Secret History (ii)

John Crossland compares the investigative approach of historians and journalists.

With its dark little conspiracies and uncomfortable facts nestling in closed archives, 'Secret History' can be expected to survive even this era of instant communication. How does the approach of the journalist and the academic differ to this sort of classified information, and what does it have in common?

Journalists operate under the tyranny of time; a factor which does, however, concentrate their thinking on an issue. Not for them the luxury of balancing all available evidence, or waiting 'chameleon-like to stand with each man in turn to look upon the situation', as suggested by G.R. Elton in The Practice of History. Nevertheless, they are, or should be, aware that they are recording history as it is being made. An increasingly familiar scenario of news coverage today is that of the journalist filtering through news, as it breaks, to the studio where, sitting with the newscaster, is a don on stand-by to put it into context. The excellent commentaries on Russian affairs by Essex University's Peter Frank have become a regular feature of ITN reports.

Academics are learning to adapt to the faster pace of this historical process. Their progenitor was A.J.P. Taylor, who pioneered the art of lecturing to camera without notes and was himself the intellectual 'mascot' of Lord Beaverbrook. It was a role that demonstrated the problems of serving a power broker and media manipulator, as well as preserving intellectual independence.

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