Journalism – it keeps truth in front of us

Dollar for dollar, my favorite publication is The New York Review of Books. It helps readers be more informed about a wide number of things. You don’t have to just like books to like NYRB; you have to love gaining knowledge.

For instance, the May 27 issue (I’m always behind) has a great story about The Guardian newspaper in England. by Alan Rusbridger, “Two Centuries of ‘The Guardian’.” Here’s part of one little story within the story.

“A clue to their motives [for starting the paper] can be found in the Peterloo Massacre of August 16, 1819. Eighteen people were killed and as many as 670 were injured when the cavalry, encouraged by the local Manchester magistrates, charged into a crowd of working-class protesters peacefully demanding greater political representation.

Photo by Rodrigo Souza from Pexels

“. . . There were widely conflicting accounts of what had happened, with the magistrates keen to promote their version through the press and the courts: that their forces had come under attack from a violent mob. They were not short of newspapers that would put political interests above the truth. . . .

“John Edward Taylor, a prominent cotton merchant and civic leader, was in the crowd that day and predicted the tide of propaganda, which began with the magistrates sending false accounts to the Home Office. He also knew The Times’s correspondent, John Tyas, was in custody and unable to file a report. So he wrote a hurried account himself and got it on the mail coach to London. It was published on August 18. It is fascinating to read The Times over the subsequent days, as the paper’s great editor, Thomas Barnes, attempted to establish a common foundation of evidence for what had happened. He used what we might now call crowd-sourcing (‘I was there’) and aggregation (“here’s the Liverpool Mercury and the Manchester Herald account”) to build up a kaleidoscope of eyewitness testimony. It was, in the end, overwhelmingly supportive of Taylor’s account.

“The historian E.P. Thompson later described this battle for truth as one between the ‘OK witness’ (i.e., bishops and generals) and the ‘non-OK witnesses’ (i.e., working-class). Thanks in large part to Taylor, Tyas, and The Times, the non-OK side eventually triumphed. Thompson’s judgment, written in 1957, was that ‘never since Peterloo has authority dared to use equal violence on a peaceful British crowd.’ Peterloo, according to The Guardian’s centenary historian and chief reporter, William Haslam Mills, marked “the début of the reporter in English public life.”

After reading this article, I subscribed to The Guardian. Quality professional journalism must be supported if we love democracy.


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