In the Same Spirit As Heretofore: The Guardian's Rusbridger Steps Down

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Edward Snowden with Ewen Macaskill and Rusbridger in Russia in 2014. Photo by Alex Healey of The Guardian.

After 20 years at the helm of arguably the world's greatest newspaper, Alan Rusbridger has stepped down with a thoughtful, grateful, eloquent farewell to "the readers...the real carriers of the flame." Encompassing the historic upheaval from print to "the 24-hour, seamlessly rolling digital news cycle," he reflects on covering the often-pivotal stories of the day - from the Libel Years to Wikileaks to Snowden to climate change - while sustaining the paper as a "sanctuary for free thought and writing." Rusbridger briefly visits the Guardian's history since its founding in 1821 for "the promotion of the liberal interest." The greatest of just 10 editors was CP Scott, who ruled for 57 years and famously declared, "Comment is free, but facts are sacred...The voice of opponents no less than that of friends has a right to be heard." It was his family's establishment of the Scott Trust, in which they gave up all financial interest in the Guardian - what Rusbridger calls one of "the great historic acts of public-minded philanthropy" - that served "to secure the future of the Guardian in perpetuity, and to protect its independence in all situations, at all costs and against all comers."

In today's world of "globalized, distant, often unaccountable power," notes Rusbridger, that business model engendered a spirit of independence and "countervailing source of scrutiny and influence (that) is needed more than ever." An accomplished pianist who describes himself as "very firmly a writer," not editor, he cites a Scott essay describing the precarious balance between the material and moral existence of a newspaper, the juggling of the realities of power and profit, and his own discomfort with that power. "Editors can make or break people,"  he notes. "They dictate who gets a voice, and who remains voiceless." To help rein in his own power, he often gave it away; in 2006, the creation of "Comment Is Free" contributed to "broadening and diversifying the pool of Guardian commentary." The new op-ed section, he writes, "created a new democracy of expression, which was sometimes uncomfortable, but mostly rich and absorbing, and sometimes even exhilarating." Much like the world's news itself, and the Guardian's gutsy, diligent coverage of it.

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The launch of Rusbridger's Keep It In the Ground campaign

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