William Howard Russell, Objectivity?

William Howard Russell was one of the first journalists that worked in the style of objectivity and was one of the first to go against the grain by sending detailed letters home telling the truth of the Crimean war, in spite of the majority of war reports leaving out damaging information about their own countries involvement whilst hyping propaganda against the enemy. When first sent to accompany the British in 1854, it was Russell that immediately knew the army was not well. Russell graphically described the British Army living conditions; despite this undermining the Government and the British Commander, however, he never criticised the concept of the war itself, but outlined the poor treatment of our soldiers. He even made comparisons of our medical care, to those of the French Army. ‘The French came first, and like all first-comers, they were best served’ (Russell, 1854) and even after highlighting the negatives our own army, Russell also sent a plea challenging his country to match ‘the example of the French’.
Russell fought for the cause without letting patriotism, and his own beliefs affect his reporting’s and this eventually led to a bad reputation and dismissal from many officers in high command, and they were extremely resistant of his presence, as they were frightened he might distribute writing with an unpatriotic approach and propaganda that was not in favour of Britain. However, he realised that there was more angles and issues to highlight then the problems involved with those of the high command, and he immediately turned to the soldiers for the facts and information.

Russell had a huge advantage, the Crimean war was the first media war, and was the first to be documented by reporters, photographers and even painters with changes in transport and printing allowing the public at home access to, and a huge awareness of the war with distribution of information being quicker than any previous conflict, especially with the mechanised steam press supplying a huge readership. His reports were extremely significant and for the first time in history, the public had access to the reality of warfare. The public were so outraged and shocked that their backlash led to a revaluation of the treatment of troops, also leading to the involvement of Florence Nightingale, revolutionising battlefield treatment, Russell’s plea being, ‘Are there no devoted women among us, able and willing to go forth to minister to the sick and suffering soldiers of the East in the hospitals of Scutari? Are none of the daughters of England, at this extreme hour of need, ready for such a work of mercy? Must we fall so far below the French in self-sacrifice?’ (Russell, 1854)
Russell single handily demonstrated the power of the press and public opinion.


About beckiesheldon

Journalism Student, 20 years of age. Living and studying in Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK.
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