best I could to describe the present state of the media as I saw it. Massing was much more original. He plunged straight into the media trends of the late 15th and early 16th centuries, a period when the old spiritual and cultural order dominated by the Roman Catholic church was breaking down and a new one was struggling to emerge.
With the invention of printing, books by the thousand were tumbling off the presses, and scholars were gripped by a kind of fever as they searched for new ideas about how to organise society. In tracts and treatises they furiously debated such issues as the nature of man, the powers of God, and the true path to salvation.
The historian John Man puts the Gutenberg revolution like this:
"Suddenly, in a historical eye-blink, scribes were redundant. One year, it took a month or two to produce a single copy of a book; the next, you could have 500 copies in a week. Hardly an aspect of life remained untouched … Gutenberg's invention made the soil from which sprang modern history, science, popular literature, the emergence of the nation-state, so much of everything by which we define modernity."
Massing is not the only writer to be fascinated by the parallels between that period and today's revolution in communication, which – in the opinion of many – is as great as that of Gutenberg. The difference today is that change is happening much faster – so fast that we are, as an industry, collectively suffering from what deep-sea divers refer to as the bends. We are travelling through a period of extreme change faster than our corporate bodies can cope with. It's painful – and, if not treated quickly and correctly, can be fatal.
I want to discuss the possibility that we are living at the end of a great arc of history, which began with the invention of moveable type. There have, of course, been other transformative steps in communication during that half millennium – the invention of the telegraph, or radio and television, for instance – but essentially they were continuations of an idea of communication that involved one person speaking to many.
That's not dead as an idea. But what's happening today – the mass ability to communicate with each other, without having to go through a traditional intermediary – is truly transformative.
It is a change that was only imaginable by previous generations. I recently reread the formative book Culture and Society by the great literary critic and cultural historian Raymond Williams, written a little over 50 years ago. This is what he wrote in 1958:
"Much of what we call communication is, necessarily, no more in itself, than transmission; that is to say, a one-way sending. Reception and response, which complete communication, depend on other factors …"
That is the revolutionary change we are living through today – this transformation from transmission to communication. Williams would have added another significant difference: a move from impersonal media – which was what print was – to personal.
Many of us who grew up in the world of transmission face the existential question of whether we can stay in business doing transmission alone. That is the profound question that lies behind attempts to wall off, or sell, our content – or the contrary instinct to seek to embed it as centrally as possible in the new ways in which information, response and counter-response are developing.
Before I discuss what this digital revolution means, I want briefly to step back and look at the effect it is having on the overall media ecology.
It's always been a given that the business we journalists are in is not quite like other businesses. What it does matters too much. That's why it has sometimes rather grandly been called the fourth estate – a part of society as important as government, the courts or the church. Some would say more so.
Virtually every adult over the age of 30 grew up with the idea that the fourth estate consisted of just two parts – press and broadcasting. Each was owned, financed and regulated in different ways and each gave rise to different ideas of what journalism was.
The privately owned press was, in general, more opinionated, partisan, politically engaged and lightly regulated, if at all. Broadcasting – whether publicly financed or commercial – usually came with the requirement that it strove for impartiality. It had an obligation to reflect all parts of the political spectrum and special duties to cover news that, left to the market alone, wouldn't be covered.
There was much to cherish in the balances and tensions inherent in this duopoly. A reader or viewer could measure the message of one medium against the other. There was the tent peg of attempted impartiality by which to measure the wild west of the printed word.
But now there's a new kid on the block. A third wing to the fourth estate, if that's not too mixed a metaphor. You could even argue there are two new kids on the block – the original world wide web (essentially another form of transmission) and web 2.0, the advent and rapid maturing of so-called social, or open, media. No one owns the digital space and it is barely regulated. It brings with it an entirely new idea of what journalism is – indeed, for some, it calls into question whether there is any such distinct thing as "journalism", a theme I tried to tackle in my Cudlipp lecture in January this year.
This double revolution within just over 20 years is having a dramatic effect on the accepted norms and categorisations of information. We are seeing the splintering of the fourth estate.
Digital is biting most fiercely on the press, if only because we have somehow to earn our own living (I will qualify that in a moment) and don't enjoy the sheltered protection of licence fees or government funding.
As digital eats into the press, so the press has turned its fire on public broadcasters, imagining that if only they went away, everything in the garden would once more come out in bloom. And so the balance between these three separate ideas of journalism begins to teeter.
Before looking at these digital forces in close-up I do want to touch on the tenuous nature of the present balance and ask whether the status quo can – or should – hold in its present form.
We all know that digital forces are threatening to weaken, or even destroy, the traditional basis, role and funding of the press. And we know that digital enables everyone to disrupt everyone else's business. Text publishers can get into moving pictures and the broadcasters can get into text. It was only a matter of time before it would seem overwhelmingly obvious – and economically irresistible – for people to converge, consolidate and integrate.
But before we rush to sweep away the differentiation that exists at the moment, just pause to consider the virtues of the present balance.
Because the press is what it is – magnificently opinionated and partisan – it has pretty unfettered licence to attempt to set the narrative about its bedfellows in the media. And the dominant narrative about publicly funded broadcasting, in the UK, at least, is not a flattering one.
Other than BP, Royal Bank of Scotland or the Church of Scientology, it's hard to think of a large organisation that has routinely had such a hostile press as the BBC has recently had.
It's not simply its size, or the way it's run, that is criticised (sometimes with good reason), it is the very idea of public service broadcasting that is being questioned. Some have even gone as far as claiming that public funding turns public broadcasters into Orwellian merchants of propaganda; that the BBC resembles the dying embers of 1970s-style centralised, industrialised planning. That it spouts a paternalistic "we-know-best" view of knowledge.
Whenever I feel doubts creeping in, I put aside the newspapers and look at the iPlayer – that extraordinary device for playing and replaying BBC content. There you find a richness of programming that could never be provided by any form of market funding. It is exactly what an open space of publicly available information should look like – a richness of learning about science, history, technology, parenting, business, economics, food, music, the environment, physics, religion, ethics and politics – all within one week.
That's before we even get on to drama, comedy or sport. Or radio. Or the BBC's web pages, its orchestras or the World Service. Or the programmes it makes for the regions, for the hard of hearing, the partially sighted or for children. And then there's its news, with the kind of global coverage that comes from its unique network of 200 foreign correspondents.
It's news of a rare quality – serious news that's inquiring and challenging; news that's balanced and fair; news that reveals things and places them in context; news that's international in scope; news that's useful, news that opens your mind and helps your understanding; news that is transparent in its ethical standards and processes of self-criticism. The BBC is still the finest news operation in the world. How does it do it? Through subsidy.
Now subsidy also gets a bad press. But, in reality, few of us are in a good position to ridicule subsidy.
The American essayist Walter Lippmann, in his famous 1922 book, Public Opinion, made it plain that the press could not live without the subsidy of advertising.
He wrote of the reader:
"Nobody thinks for a moment that he ought to pay for his newspaper … The citizen will pay for his telephone, his railroad rides, his motor car, his entertainment. But he does not pay openly for his news … He will, however, pay handsomely for the privilege of having someone read about him. He will pay directly to advertise … The public pays for the press, but only when the payment is concealed."
In the middle of all the turmoil we're living through, it's clear that the subsidy model of serious general journalism is – with one or two exceptions – the only one that actually works at the moment. That subsidy may be a trust, an oligarch, a patriarch, a billionaire, a sister company, a licence fee, an income direct from public revenue … or an advertiser.
In the turbulence of the coming years – when, as the new media academic Clay Shirky puts it, the "old model is breaking faster than the new stuff gets put in place" – all media may come to rely on some form of medium-term subsidy. If you include advertising, then all media are members of what some like to call the "subsidariat". We are fooling ourselves if we expect people to meet the real, direct cost of providing the news.
But, looking forward into the eye of the unknowable digital storm, it seems to me rather reckless to propose dismantling or hobbling the one model of funding for traditional media that has any kind of predictability about it.
What about the press? That the idea of public broadcasting – one of the glories of modern civilisation – could be so vigorously challenged leads to another attempt to overturn an idea that, until recently, was a given: that there should be a plurality of ownership of the main forms of media.
I'm not going to labour this point, because it's quite a simple one to grasp, even if it's a hard one to articulate in law. The 1949 Royal Commission on the press didn't waste more than a few paragraphs on the subject: I'm guessing they didn't feel the principle needed much explanation.
Indeed, it is a sign of the current turmoil that one should have to argue a case that, at any other time in history, would have seemed too obvious to make. Too great a concentration of ownership in the media has always been considered a bad idea, whether you were on the right or the left.
But the revolution we're talking about is changing all that. It seems self-evident to some that a combination of fierce economic pressures and an ever greater convergence of text, data and moving pictures leads to one obvious solution: consolidation. Consolidation also brings economies of scale. If regulatory regimes can't handle that, well, get rid of the regulators, goes the argument.
The economic and technological arguments are serious ones, but if they prevail we will – soon – see more and more power and influence concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.
The consolidators will argue that the digital space is itself part of the new plurality. And here, too, they have a point – though many would argue that we're not yet at the moment when digital has the same kind of weight as a few concentrated voices.
But if it seems obvious that media plurality is not just a nice-to-have, but a vital cornerstone of democracy, shouldn't it be the starting point for the public policy debate, rather than sliding in behind the business, economic, managerial or technological arguments?
In the UK the most immediate pressures are being felt in the local press, where there has already been much consolidation over the years.
And, of course, most topically, there is the prospect of a merger between a wholly owned BSkyB and the four newspaper titles owned by News Corp. That would give one company control of nearly 40% of Britain's press as well as a broadcaster with nearly £6bn in revenues compared with the £3.5bn licence fee of the BBC.
Now, I realise that even raising this question immediately translates, in the minds of some, into an argument about Rupert Murdoch. It's not. There's no one I would want to have that much power. Not the Scott Trust, not the BBC, not Arthur Sulzberger, not the moderator of the general assembly of the Church of Scotland. Not even the saintly David Attenborough.
But, as it happens, the events of the past year or so, in the aftermath of revelations of phone hacking at the News of the World, do illustrate the nature of the problem.
They raise questions that are not so much about the hacking, troubling as those are, but about how other forces in society – whether it is other media organisations, the police, the regulator or parliament itself – behave when faced with the muscle of a very large, very powerful and sometimes very aggressive media group, especially one that is keenly interested in exerting political influence and expressing powerful views on how media regulation should operate.
Something is dangerously out of kilter when elected members of parliament confess – as they recently have – that they have held back from probing into, or criticising, one particular media company for fear of what that company might do to them. Or when that company's former employees – who know what went on and also what the company is capable of – are too frightened to speak publicly about what they know.
Knowing of the chilling effect one large media company can have on public life and institutions, how could it be good public policy to allow a still greater concentration of power across not just one wing of the fourth estate, but two? You can devise all kinds of metrics of reach, engagement and come up with any number of definitions of what constitutes a market in order to justify it – and, believe me, people will – but it would still feel wrong.
That's why newspapers and broadcasters in the UK have for the first time in history come together to oppose the move and why, in a recent House of Lords debate inspired by David Puttnam, virtually every speaker also lined up against it.
As Lord Gavron said in the debate, this strength of feeling was not motivated by a knee-jerk prejudice against the name Murdoch. He actually praised Rupert Murdoch from personal knowledge as being "straight, loyal and honourable". But he warned that, if the government allowed this deal through, "we could end up with a Russian oligarch, an Arab prince, or a hedge fund billionaire" in a similar position of control.
And now to the third sphere, the one that's causing all the trouble.
The digital space is – without going into complex arguments about net neutrality – owned and regulated by no one. So it is a very different type of medium from the two I've discussed so far.
It's developing so fast, we forget how new it all is. It's totally understandable that those of us with at least one leg in traditional media should be impatient to understand the business model that will enable us magically to transform ourselves into digital businesses and continue to earn the revenues we enjoyed before the invention of the web, never mind the bewildering disruption of web 2.0.
But first we have to understand what we're up against. It is constantly surprising to me how people in positions of influence in the media find it difficult to look outside the frame of their own medium and look at what this animal called social, or open, media does. How it currently behaves, what it is capable of doing in the future.
On one level there is no great mystery about web 2.0. It's about the fact that other people like doing what we journalists do. We like creating things – words, pictures, films, graphics – and publishing them. So, it turns out, does everyone else.
For 500 years since Gutenberg they couldn't; now they can. In fact, they can do much more than we ever could.
All this has happened in the blink of an eye. That's one problem – the rapidity of the revolution, the bends – and the other is that we journalists find it difficult to look at what's happening around us and relate it to what we have historically done. Most of these digital upstarts don't look like media companies. EBay? It buys and sells stuff. Amazon? The same. TripAdvisor? It's flogging holidays. Facebook? It's where teenagers post all the stuff that will make them unemployable later in life.
If that's all we see when we look at those websites then we're missing the picture. Very early on I forced all senior Guardian editors on to Facebook to understand for themselves how these new ways of creativity and connection worked. EBay can teach us how to handle the kind of reputational and identity issues we're all coming to terms with our readers. Amazon or TripAdvisor can reveal the power of peer review.
We should understand what Tumblr or Flipboard or Twitter are all about – social media so new they're not even yet Hollywood blockbusters.
I've lost count of the times people – including a surprising number of colleagues in media companies – roll their eyes at the mention of Twitter. "No time for it," they say. "Inane stuff about what twits are having for breakfast. Nothing to do with the news business."
Well, yes and no. Inanity – yes, sure, plenty of it. But saying that Twitter has got nothing to do with the news business is about as misguided as you could be.
Here, off the top of my head, are 15 things that Twitter does rather effectively and which should be of the deepest interest to anyone involved in the media at any level.
1. It's an amazing form of distribution
It's a highly effective way of spreading ideas, information and content. Don't be distracted by the 140-character limit. A lot of the best tweets are links. It's instantaneous. Its reach can be immensely far and wide. Why does this matter? Because we do distribution too. We're now competing with a medium that can do many things incomparably faster than we can. It's back to the battle between scribes and movable type. That matters in journalistic terms. And, if you're trying to charge for content, it matters in business terms. The life expectancy of much exclusive information can now be measured in minutes, if not in seconds. That has profound implications for our economic model, never mind the journalism.
2. It's where things happen first
Not all things. News organisations still break lots of news. But, increasingly, news happens first on Twitter. If you're a regular Twitter user, even if you're in the news business and have access to the wires, the chances are that you'll check out many rumours of breaking news on Twitter first. There are millions of human monitors out there who will pick up on the smallest things and who have the same instincts as the agencies – to be the first with the news. As more people join, the better it will get.
3. As a search engine, it rivals Google
Many people still don't quite understand that Twitter is, in some respects, better than Google in finding stuff out. Google is limited to using algorithms to ferret out information in the unlikeliest hidden corners of the web. Twitter goes one stage further – harnessing the mass capabilities of human intelligence to the power of millions in order to find information that is new, valuable, relevant or entertaining.
4. It's a formidable aggregation tool
You set Twitter to search out information on any subject you want and it will often bring you the best information there is. It becomes your personalised news feed. If you are following the most interesting people they will in all likelihood bring you the most interesting information. In other words, it's not simply you searching. You can sit back and let other people you admire or respect go out searching and gathering for you. Again, no news organisation could possibly aim to match, or beat, the combined power of all those worker bees collecting information and disseminating it.
5. It's a great reporting tool
Many of the best reporters are now habitually using Twitter as an aid to finding information. This can be simple requests for knowledge that other people already know, have to hand, or can easily find. The so-called wisdom of crowds comes into play: the "they know more than we do" theory. Or you're simply in a hurry and know that someone out there will know the answer quickly. Or it can be reporters using Twitter to find witnesses to specific events – people who were in the right place at the right time, but would otherwise be hard to find.
6. It's a fantastic form of marketing
You've written your piece or blog. You may well have involved others in the researching of it. Now you can let them all know it's there, so that they come to your site. You alert your community of followers. In marketing speak, it drives traffic and it drives engagement. If they like what they read they'll tell others about it. If they really like it, it will, as they say, "go viral". I only have 18,500 followers. But if I get retweeted by one of our columnists, Charlie Brooker, I reach a further 200,000. If Guardian Technology picks it up it goes to an audience of 1.6 million. If Stephen Fry notices it, it's global.
7. It's a series of common conversations
Or it can be. As well as reading what you've written and spreading the word, people can respond. They can agree or disagree or denounce it. They can blog elsewhere and link to it. There's nothing worse than writing or broadcasting something to no reaction at all. With Twitter you get an instant reaction. It's not transmission, it's communication. It's the ability to share and discuss with scores, or hundreds, or thousands of people in real time. Twitter can be fragmented. It can be the opposite of fragmentation. It's a parallel universe of common conversations.
8. It's more diverse
Traditional media allowed a few voices in. Twitter allows anyone.
9. It changes the tone of writing
A good conversation involves listening as well as talking. You will want to listen as well as talk. You will want to engage and be entertaining. There is, obviously, more brevity on Twitter. There's more humour. More mixing of comment with fact. It's more personal. The elevated platform on which journalists sometimes liked to think they were sitting is kicked away on Twitter. Journalists are fast learners. They start writing differently.
Talking of which …
10. It's a level playing field
A recognised "name" may initially attract followers in reasonable numbers. But if they have nothing interesting to say they will talk into an empty room. The energy in Twitter gathers around people who can say things crisply and entertainingly, even though they may be "unknown". They may speak to a small audience, but if they say interesting things they may well be republished numerous times and the exponential pace of those re-transmissions can, in time, dwarf the audience of the so-called big names. Shock news: sometimes the people formerly known as readers can write snappier headlines and copy than journalists can.
11. It has different news values
People on Twitter quite often have an entirely different sense of what is and what isn't news. What seems obvious to journalists in terms of the choices we make is quite often markedly different from how others see it – both in terms of the things we choose to cover and the things we ignore. The power of tens of thousands of people articulating those different choices can wash back into newsrooms and affect what editors choose to cover. We can ignore that, of course. But should we?
12. It has a long attention span
The opposite is usually argued – that Twitter is simply an instant, highly condensed stream of consciousness. The perfect medium for goldfish. But set your TweetDeck to follow a particular keyword or issue or subject and you may well find that the attention span of Twitter users puts newspapers to shame. They will be ferreting out and aggregating information on the issues that concern them long after the caravan of professional journalists has moved on.
13. It creates communities
Or, rather, communities form themselves around particular issues, people, events, artefacts, cultures, ideas, subjects or geographies. They may be temporary communities or long-terms ones, strong ones or weak ones. But they are recognisably communities.
14. It changes notions of authority
Instead of waiting to receive the "expert" opinions of others – mostly us journalists – Twitter shifts the balance to so-called "peer to peer" authority. It's not that Twitterers ignore what we say – on the contrary (see distribution and marketing, above) they are becoming our most effective transmitters and responders. But, equally, we kid ourselves if we think there isn't another force in play here – that a 21-year-old student is quite likely to be more drawn to the opinions and preferences of people who look and talk like her. Or a 31-year-old mother of young toddlers. Or a 41-year-old bloke passionate about politics and the rock music of his youth.
15. It is an agent of change
As this ability of people to combine around issues and to articulate them grows, so it will have increasing effect on people in authority. Companies are already learning to respect, even fear, the power of collaborative media. Increasingly, social media will challenge conventional politics and, for instance, the laws relating to expression and speech.
Now you could write a further list of things that are irritating about the way people use Twitter. It's not good at complexity – though it can link to complexity. It can be frustratingly reductive. It doesn't do what investigative reporters or war correspondents do. It doesn't, of itself, verify facts. It can be distracting, indiscriminate and overwhelming.
Moreover, I'm simply using Twitter as one example of the power of open, or social, media. Twitter may go the way of other, now forgotten, flashes in the digital pan. The downside of Twitter also means that the full weight of the world's attention can fall on a single unstable piece of information. But we can be sure that the motivating idea behind these forms of open media isn't going away and that, if we are blind to their capabilities, we will be making a very serious mistake, both in terms of our journalism and the economics of our business.
We can now glimpse better what Raymond Williams was anticipating when he wrote about what he thought of as true communication 60 odd years ago. For him it meant what he called "active reception and living response". For that to exist, he thought, you needed "an effective community of experience" and a "recognition of practical equality". Indeed, Williams thought we couldn't survive as a common culture without such a mechanism.
Of course, social media is not enough on its own. I'm not in any way trying to elevate it above traditional media. We should be pleased, not resentful, that Twitter is in some measure parasitical – that many of the referrals and links take people to so-called legacy-media companies, who still invest in original reporting, who still confront authority, find things out, give context and explain.
But I do believe we should be relentless in learning all we can about how people are using this post-Gutenberg ability to create and share – and import those lessons back into our own journalism and businesses. It's not about all rushing to be on Twitter. We can make our own media collaborative and open, too.
Distribution, breaking news and aggregation? At the Guardian and Observer we have more than 450 people on Twitter, together with 70 different single-subject sites or section feeds. Our journalists are out there, reaching a different audience from the core Guardian readership, seeking help, ideas, feedback, joining in the common conversations.
Reporters use open media as a way of finding sources, communities and audiences. The notion of a story – with a finite starting and finishing point – is changing. Liveblogging can bring audiences of millions around specific events. Linking allows you to place your journalism at the heart of issues, news and information.
Instead of trying to write everything ourselves we're increasingly a platform as well as a publisher. It started with Comment is free in 2006. Soon our cultural coverage will be just as open and collaborative. We've done it with our network of environmental and science blogs: traffic on the former has risen by 800% since the start of the year. We benefit from expert content and increased audiences. They share the revenue. We can trace the beginnings of a virtuous circle.
We harness readers in our shoe-leather investigations, whether it's hunting down tax avoidance; or tracing people who may have digital records of police assaults; or enlisting 27,000 readers to sift through 400,000 records of MPs' expenses; or alerting readers to super-injunctions that stop us telling them things.
Guess what? The readers love to be involved. They, too, like being critics, commentators and photographers. They love helping to defeat injunctions and being asked to share their particular knowledge or pool their expertise. You harbour a feeling that some of the stuff they create is poor? I agree. Let's learn from eBay about reputations, ranking and identity.
We're experimenting with open data and open APIs. We want to experiment distributing our content to where the audiences are – preferably with advertising attached. Some of the more radical ideas will work, some won't. But a failure to experiment is more dangerous than trying new things.
This open and collaborative future for journalism – I have tried the word "mutualised" to describe something of the flavour of the relationship this new journalism has with our readers and sources and advertisers – is already looking different from the journalism that went before. The more we can involve others the more they will be engaged participants in the future, rather than observers or, worse, former readers. That's not theory. It's working now.
And, yes, we'll charge for some of this – as we have in the past – while keeping the majority of it open. My commercial colleagues at the Guardian firmly believe that our mutualised approach is opening up options for making money, not closing them down.
I won't criticise people who want to try a different path. You can't preach plurality and argue for a single model of journalism or against attempts to find alternative ways of financing what we do.
I've always argued it's a good thing that different organisations are trying different routes to the future. And the models that are currently emerging are very different.
Our web traffic last month averaged just over 2 million unique browsers a day. One independent company which measured the Times's UK web audience during September found that their web traffic – not including iPad apps – had fallen by 98% as people progressed past the paywall.
More sophisticated analysts than me calculate that the content behind the paywall is therefore generating a total global audience of about 54,000 a month, of whom about 28,000 are paying for the digital content (the remainder being print subscribers).
That's not a criticism of the Times: that path may well make sense for how they see the future. The jury on the relative financial models for different approaches will remain out for a while yet. But these comparative figures point to completely different ideas of scale, reach, audience, engagement, ambition… and of journalism itself.
So that is a very brief tour around this splintered fourth estate.
I suspect we would never invent the BBC today – the spirit of the age is against it. The issues about plurality are complex. When things are threatening to disintegrate it needs the greatest wisdom to know how and when to intervene both to enable change while preserving what's precious – or, more than that, necessary.
As for digital, I am with the utopians – fully aware that some see that as a term of abuse. To quote one blogger, the social web is not really about the end of what came before, but the starting point for what comes next: richer and more complex societies. I am sometimes giddy with the possibilities new technologies offer us for being better journalists: for reaching even larger audiences; for having more influence; for being embedded in the most astonishing network of information the world has ever seen or could ever have imagined.
As with the early 16th century, it's our privilege, as a generation, not only to imagine the future of information, but to take the first steps on the road to recrafting the ways in which it is created and spread.
As the great editor, CP Scott, wrote about the technological changes in the air when the Guardian celebrated its first 100 years in 1921: "What a change for the world! What a chance for the newspaper!"
• This is an edited transcript of the Andrew Olle lecture 2010 given by Alan Rusbridger in Sydney, Australia on 19 November