The Fifth Estate

Greg Gnall
2 min readJan 17, 2017


It is no secret that the future of print journalism is in serious peril, with advertising dwindling and subscriptions dropping by the day, and an incoming President who is intent on raising antagonism with the mainstream media to a new level. It is also the result of a trend where the masses flock to internet sites to seek validation for their own views, no matter how parochial or separated from reality.

But I was reminded of an earlier time, before BuzzFeed and Facebook, YouTube and Gawker, when the world depended on on-the-ground journalists who were more interested in being witnesses to history than editorialists in disguise, by the death this week of Clare Hollingsworth in Hong Kong at the age of 105.

I was once having lunch at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Hong Kong when my colleague pointed to an undaunted woman in her nineties who “was the first person to report that the Germans had invaded Poland.” In other words, on August 28, 1939, she scooped the world on the imminent outbreak of World War II. Hollingworth went on to write about the progress of the war from Europe to North Africa, revealed the patrician Kim Philby as a notorious Soviet spy, interviewed the Shah of Iran, and was spotted, at the age of 80, shimmying up a lamppost as Chinese troops cracked down on protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Journalism was not the glamorous entertainment spectacle it is today, with blow-dried anchorman and leggy blondes “reporting” the news through a teleprompter “from our studios in New York.” Ms. Hollingworth defied her family’s low regard for the profession and a promising marriage to head for Warsaw and a life sleeping in trucks and in trenches, armed with only a toothbrush and a frequently necessary firearm. Her work was highly regarded, but not without criticism that she was an arrogant representative of a fading British Empire and had cozied up to the likes of an imperious Indira Gandhi.

The world of Hollingworth and her kind is long gone, replaced by a rancorous duel of shouting heads, made-up news, and distrust of any source that doubts one’s partisan views. There are still signs of life, as when the Boston Globe revealed the depth of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and the Bergen Record doggedly kept alive the Bridgegate circus through good old-fashioned gumshoe reporting. But in this acrimonious new media world, I doubt you will see Megyn Kelly covering a story any time soon without ready access to her hairdresser.

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