on 20 September 2004
Andrew Marr has achieved something that is oddly rare - he has written an entertaining history of journalism. I say "oddly rare" because you would think that journalists - people who write for a living - would write interesting books about their trade. The truth is that they can be weighed down with endless stories involving names that no one has heard of and another opportunity gets missed. Marr's book is very refreshing - he is certainly not above self-criticism and most importantly, the book does what all the best books of its kind do - it imparts a lot of information without you realising it.
The book is funny, informative, opinionated and most of all a fine read (which is more than can be said for some of our national press these days).
on 11 August 2005
This is a detailed, informed, sceptical and sometimes very funny account of British journalism, from its 17th century origins to the present day. Marr, who is the BBC's political correspondent and used to edit The Independent, has had a varied journalistic career and, in carefully planned chapters, offers excellent insights into such questions as what editors do, the underlying truths and untruths of political journalism, the way papers and our perceptions of news have changed down the years, the personalities of journalists, the roles of columnists and specialist correspondents, broadcast news and its politics and spirit, plus much more. Along the way we meet a range of memorable characters from Daniel Defoe to Kelvin MacKenzie of The Sun, and from Rupert Murdoch to the Dimbleby clan. Marr sheds some really valuable light on the nature of British media, and this feels above all like a truthful account as well as a detailed and enjoyable one. This book is indispensable for journalists and would-be journalists, and for anyone interested in the news and how it gets made.
on 28 January 2005
If you are a journalist, a wannabe journalist or just interested in current affairs then this book will make a fascinating read for you. It can be dipped into , although I have read it cover to cover, to find remarkable insights into the "fourth estate" past and present.
And he doesn't limit himself just to facts - conclusions and judgements about his own trade are made very honestly. And his (sometimes hilarious) anecdotes about what happens behind the scenes make compelling reading.
I find Marr (the BBC's Political Editor) intriguing and he is one of the few people on television who is consistently worth listening to . He clearly has an amazing network and knowledge which lead to a very high standard of journalism. He has kept that up with this tome.
on 16 December 2005
The work of journalists, perhaps moreso than that of other professions, is often viewed in a stereotypical light. Andrew Marr's book however sweeps away much of the romance and glamour in favour of a down to earth this-is-how-it-is approach. He is well suited to the task, having moved through many of the important stages in the print and broadcast hierarchy over the course of his career.
Although the book is billed as a "short history of British journalism", most of the book is taken up with impressively detailed accounts of what a journalist does, how they do it, and why, addressing also issues of personal motivation, bias, editorial influence, government pressure... The historical section in fact only ends up occupying one chapter of this fairly dense book. Whilst it is undoubtedly fascinating, Marr is not a historian and a lot of the substance and cohesion you would expect from a historical essay is lacking; that said however it takes up only about 15% of the book and does provide valuable context for the rest of his narrative.
The main body of the book gives a blow by blow account of the various roles which newspaper (mainly broadsheet) journalists play, right from the commanding national editor down to the latest teenage provincial apprentice. He recounts a range of issues which the layman might not think about too often: What makes a story? What keeps a story alive? What should the balance of stories within a newspaper be? How does the editor decide what to put on the front page? These are then linked in with a more logistical account (based on his period as an editor), explaining how it all gets put together into something printable, how long it takes, what the priorities are for printers. He gives the reader an acute sense of how stressful and monotonous a lot of this routine work can be.
A study of this nature cannot avoid tackling journalism's relationship with politics. Marr also dedicates a lot of space to the tightrope, cloke and dagger world of the political hack, how journalists go about building up sources, developing and maintaining contacts, where they can sniff for stories. His account of this all too closed world is revealing and for me was the best part of this book.
His treatment of broadcast journalism is a bit more thin (a reflection on the few years spend on television) and talks about a world with which most people are probably more familiar. We are treated to an overview of the running battles between various governments and the BBC, along with explanations of the BBC's special status and the reasons why the rules of the game are that bit stricter for the Beeb.
Finally, Marr is acutely aware of the massive changes inflicted on the industry by the electronic revolution, and charts their impact on a range of fields. As well as the obvious practical changes (computer-based editing, email, satellit communications, internet), our new world of instantaneous communication and constant availability has also led journalists to think differently and in some cases has paradoxically made finding the story more difficult.
Although only one inch thick, the book is pretty long, at least 150,000 words at a rough guess. Marr does an impressive job of keeping it all hanging together and maintaining the momentum right up to the last page. Although densely packed with information, this book is very well written and the user friendly writing style makes the text flow easily along.
Any gripes? Perhaps one: in his discussion of the pressures an editor is under, in particular from politically-minded proprietors (which in the end covers most newspaper owners), not much space is given to the impact of commercial interests on journalistic decisions. Whilst the owner's impact is direct and obvious, the influence of advertisers' business interests is indirect yet, as acknowledged in passing by Marr, has a bearing on what a paper is willing to print. Newspapers really only stay afloat because of advertising revenue; in fact you could even say that instead of selling the news (the product) to us (customers), papers are selling our attention (the product) to advertisers (customers). How many newspapers are going to have the conviction to document the impact of companies like BMW and Mercedes on climate change when the very same two are writing the cheques which keep the paper's profits healthy? Other than this point however, the book is excellent and well-worth reading.
on 22 August 2005
This is a jewel of a book by someone who has inside knowledge of politics over the last two decades but has the capacity to stand back and analyse the influence of the media in our thinking - does the media lead and the reading public follow? or do the public set the agenda for the media? The answer, according to Andrew Marr, is that both are true. Two clear messages for me showed why the 'Today' programme has to be as it is although I am part of the one-third of the population who turn it off in fury or ring the BBC to complain, and I need to get out more (around the world) to have a greater understanding of international issues rather than settling for the comfort zone that much of life in the UK has become. I have bored everyone I have met in the last 3 weeks about the importance of the insights in this book.
on 3 September 2005
I rate Andrew Marr very highly as a journalist and was sorry when he stepped down as the BBC's Policitcal Correspondant. His easy style and ability to explain the complex in simple terms was a great asset to the BBC.
Here that same style is used to give us an insiders look at how the News is reported, gathered, created. He has clearly done extremely extensive research going all the way back to the first newspapers right upto modern times. There is an awful lot in here that most people will not be aware of and it makes it a book that you look forwards to picking up.
He draws a lot on his own experiences, explaining the role of a newspaper editor in terms of how he did it and I think that could well have been expanded on. There is obviously a lot involved but there was not the space in a book trying to cover the entire history of journalism. Perhaps if he ever does an autobiography we will learn more - I for one would like to.
So, to sum up, this is an excellent read for anyone interested in the news or just generally interested in history. I certainly have no regrets having bought it.
on 7 November 2005
Although this books begins almost as a conventional history of journalism and newspapers - as good as that is - it soon moves on to a much more intersting mix of personal story and insider account of political journalism, newspaper editorship and broadcast journalism. Once there, all the personality and insight that made Marr's TV work as BBC political editor shines through.
A great read for budding journalists, broadcasters and politicians everywhere.
on 3 May 2014
This is a thoroughly enjoyable personal history of journalism, written by the then BBC Political Editor, and former editor of the Independent, Andrew Marr.
My Trade certainly delivers on its promise to provide ”A Short History of British Journalism”, but rather than delivering a dry journalistic history, Marr injects copious amounts of humour and panache. He provides many personal anecdotes – some longer and more developed than others, but all entertaining – and passes judgement on developments in the media world, rather than merely reporting their occurence. The personal touch makes the copy much more engaging, and prevents it descending into a super-extended newspaper feature, like so many other books by journalists.
Anybody interested in British journalism would be well advised to read a copy of this book. It provides much background on how newspapers are put together, and how this has changed over the years. It even provides some history on the rivalries between newspapers, looking at (as an example) how The Mirror’s sales declined at the hands of The Sun, and how Marr’s own Independent set out to be different from everyone else, but ended up being much the same.
This is not intended to be – and nor is it – a detailed history of the development of the British media. Instead, it’s an enjoyable romp through the subject, stopping off at points of interest – particularly recent ones, and many of which you’d have thought he may have liked to avoid. He goes into some detail about Hutton and the problems of modern journalism, making convincing arguments for his point of view – which is, in part, critical of his BBC paymaster. It’s very clear from his writing that he’s experienced as a journalist, not just because he lists his many and varied jobs, but also because of the detailed insight he is able to deliver, and the apparent wisdom of some of his comments.
Certainly, this is a very easy-going enjoyable read, from a political editor who comes across as an affable kind of chap, and a book which I must highly recommended.
This review originally posted on [...]
on 21 July 2014
Andrew Marr has proved himself to be an excellent writer of popular history, and he succeeds here in making the somewhat esoteric subject of the development of British journalism very lively and accessible to the general reader. He uses his own personal experiences well to illustrate various points, and his overall assessment of the current state of his profession is forthright and interesting.
Andrew Marr has set himself a very high standard with his two previous books on modern British history, and this one doesn't quite hit those heights, so only a four. For anyone else, I'd have probably given five.
Note this is a review of the AUDIO BOOK VERSION.
Andrew Marr quotes the old joke 'He has a perfect face for .... Radio'.
In a way he may be right but in this version, the abridged audio book, this proves he has the perfect writer's skill for speaking.
This is simply because Andrew Marr has a wonderful voice that conveys the meaning and the words so well.
On just 3 all too short CDs, at just 3 hours long (approx) this version is abridged by Yvonne Antrobus with Jeff Capel producing.
It's read by Andrew Marr of course and he has done a fine job.
The 3 hours just sailed by and Marr was excellent company on the way.
He knows his subject well and there is no doubt how he has come by this knowledge.
If you listen to the brilliant reading you will hear all about Marr's apprenticeship in Newspapers, both as a cub report, political editor, Editor and.... well you need to listen to find out more.
Not too much history so as to make the listener be bored not too many anecdotes to overwhelm the listener Marr strikes just the right balance.
We are educated, informed and entertained.
Marr's voice is wonderful. When I was in the car listening it was like he was right in front of you, which in a way he was, but what I mean is that Marr speaks straight to the listener as an equal in intelligence. He does not talk 'down' to his audience as if they are of inferior intelligence like some do. Rather we feel Marr is someone we would love too know personally. So in that respect he is an excelent Television presenter. We feel Marr is an equal and someone who is an interesting speaker.
We finish the Cd with regret but I am determined to seek out the unabridged book and read more.