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November 6, 2014

Victoria Newton: With police using spying powers against journalists, we must remind people why journalism matters

The Archbishop of Canterbury attended the annual St Bride's Service in London for journalists who have lost their lives covering the news on 5 November.

Here is an abridged version of the speech given by Sun on Sunday editor Victoria Newton

We are here not just to mourn those who have fallen but to pay tribute to those who continue a mission that unites us all.

What is it  we seek to do?

To tell the truth, to hold officialdom to account, to defend the poor against the powerful, to shine the fierce light of investigative journalism into the corrupt corners of our national life.

And  we’re here to put some fun into people’s daily lives – to share with our readers, viewers or listeners – what Oscar Wilde called the serious business of enjoyment.

But we are also here because – and this may sound naff but it’s true –  because someone inspired us to believe that as journalists we could help make a difference, make the world a better place.

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In my  case that person was Kate Adie.  There I was, a schoolgirl struggling with double maths, and there was Kate Adie on the telly most nights broadcasting to millions from the horrors of Tiannamen Square or from  warzones in the Middle East or Africa Kate was a tough woman making it in the macho world of the war reporter. That young schoolgirl was inspired to believe she could do the same. She wanted to take on the men in the toughest world of all – the newsroom.

What stuck in my mind  about Kate Adie was her sheer grit,  the 24-hour dedication she gave to her work and the risks she was prepared to take.

And of course she was a woman making it in a man’s world.

I’m not going to pretend I’m another Kate Adie,  but I like to think that, like so many of us here, I share her sense of commitment to what it is we do. 

That commitment requires first and foremost – forgive me your grace – bloody hard work. I sometimes wonder whether editors such as myself, let alone our readers, have any idea what frontline journalists put in and  put up with to get their stories

I don’t mean the crazy hours or the drinking.  That, as they say, comes with the territory.  I mean the dogged determination day in day out, no matter what it takes, to nail the truth behind the closed door, the slammed  telephone, the endless no comment and the threat of legal action.

Most journalists don’t have to face gunfire or shelling on a regular basis like Kate Adie or so many other frontline journalists did and still do .

But it does takes a special kind of person to get behind the closed door and the slammed phone.

Take the Lance Armstrong story.  My point here is not about a cyclist who used and abused drugs to get to the top of his sport.

My point is the way that  the Sunday Times reporter David Walsh refused to take no comment for an answer.

How many times did Walsh feel like quitting, on the long road to proving Armstrong was a cheat?  Did he give up when Armstrong called him “the worst journalist in the world”? Or when he was ridiculed in press conferences? Or when he was shunned by some in the cycling community? Or when Armstrong successfully sued The Sunday Times for libel?

No he did not.

He kept going through a commitment to expose the sordid truth behind the success of a world famous sportsman.

I honestly believe that the courage, the sense of belief and  the technical skills that drove David Walsh are values shared by journalists in newsrooms up and down this country.

I think journalists of every persuasion and publication have come to share something else in recent times.

It’s not been an easy few years for many of us in this business.  Every day seems to bring with it a new challenge.  Regulatory investigations, criminal investigations, even the police now using spying powers against journalists and our whistleblowers.

Yet in the last few months there have been many examples of people from different papers or media organisations reaching out to extend a hand of support and friendship to a fellow journalist in difficulty. This industry is supposed to be dog-eat-dog, everyone for themselves, and yet in the last year it has been full of acts of kindness and help, from one professional to another. 

If you asked the public about journalists, I doubt they would talk about us in this way. In fact I know they wouldn’t. And whose fault is that?

I’d say we only have ourselves to blame. Often we are better at breaking the big stories than we are at telling our own story. As we rebuild the reputation of the industry, this is something we all must do better.

We need to remind people why world class professional journalism really matters.

We are in an amazing business which makes a unique contribution to our social and public life.

We should celebrate our achievements, not shy away from them.

Let me list just a few great stories and campaigns that have changed the world around us for the better.

Courageous journalists exposed the Rotherham child abuse scandal, celebrity tax dodgers, corruption in Fifa around the World Cup, the Elm Guest house child abuse scandal, the Catholic church cover up of abusive priests, the crystal drug taking Minister and the Co-op Bank, Chris Huhne and his points swapping the Pakistani match fixing investigation and many, many more.

It was a newspaper that helped raise millions for Help For Heroes to aid our wounded war veterans, and look how the press continues to challenge government policy on issues like the bedroom tax, fixed odds betting terminals and immigration.

It is no coincidence that this great reporting was mostly launched by the print press and largely followed by broadcast and digital media.

So let’s remember that for all the problem newspapers face we remain a powerful force for  change in this country – change for the better .

Let us also remember that in this church every year we honour those colleagues who gave their lives to report the horrors that are happening not far from our shores.

We salute their memory and marvel at the pride and the passion with which they pursued their profession.

That’s why we are still here. To uphold their values and continue the fight to tell the truth.

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