Press & media
Goodman, Geoffrey (9 of 9). Oral History of the British Press
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2008-02-18, 2008-02-29, 2008-04-16, 2008-04-28, 2008-05-19, 2008-06-11, 2008-07-07, 2008-07-21
British Library, London
Goodman, Geoffrey, 1922-2013 (speaker, male)
Brodie, Louise (speaker, female)
Part 9: The British Journalism Review [BJR] was started by half a dozen people in a pub in Fleet Street about 20 years ago. Laurie Flyn and Hugo Young were present. They discussed the whole nature of the problems with their trade. Prof Hugh Stephenson was also there. The Joseph Rowntree Trust put up £16,000 and GG went around finding more money. Newspapers put up money, the TGWU and the Readers Digest, and they got enough to publish quarterly for a year or so. They started preparing in July 1988, and the first magazine came out in autumn 1989. The morality of the British press was in decline. Rupert Murdoch was very much in mind. It had become extremely political in an unbalanced way. The nature of the press was in trouble and journalists were worried about it. [7:18]The atmosphere was different then. There were no media pages in the national papers. Now it has been overtaken completely, they are everywhere. There was quite an explosion of publicity when it started. GG thought there would be sardonic criticism but in fact the comments were favourable and GG is agreeably surprised at the awareness of their existence. Who knows whether it made any difference but it established a milestone. It was compared with the Colombia Review of New York. Following on, a number of journals in Europe have started. GG would say that they wanted to examine themselves, and there was a social purpose. [13:17] They held regular editorial meetings, and the initial ones were to examine their role, to see what should be criticised or applauded. Margaret Thatcher was elevated to a regal stature and all else was relegated to the margins. It was a social revolution. She had support from RM’s newspapers. There was an explosion of trivia as an escape mechanism similar to the escapism of the cinema in America in the thirties. It was the beginning of celebrity journalism. There was shoddy reporting, economic factors played a part, changing circulation did too. The Daily Mirror was in decline against the competition of RM’s Sun. As this intensified, each paper offered gifts and competitions and they moved away from responsible reporting. [21:10] As editor of the BJR GG had to rely on old Fleet Street friends. Granada television was a great supporter, at this time a serious channel with the chairman Sir Dennis Forman. He looked on the BJR as the printed equivalent of Granada. Hugh Cudlipp produced some of his finest writing. Once they had got off the ground people came to GG offering to write for them. Those on the editorial board worked without pay. GG was nominated as editor. It was a humbling experience to be nominated by his peers. [25:43] The subscribers began to grow, and then even News International came on board. Leslie Hinton was chief executive in London and gave them a hefty sum, even in the knowledge that they could be criticised in the BJR. Other papers are also criticised. Now there are so many more outlets for media comments, sections in each paper, they may not survive. GG would like BJR to continue to range across the global media. How long can the BJR still base itself on the essential nature of the written word and the importance of it? There is still evidence of good TV and radio. Can they hold up the mores of the trade, given the technological revolution which is taking place? There is a lack of reflection and judgment. Blogging is a global phenomenon. How can you regulate this? [33:50] RM has global influence on the nature of mass communication and information. TV did not alter the culture of journalism in the way that is happening now. In 10 years probably those of us brought up in a different culture will be disturbed. We will be unable to check information as we shall have no time to check it, or reflect. Immediacy of information affects judgment. This is already affecting government and the nature of politics. Individuals now may find it difficult to reach rational judgments. We should increase awareness that this is happening, the dangers inherent in these changes, as well as the advantages. The role of the journalist has to be crucial. There has to be an outlet for this. It is a great challenge, particularly to political leaders. [41:27] At one stage political life set the parameters, journalists were able to describe it with reasonable freedom, recognising that an elected government in a democratic society was the most powerful influence. It is no longer true. The media has a greater influence now, and also the media itself is going through a revolution. The balance of influence has shifted. There is a degree of arrogance among journalists and they are extremely well paid, way above political leaders. Governments appear to be in hock to media characters. China is interesting, unique, as they have, or believe they have effective control over the media. This will change. How do you correct the fact that the media should be brought into some form of restraint? At the moment a great deal is being written about Hadrian, 2000 years ago. Is RM the Hadrian of today? [49:45] Industry in terms of manufacturing no longer exists. Advanced societies now have been deindustrialised. Only occasionally does the media reflect this. Reporting on the nature of change in our society is non existent. Industries with massive numbers of workers, in particular areas used to be well reported. The media doesn’t know how to handle working life any more. It used to be a great subject, particularly in the regional papers. Elevated celebrity and a facile corrupt form of life are now reported. There is a general violence of social life, which used to be internal within the family, which has now been externalised. Most of the people who worked in industry were not fully educated. GG feels there is a collection of change which is gloomy and alarming. HG Wells said that life is based on a race between education and the impulse for self destruction. Now we are in the 21st century it is difficult to be optimistic. The nuclear bomb and the freedom for people to behave violently has been extended. One of the great things in the media now is the reporting of daily violence, which is having its effect. [1:01:33] The first readers of the BJR were journalists. There was a subscription list of 1400, mainly in the big cities. And in Europe and American universities. The list declined, it is now down to 500 plus corporate subscribers, which brings it up to 1400 or 1500. In the journalist’s trade you expect to get your reading material free. It was sold at £3 an issue, a modest amount. It has now gone up to something over £30 year. Sage publishers don’t really do the marketing that they should do. BJR have had a number of publishing houses. Derek Birdsall was the original designer. Sage are an American group run by a wealthy couple specialising in academic and media work. They approached BJR to ask to publish it. [1:10:38] GG was editor for 13 years and when he was 80, handed over to Bill Hagerty. BH has a more difficult job than GG had as there is a superfluity of media journalism now. It is difficult for a quarterly to focus on a subject which may have passed, and then pay the journalists only a nominal fee, £100 for an article and £50 for a book review. The board still takes no fees. There is dedication. [1:14:32] GG is now emeritus chairman of the BJR and has an advisory role. He chairs the editorial board meetings and never interferes. He may ask questions. The design is still by Derek Birdsall, of Omnific studios in Islington. He is a genius. There are extra cover designs and cartoons. DB’s reputation is renowned, and he was asked by the Archbishop of Canterbury to design the new Bible. [1:19:01] The Fleet Street Forum of the 1950s was born out of an organisation of radical left wing journalists on the News Chronicle, James Cameron, Tom Baistow, Bruce Rothwell, Tom Hopkinson, Kingsley Martin. All were members of the Socialists Journalists Association. Vicki was also a member. They wanted to voice the political imbalance of the press of the time. It was premature then. They just met 3 or 4 times a year with a speaker to talk about the national press. Most memorably they had Bertrand Russell when he was involved with nuclear disarmament. He was an extraordinary man. He never stopped talking and had a philosophical view of life and a wry humour. He was a great man. Shortly after this meeting the Forum fell away. But some of them had regular lunches at the Gay Huzaar. Bruce Rothwell story. He had to meet a chap called RM who was sniffing out the purchase of a London newspaper (the News of the World). [1:19:39] GG is not an award seeking person. They are agreeable when given by his contemporaries. The one he most cherishes is the Gerald Barry award. He was the editor of the News Chronicle. It was an award for life long achievements. GG feels honoured to have received this. The citation was for lifelong and deep and objective reporting [1:32:46] GG has written a book about Frank Cousins; edited and contributed to a book about Anaeurin Bevan published by Gollanz called State of the Nation. He wrote one on the miner’s strike of the 1980s and a Fleet Street memoir from Bevan to Blair. GG has helped to publish a reproduction of Bevan’s In Place of Fear with an interesting introduction by Gordon Brown. It gives Bevan’s philosophy. GG is chairman of the AB Society and this commemorates the 60th anniversary of the NHS and it was launched in the House of Commons with Alan Johnson speaking. He says how important the NHS is to him. Details. The NHS has made an enormous contribution to our civilising culture. It is comparable to what Lloyd George did and with the first move of the welfare state in Germany (Bismark). He introduced insurance and pensions. Beveridge picked on this too. Now GG is writing a reflection, a philosophical book a sequel to Bevan to Blair. [1:40:15] The only thing GG would like to say finally is that he looks forward to his pessimism being proved false.
Life story interview with journalist Geoffrey Goodman