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THE NEWS WORLD HALL OF FAME
WILLIAM RUSSELL 1820-1907
The Victorian journalist William Russell was arguably the man who invented the art of war reporting. Born in Dublin, he came to the attention of The Times with his original slant on covering Irish elections – he based himself at a local hospital and interviewed casualties streaming in from various political meetings. He joined the Times’s House of Commons staff in 1842, but in 1854 his editor, John Delane, decided that Russell’s unique ability to fuse factual reporting with great descriptive writing made him the perfect man to cover the war brewing between Britain and Russia in the Crimea, and it was from there he filed the reports that would make hima household name.
Russell, forced by an unsympathetic military to supply his own horse, tent and food, not only described the battles of the Crimea with astonishing clarity and passion – it was his account of the imbecilic Charge of the Light Brigade that prompted Tennyson’s celebrated poem - he also exposed the incompetence and arrogance of the British officer class which led to the careless deaths of so many soldiers. It was Russell’s damning description of conditions in army hospitals that persuaded Florence Nightingale to set up her nursing units at Uskadar and Balaklava, and accompanied by Delane’s thundering editorials, Russell’s exposés eventually led to the downfall of the Earl of Aberdeen’s government and the surge of public unease that brought the war to an end.
And while his reports from the Crimean War remain Russell’s greatest legacy to the history of journalism, his other work is hardly less important. His war reprting embraced the Indian Mutiny, the Zulu Wars, the American Civil War, the Austro-Prussian War and the Franco-Prussian War; he attacked slavery in America, colonial repression in the British Empire and the Irish Potato Famine with equal passion and impartiality, and he attended such momentous state occasions as the Great Exhibition, the coronation of Czar Alexander II and the funeral of the Duke of Wellington.
The first journalist ever to be knighted for his work, William Howard Russell was a reporter for all seasons and all time, and a worthy first entrant to the News World Hall of Fame.
HAROLD EVANS 1928 -
Recently voted Greatest Editor of all Time by an international society of his peers, Harold Evans was the crusading editor of Britain’s leading weekend broadsheet, The Sunday Times, for 14 years. Among his innovations was the introduction of the world’s first Sunday colour supplement – now copied by virtually every major newspaper on the globe – but his most important contribution to journalism was undoubtedly the creation of a new and particularly brave brand of investigative journalism in the form of the paper’s Insight department.
Evans’s determination to afford Insight reporters the time and money to build major stories from the most fragile early evidence more than once came close to costing him his job, but his commitment paid off – most famously with The Sunday Times’s deacde-long campaign on behalf of thousands of British Thalidomide children, most of whom had not received compensation for the severe birth defects inflicted on them because their mothers had taken the drug during pregnancy. As the multinational drug companies invested millions to suppress further revelations Evans stood by his reporters, fighting the case in every British court and finally winning a famous victory at the European Court of Human Rights, which overturned a House of Lords ban on further anti-Thalidomide articles.
Evans also earned the wrath of the British establishment by exposing the Kim Philby spy scandal and publishing the private diaries of former Labour minister Richard Crossman – the first account of the way the British government operates behind the closed doors of the Cabinet office.
In 1981 Evans was persuaded by the paper’s new owner, Rupert Murdoch, to leave The Sunday Times and take up the editor’s chair at The Times, only to resign a year later in protest at what he alleged was his proprietor’s interference with his editorial independence.
He moved to the USA, where he presided over several newspaper and publishing groups, and now splits his time between writing such seminal works as The American Century and Pictures on a Page and offering his services free to journalist training organisations in the developing world.
MATHEW BRADY 1823-1896
The man who invented the art of photo journalism. Brady worked as a department store clerk to earn the money to pay for tutoring in the new art of photography from the inventor and entreprenuer Samuel Morse - he of telegraph and code fame. Possibly because of the shortage of competition he quickly became New York’s most fashionable portrait artist, using his growing expertise to develop new techniques in both the taking of photographs and the way they were then treated in the dark room.
In 1861, he persuaded one of his former sitters – Abraham Lincoln – to let him make a photographic record of the civil war, little knowing that 150 years later his graphic, often unrelentingly grim images would still stand as the only pictorial history of the entire bloody conflict. Without Brady we would not know what Grant, Lee and the ragged soldiers who followed them really looked like in life, or in many cases what their bloated corpses would look like in death. Brady’s pictures shocked and stunned the civilian North, sparking anti-war sentiments in some and a hardening desire to prosecute the war to a decisive end in others.
In fact, not many of Brady’s pictures were actually taken by Brady himself. He hired and trained a small army of camera operators, supplied each of them with the most modern cameras and darkroom equipment available in specially designed wagons, and sent them off to 35 key locations for the duration of the war.
His skill was in training them to take the pictures he would have taken himself, and in overseeing a coverage operation on a scale never attempted before or since.
It was a massive achievement, but it gained Brady little but a posthumous reputation. Having invested his entire fortune of $100,000 in the project, he tried in vain to persuade the US government to buy his collection for the public trust, finally receiving just $25,000 in 1875, a decade after the war had ended. By that time he was bankrupt and getting occasional work as a jobbing photographer in his former rivals’ studios, and the world’s first great photo journalist died an embittered, debt ridden alcoholic at the age of 63.
EDWARD R MURROW 1908-1965
If his parents had had their way, the Quaker boy from Polecat Creek, North Carolina, would never have left the family farm. Instead, he became the voice Americans came to know and trust throughout the darkest days of World War II and one of the few journalists to stand up to Senator Joe McCarthy during the shameful Communist witch hunts of the 1950s.
Unusually for young Americans between the wars, Murrow travelled extensively in Europe during his student days, and when he joined CBS after graduation it wasn’t long before his overseas connections were put to good use. He was sent to London to arrange talks and concerts for the radio network, and when war broke out Murrow’s graphic descriptions of the Blitz – often reported from rooftops in the middle of raids – which helped persuade millions of Americans that they could no longer ignore the threat that Hitler posed the entire world.
He followed US troops on to the beaches of Normandy, across Europe and into the death camp at Buchenwald, providing radio reports of such strength, dignity and passion that by war’s end he had become easily his country’s most influential broadcast journalist.
He used that influence fearlessly when, in 1954, he made a television documentary attacking Senator Joe McCarthy, whose Communist witch hunts at the start of the Cold War had caused the personal and professional destruction of hundreds of intellectuals with even the merest Left wing leanings. In retaliation, McCarthy hysterically accused Murrow of sponsoring a communist school in Moscow, conducting espionage and propaganda tasks for the Soviet secret police and consorting with left-wing extremists (actually British Labour MPs).
But while such attacks had ruined so many of McCarthy’s victims and even driven some to suicide, such was Murrow’s place in the heart of even conservative America that the rantings served only to discredit McCarthy himself, and by the end of 1954 politicians of both parties had summoned up the courage to bring his anti-communist hearings to a close.
As the 1950s drew to a close Murrow became disillusioned with the increasingly entertainment-based direction US television was heading and quit to join the US Information Agency, but soon after his lifelong chain-smoking caught up with him, and he died of lung cancer in 1965, the most revered journalist of his generation.