On the Record last year, about investigative journalists across the world, was enough to make me feel ashamed to claim professional kinship with its subjects. Now, under the joint aegis of the National Theatre of Scotland and the London Review of Books, the capital sees an investigation of journalism itself, drawn verbatim from interviews with 45 journalists (this version is revised and updated from the one first seen in Glasgow in the spring). It is performed promenade by a cast of six in a found venue which alternately represents a set of newspaper offices and, I suppose, the interior space of the journos in question.
The programme essay by Andrew O’Hagan, co-editor with directors Vicky Featherstone and John Tiffany, explains that the project was born of a desire to investigate the decline of British newspaper journalism from more or less inside. For an investigation, it sometimes seems quite muddled. It tangles technological issues – the rise of the internet, easy availability of information and democracy of publication – with moral ones – media intrusiveness, mendacity and general corruption. But of course it is the latter strand that, in the year of the Leveson hearings, principally involves makers and viewers alike. In that respect it proves electrifying.
The overall structure of the hour-and-three-quarter piece is perfunctory: a rough guided tour through the journalistic day, punctuated by various discussions (such as a contrived newsroom debate about the professional and moral status of Rupert Murdoch) and occasionally halted by a centrepiece from one of the few named journalistic subjects. Jack Irvine, the former editor of the Scottish Sun (as played by Billy Riddoch), is candid both in his admissions to have routinely authorised pay-offs even to senior police officers and in his refusal to disclose any specifics. In a marvellous duel, former Observer and Independent editor Roger Alton (John Bett) affects a languor that fails to prevent him being skewered by interviewer Deborah Orr (Gabriel Quigley).
Perhaps the most admirable single remark comes from war reporter Ros Wynne-Jones (Maureen Beattie) when asked if she is proud of her work: “Yeah, I think … I mean … y’know … ” It is the people who really care, doing the stuff that really matters, who are least eloquent about it. The rest is wind. This could be the conclusion of the investigation in a nutshell.