One kind of victory for two kinds of journalism

Mobile phone, walkie-talkie and pager sounded off together as the BBC’s Orla Guerin walked down Jerusalem’s Ben Yehuda Street. It was "an orchestra that always means death…I didn’t wonder what or how, just where."

Haifa this time, said the walkie-talkie. Suicide bombing. Fifteen killed. Guerin set off to crystallise the awfulness by simply reporting the feelings of the families of Moshe, an Israeli victim, and of Daoud, a Palestinian bomber.

Her despatch made a powerful spread in The Mail on Sunday, chronicling another bloody cycle of despair, violence, retaliation and revenge. She quoted a 14-year-old: "If I die as a suicide bomber, I’ll go straight to heaven. The angels won’t count my sins."

Guerin’s report was a model of the objectivity the public expect from broadcast journalists. In the war next door but one, Robert Fisk of The Independent was providing a vivid example of the point-of-view reporting that the public expect from print journalists.

Fisk was savagely beaten at an Afghan refugee camp in Pakistan. He was rescued by a white-bearded saviour he took to be a local mullah.

What an irony that the most compelling journalistic opponent of "this filthy war" should be so targeted. He survived to proclaim that, had he been an Afghan refugee, he would have done just the same to Robert Fisk or any other westerner he could find.

Be grateful for both the telling objectivity of Guerin and the telling subjectivity of Fisk.

The Astor style

 

Afortunate man, David Astor. "I edit The Observer," he would observe, "for myself and my friends." How quaint that sounds now, when so many papers (you know who you are) seem edited to please the latest owner and his latest friends.

To be fair, things were simpler for Astor in that the then owners were the Astor family. He edited for 27 years until retirement in 1975. On his death last week, tributes were paid to his independence, notably in campaigning against the Suez war, and his genius in recruiting writers of exceptional talent and giving them room to prove it.

But not too much room. Anthony Sampson recalls labouring for hours on the intro for a Schweitzer profile. Astor complimented him on the piece but said: "Just leave out the first par. It’s like a cough at the beginning of a speech."

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