David Randall, author of The Universal Journalist, presents 13 in-depth profiles of the best journalists who ever lived - nine Americans and four Britons, ten men and three women, whose lives were full of adventure, wit and the ingenuity to bring the story home.

William Howard Russell
War correspondent, The Times

Nearly fired after his first major assignment for inadvertently giving away his scoop to the opposition, his reporting from the Crimea is still, 150 years on, a beacon of moral courage. He was the first professional journalist to really cover a war, and did so with a frankness that shocked Victorian Britain to its roots – from his account of the brave fiasco that was the Charge of the Light Brigade (which he watched from a nearby ridge):

“…They advanced in two lines, quickening the pace as they closed towards the enemy…At the distance of 1200 yards the whole line of the enemy belched forth, from thirty iron mouths, a flood of smoke and flame through which hissed the deadly balls…”

To the army’s inadequate supplies and medical facilities:

“…The commonest accessories of a hospital are wanting; there is not the least attention paid to decency or cleanliness…and, for all I can observe, these men die without the least effort being made to save them…The sick appear to be tended by the sick, and the dying by the dying.”

All this, despite almost constant hostility from military authorities (at one point his tent was sabotaged), and knowing that his honesty and patriotism were being vilified back home. Then he had the guts to go to India and report the racism he found there and atrocities against the ‘natives’, including, in 1858, one captured mutineer:

“…he was pulled by the legs to a convenient place, where he was held down, pricked in the face and body by the bayonets of some of the soldiery whilst others collected fuel for a small pyre, and when all was ready – the man was roasted alive! There were Englishmen looking on, more than one officer saw it. No one offered to interfere…”

Probably no reporter has challenged popular orthodoxies as effectively as Russell did.

All text and logos copyright David Randall

Book cover images copyright Pluto Press