The Hugh Cudlipp Lecture came home to the London Press Club in style as Kevin Maguire delivered a passionate speech on the “essential value of journalism”. Last night’s event at the Museum of London, which was sponsored by the Daily Mirror and sold out weeks in advance, also looked to the future of the industry with the presentation of the Hugh Cudlipp Award for Student Journalism.
Maguire, Mirror associate editor and New Statesman columnist, followed in the footsteps of Harold Evans, Jon Snow and last year’s speaker Emily Bell in delivering the Cudlipp Lecture. He opened with a reference to The New Day. “The launch of a paper is, for a journalist like me with ink in his veins pumped by a freshly digitised heart, an unbelievably exciting moment.”
He paid tribute to the man in whose name both the lecture and student award were given, ranking him alongside Harmsworth, Reith and Scott. “Cudlipp’s hugely influential passion for popular journalism had far-reaching political, economic and social repercussions. He did believe nothing was too good for working people. We marvel at the eloquent, powerful Fleet Street voice he supplied to challenge old authority and vested interests.”
Reflecting on the changes he has seen in 32 years of working as a journalist, Maguire called the internet “the mother of all upheavals”. “Google, FaceBook, Twitter, YouTube, WhattsApp, Instagram and the rest redirected how tens of millions of people in Britain get their news. I watch readers on trains and in pubs or at football matches – hypnotised by their mobile phones. I do it myself. I’m one of them!”
While his passion for his vocation was clear, Maguire did not avoid those areas where journalism had, in his view, fallen short. “While I’m celebrating journalism, it would be amiss not to express regret at often hostile, unjustified coverage of the jobless, disabled, benefit claimants, migrants, refugees and Muslims. For journalism to be good, it must be fair and proportionate. We should aim to punch up at the powerful, not hit down at the powerless.”
He also took aim at the click-bait culture of some news websites. “The insatiable appetite of the forever hungry web for fresh news and views must be fed constantly. Click-bait, however, is our version of fast food which never satisfies. Cheap and nasty, it’s unfulfilling and dangerous to journalism’s long-term health when readers discover it’s essentially repackaged rubbish.” And he addressed the media’s much-discussed problems with diversity and ensuring that all backgrounds are better represented, saying that the industry needed to be more proactive. “People won’t come to you if they think the door is closed.”
On a more encouraging note, Maguire cited Andrew Norfolk’s exposure of criminal gangs in Rotherham in The Times as an example of British journalism at its best. “Andrew Norfolk couldn’t have saved other girls falling into the clutches of these rapists, and helped secure a little justice for victims, had he been forced to sit dutifully at a desk in a newsroom, monitored constantly by a device tracking his absences as if he was employed in a call centre. Or a battery journalist, caged on a desk and required to tap away when a light comes on then allowed to stop when it switches off.”
Having seen Francesca Ebel be awarded the Hugh Cudlipp Award for Student Journalism by Mirror editor-in-chief Lloyd Embley earlier in the evening for her reporting of the war in Ukraine – with Hugh Davies, Ashley Kirk and Tanveer Mann all highly commended – Maguire closed by addressing student journalists. “You are the best equipped next generation. What you can achieve is limitless. You have the natural digital skills to excel, to adapt, in an environment where that pace of change, and the challenges it brings, is accelerating.”
This was the sixth full-house event for the London Press Club so far in 2016, including debates on the US election and media coverage of the migrant crisis. Next up is the London Press Club Awards lunch on April 5, at the Corinthia Hotel.