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‘Farewell, readers’: Alan Rusbridger on leaving the Guardian after two decades at the helm


It was there every time this editor needed advice from those wisest of owls, Hugo Young and Liz Forgan. It’s there in the words of the centenary essay penned by Scott in 1921, in which he wrote of the balance between the material and moral existence of a newspaper – between profit and power. There was never any question for him which mattered more.

Power over profit
. But even that, in a modern context, makes me a little uneasy. I end with a confession about editing, and a nagging anxiety about this business of power.

An editor, if he or she chooses, can be a very powerful figure indeed. Editors can make or break people. They dictate who gets a voice, and who remains voiceless. They can, if they want, bully and frighten whom they choose. They can impose their views on a newspaper and, through the paper, on a country and the lives of millions.

As we’ve seen, they can break the law while delving into private lives in reasonable confidence that no one will stop them, not even the police or regulator. They can have a disproportionate influence in shaping debates – if only by excluding any contrary arguments. One voice can dominate an entire newspaper, from the front page, throughout the reporting and the editorial columns to a select few allowed to be commentators.

People do still bend their knee to this kind of power, even in an age when the influence of mainstream media is supposed to be waning. In my modest fashion, I’ve experienced it at first hand. And, in a way, I’m glad of that. I want strong institutions of the fourth estate. In a world of globalised, distant, often unaccountable power, a countervailing source of scrutiny and influence is needed more than ever.

But I’ve never wanted the Guardian to be my voice – nor would my Guardian colleagues have wanted or allowed it. Scott saw clearly that a newspaper had to shun “the temptations of a monopoly … the voice of opponents no less than that of friends has a right to be heard”.
I don’t know that I’ve always lived up to Scott’s ideal in that, but it was important to me that the Guardian had, for instance, a Simon Jenkins, a Max Hastings or a Matthew d’Ancona as well as writers who swam more easily with our liberal currents.






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