Journalists.. Which side are you on?

by , under Blog

I’ve started reading this awesome book: “Shaking the World: Revolutionary Journalism by John Reed,” which I bought from Bookmarks. I want to quote some excerpts from preface, written by Paul Foot on 28 September 1998:

I write this on the day after marching to lobby the Labour Party conference in Blackpool and I am reading the newspapers. Blackpool was chock full of journalists. They crammed into the Winter Gardens, scavenging for gossip. Is Tony Blair falling out with Gordon Brown? What is Robin Cook going to say about electoral reform? At least 500 of the best journalists of our generation spent their day searching for and producing, exactly nothing.
Meanwhile the march of several thousand surged through the streets. These marchers had stories to tell: real stories, about hospitals starved of nursing care, about slashed firefighting capabilities, about impoverished old age pensioners and corrupt local authorities. Yet not a single of those conference journalists even considered spending a moment with the marchers. In the next morning’s papers, full of idiotic intrigue, the entire march had been obliterated.
No wonder the word ‘journalist’ has become almost a term of abuse in socialist circles. If this is the way journalists behave, surely they must be part of the capitalist conspiracy to exploit and humiliate working people? In truth, however, the word journalist describes only a person who writes about the contemporary world. Since the single most obvious fact about the contemporary world is that is ultimately divided into two classes, a journalist can write for one class or the other. Of course it is much easier and more profitable to write on behalf of the authorities. But the history of the century is lit up by journalists who wrote against the stream.
Perhaps the greatest of these was John Reed. He was born in 1887 into a privileged family and was taught to be a ‘writer’. He developed the necessarily elegant and sophisticated writing style. A glorious career in American journalism was cut short when he was sent to cover a strike by the Industrial Workers of the World at Paterson, New Jersey. What he saw in that strike–he was cast into prison almost by accident and left to rot–convinced him that there were two sides to every story and he eagerly ranged himself on the side of the exploited people everywhere.
The difference between Reed and the sort of journalists who clambered around the conference hall at Blackpool was marvelously illustrated during his coverage of the Mexican Civil War in 1913. When he arrived on the scene, the official O’Boozes covering the war were getting drunk and filling rubbish at Presidio, on the US side of Rio Grande. Reed swam the river and did not rest, until he came to the camps of the revolutionaries Zapata and Villa. He reported the war from the point of view of the starving people who were claiming the land for themselves. These reports made him famous, but his fame never for a moment deflected him from his political commitment. His language became less and less ornate, more and more direct.
When the Russian Revolution broke out in October 1917, Reed,who was reporting the world war in Europe, made a bee-line for it. The result is perhaps the greatest piece of journalism ever: Ten Days that shook the World. The book’s brilliance is not just its descriptive power, but its understanding and admiration for the swirling initiatives of the mass working class party which kept the revolution going.