Who better to give lectures to journalism students than Alastair Campbell?


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The Independent Online

Now, if I were the sort of lazy, formulaically minded, indeed "garbagic" journalist that Alastair Campbell so understandably despises, this article would be very easy to compose. It would go something like this:

"Alastair Campbell teaching journalism to students? Oh, that's like putting Dracula in charge of the blood transfusion service. Or making Tony Blair a Middle East peace envoy… The man who gave us the dodgy dossier? Maybe he can tell the students how to make up stuff about chemical weapons… 45 minute warning… sexing up… conspiracies… Dr David Kelly… blood on his hands… Tony Bliar… you couldn't make it up… who does this man think he is… time will tell… I think we should be told…"

Actually, I think Campbell will have some fascinating insights about journalism, which, presumably, is why he has been asked to be a visiting professor at Cambridge University, and why he is in almost constant demand across all media outlets whenever yet another scandal hits my trade. I think he would be able to shed some interesting light on how hacks – and I include editors and the like as well as reporters – can be so pressured into getting stories, so desperate in such a competitive environment, that any moral compunction they may have felt about hacking into somebody else's phone would be abandoned for fear of losing their job.

As Campbell himself has written about mental illness and alcoholism – both more commonplace in journalism than we writers like to imagine – he can talk better than most about how intense the stress can become.

He might also say some interesting things about why journalists can so easily see conspiracies where none exist, suspecting always that governments and companies are so well co-ordinated that apparently disconnected events are in fact some sort of devious "media plan". Was the media's seemingly unrelenting hostility to him just New Labour's turn to experience what every party and government experience – that the media's job is simply to question whoever happens to be in power, an institutionalised, but benign, "bias" against those in charge?

Campbell saw plenty from his vantage point in Downing Street. He lived through the transition from a more orderly media world of established newspapers, a few broadcasters and no web, to the chaotic, unsleeping, ever-hungry and chaotic environment of Twitter, Buzzfeed, rolling news and the most virulent, unregulated, scurrilous, vile, racist and mendacious "blogs" that now proliferate. (Just take a look at some of the "comments" about Chuka Umunna or Diane Abbott on blogsites to see what I mean). In these sorts of conditions, what constitutes journalism, or "spin" for that matter, in any case?

I hope, too, that Campbell will be free and open with his "case studies", elaborating where necessary on what he has so far revealed in his published diaries: about why he invited himself onto Channel 4 News to defend himself over the Gilligan/Kelly affair, when his boss, the Prime Minister, might have preferred he did not do so? About what it was like to become "The Story". And the trivia too; why The Sun got the exclusive story about Cherie Blair's pregnancy, rather than the Mirror.

I didn't turn up to that many lectures when I was at college, but I think Professor Campbell's will be deservedly well-attended.