25 Journalists

What can these people teach us about how journalism works?

Some of the 25 journalists pictured below lived in the 18th and 19th century. Most lived in the 20th century, and some made it to the 21st.

Six are women, three are groups, 14 are men.

Sixteen work(ed) in English. Not all of them used written language.

Several were honoured in their lifetime. Others died largely unknown.

I met two of them, and worked for one of the others.


Top row, from left: Jonathan Swift1, Harold Evans2, George Plimpton3, Riot Grrrl4, Henry Mayhew5. Second row: Daniel Defoe6, Rupert Murdoch7, David Frost8, Natalya Gorbanevskaya9, Flann O’Brien10. Third row: Harvey Pekar11, Feliks Topolski12, Nellie Bly13, Richard Steele14, Amateur Press Association15. Fourth row: Tom Driberg17, Ryszard Kapuscinski18, Svetlana Alexievich19, Clare Rayner20, Anne Frank21. Bottom row: Gene Sharp22, Augusto Boal23, Janet Malcolm24, The White Rose25, Wole Soyinka16

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Some More Detail

Rough sketch of bald white man with glasses and wrinkly face, looking right

Proprietors: Rupert Murdoch (pictured), Richard Steele

Campaigners and Risk-Takers: Jonathan Swift, Daniel Defoe, The White Rose (pictured)

Reporters: George Plimpton, Henry Mayhew (pictured), Nellie Bly, Ryszard Kapuscinski

Diarists: Anne Frank (pictured), Harvey Pekar

Journalism as Performance: Wole Soyinka (pictured), Augusto Boal

Columnists: Flann O’Brien, Tom Driberg, Clare Rayner (pictured)

Interviewers: Svetlana Aleksievich (pictured), David Frost, Janet Malcolm

Compilers: Natalya Gorbanevskaya (pictured), Gene Sharp

Rough sketch of caucasian man wearing tie, looking tired and serious

Designers: Harold Evans (pictured), Feliks Topolski

Enthusiasts: Riot Grrrl (pictured), Amateur Press Association

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Short Biographies

1 Jonathan Swift. Clergyman, poet, and writer of anonymous pamphlets opposing injustice.

2 Sir Harold Evans. Editor of establishment newspapers who was also a campaigner.

3 George Plimpton. Editor of a literary journal and pioneer of participative reporting, who wrote about professional music and sports by taking part himself.

4 Riot Grrrl. Zine for and by young women, embracing and spreading a punk ethos of self-empowerment.

5 Henry Mayhew. Victorian collector and gatherer of stories about an extraordinary assortment of people.

6 Daniel Defoe. Pioneer of many forms of journalism, under his own name and anonymously.

7 Rupert Murdoch. Proprietor of a vast media empire, including establishment newspapers and TV.

8 Sir David Frost. TV interviewer who paid to get an interview with the disgraced president Richard Nixon.

9 Natalya Gorbanevskaya. Compiler of an influential samizdat Russian publication that told Soviet readers what their government was doing.

10 Flann O’Brien. Archetype of witty columnist.

11 Harvey Pekar. Unflinching documentarist of his own life, who commissioned illustrators to make the story more compelling.

12 Sir Feliks Topolski. Prolific producer of illustrated reportage.

13 Nellie Bly. Victorian-era undercover reporter.

14 Sir Richard Steele. Establishment insider who launched The Spectator to improve people’s conduct in the decades after the English Civil War.

15 Amateur Press Association. Well organised association of non-professional publishers.

16 Wole Soyinka. Nobel-prize winning playwright and journalist.

17 Tom Driberg. Parliamentarian, spy and gossip columnist.

18 Ryszard Kapuscinki. One-man overseas press association for Poland.

19 Svetlana Aleksievich. Belorussian collector of the stories of Soviet citizens, in their own words.

20 Clare Rayner. Agony aunt.

21 Anne Frank. Kept a diary (a “journal”) for herself alone, which would become enormously influential after her death.

22 Gene Sharp. Analogue data collector, whose assembly of non-violent action throughout history inspired several revolutions.

23 Augusto Boal. Provided current affairs to people across Brazil, through the medium of performance.

24 Janet Malcolm. European-born essayist and reporter whose book The Journalist and The Murderer changed how we understand the transactional nature of interviews.

25 The White Rose. Group of German students who shared the reality of the Nazi regime by sending letters to thousands of fellow citizens, and paid with their lives.