Times change

After decades working on newspapers, George Brock has moved into academia to oversee journalism at City University

September 3, 2009

The man responsible for launching the first compact edition of The Times has taken up the post of head of journalism at City University London this week.

George Brock has spent almost three decades at the newspaper, during which time he has worked in roles ranging from foreign correspondent to managing editor.

He said of City's department of journalism: "It is already the best journalism school in the country. The next thing is to build it up and make sure everybody knows it is one of the best in the world."

Mr Brock, who was brought up in Oxford, studied history at the University of Oxford before joining the Evening Press in York and then moving to The Observer. He arrived at The Times in 1981, working in various roles. His spell as foreign editor turned out to be a "sensationally dramatic" period, marked by the Tiananmen Square protests in China and the revolutions in Central Europe.

"Mobile phones did not exist, and you didn't hear from correspondents for days at a time. It led to some rather nerve-racking situations," he recalled.

In his last act as foreign editor, he posted himself abroad in Brussels. Everything was "in complete ferment" after the fall of the Berlin Wall, while back in London Europe was a highly divisive issue for the Conservative Government - all this helped make his a regular name on the front page.

In the spring of 1997, he became managing editor, which was "a complete change of style". "It is a job most journalists claim they would like to avoid, but if you have the right relationship with the editor and the job is set up right, you influence - well, pretty much everything really."

During this time, he launched The Times in its compact form. "I was in a car one day with Robert (Thomson, who was then editor) and he said, 'If I put you in charge of this, could you do it in ten days?' I said the only thing you could say at that point, which was 'yes', while of course thinking inside my head 'how the hell would I ever do that?'"

But he managed and has no doubt it was the right move.

He became international editor last autumn, with a new brief looking at Times readers outside Britain.

Given newspapers' difficulties, what sort of industry does he expect his students to find when they move on?

Mr Brock does not believe that digital technology will spell the end of newspapers or change the values or purpose of journalism, although "it alters all of the context in which it is done". While some newspapers are failing, others are creating "powerful digital presences" that have "bigger readerships, when digital and print are combined, than they've ever had before".

rebecca.attwood@tsleducation.com.

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