From WikiLeaks to News of the World's closure, the trust-owned newspaper has shifted how Britons see the role of the media
Britain's Guardian newspaper, founded in 1821 as the Manchester Guardian, is making journalism history. The newspaper, owned and subsidized by the Scott Trust, has been instrumental this past year in two major episodes that are defining the ethics and practice of contemporary journalism. A year ago, the Guardian sought out Julian Assange who was then just starting to attract attention as the founder of an organization called WikiLeaks. The full and fascinating story of how the Guardian handled the WikiLeaks material is captured in the book WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy by David Leigh and Luke Harding, two of the newspaper's lead investigative reporters (and published in the United States by PublicAffairs in February).
Now the Guardian is again at the center of a news story of enormous importance, both in substance and in how journalism functions. The newspaper has taken the lead in breaking open the phone- and data-hacking scandal that poses probably the most serious threat to the future of Rupert Murdoch's News International in its decades of ascendancy as Britain's most powerful news enterprise (aside from the BBC) and, it is becoming increasingly clear, a source of criminal corruption. Murdoch already has been forced to close the 168-year-old Sunday tabloid newspaper, the News of the World, running the risk that the paper's sacked journalists may sue News International; the British prime minister has said he would have accepted the resignation of the CEO of News International and one-time editor of the News of the World, Rebekah Brooks; the deputy prime minister has recommended that News International "do the decent thing" and drop their attempt to take over complete control of the satellite broadcaster BSkyB. There are daily revelations as to whose phone records might have been hacked or stolen: Gordon Brown's doctors, Prince Charles and his wife, Prince William, and a raft of celebrities and sports stars.