Oxford reporter HARRISON JONES discusses all things journalism with the former editor of The Guardian.

THERE were ‘moments of great drama’, recalls one of the most influential newspaper editors of his generation, without a whiff of sensationalism.

Now the principal of Oxford college Lady Margaret Hall (LMH), Alan Rusbridger oversaw ‘marmalade droppers’ on a grand scale, including stories on Wikileaks, phone hacking, Jonathan Aitken’s trial and Edward Snowden’s revelations. The latter led to the Government overseeing the destruction of hard drives at Guardian headquarters, Mr Rusbridger testifying to Parliament and suggestions that he should be jailed.

It all seems a world away now, with the 64-year-old sat in a spacious office punctuated by an impressive music collection, great views of LMH, an expensive camera and a copy of John Simpson’s ‘Moscow Midnight’.

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He explains fondly: “We had the first interview [with American whistleblower Snowden] and were about to put it live. There was silence before a storm where you think: ‘within five minutes every news organisation in the world will be reporting what we are about to publish.’”

Though controversial in Britain at the time, Mr Rusbridger presents a comprehensive, passionate and persuasive argument for publishing the files – which detailed the scale of public surveillance by governments – in his new book, Breaking News. It is coupled with agreeable bafflement over why the rest of the British press did not take much note of the revelations.

Its easy to forget that prior to his editorship, the Guardian was, in his words, ‘a minnow’.

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By 2014, it was the world’s second best-read English newspaper website.

Mr Rusbridger’s new life, three years after resigning, is far removed from the daily chaos of modern news.

Yet he seems as he always appeared: unflustered, measured, quietly funny, and frightfully posh.

Perched comfortably on a sofa, he sports a typical ‘liberal elite’ outfit: classic jumper, jeans, blue shirt and classy shoes, accessorised with wide, rounded glasses and messy but somehow coiffured-looking hair. The Harry Potter lookalike jokes are not new.

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Born in Zambia, Mr Rusbridger cut his reporting teeth at the Cambridge Evening News, after studying English at the city’s university.

Yet he was far from the obvious candidate to edit Britain’s foremost left-leaning title from 1995-2015.

“In many ways I’ve lived a privileged life,” he admits, referencing a failed 11+, and ‘most certainly’ not making it to Cambridge had his parents not put him through a ‘middling’ private school.

In his earlier years, he adds, he was ‘quite a serious little boy’, who sang in the choir, played music, was ‘slightly sporty’ but not ‘especially’ clever.

“I was quite good at a lot of things but not very good at anything.”An all rounder, then, I nudge him to concede. Which is quite handy, given the role he ended up in.

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“As an editor,” he ventures, “you are part editor, part writer, part amateur political scientist. But also a sort of moral philosopher.”

In a nod to his sixth book, he adds: “and nowadays you’re expected to be a great business manager.”

Since leaving The Guardian, he has been roundly criticised over the state of the paper’s finances. It’s a charge he seems sensitive to. So, in Breaking News (which is 'not a memoir, but…'), he provides a compelling defence of the financial strategy.

Current editor Kath Viner recently announced that more than a million readers have supported the paper financially. But, says Mr Rusbridger of his legacy, “the basic strategy hasn’t changed much… we crafted a model that appears today to be doing rather well.”

Stressing ‘reach before revenue’, he argues: “The big picture was that print was going to go and there would be no Guardian.

“There were bumps along the way…[but] no previous editor had to cope with the sort of change my generation did… if people want to throw eggs, they will throw eggs.”

Yet few in the industry appear convinced, and he recently had a public spat with another former giant of journalism, Paul Dacre.

The Daily Mail’s ex editor, who allegedly dubbed his Guardian counterpart ‘Alan Rubbisher’, made a lengthy attack on him during a recent speech, labelling the book a ‘masterclass in the art of sly omissions’ and lambasting what he saw as financial mismanagement.

Mr Rusbridger called that intervention ‘myopic’, ‘insular’, and ‘incoherently angry’.

Indeed, despite their comparable success, the pair could not be more different. While Mr Dacre reportedly ranted at staff and via the Mail’s often controversial front pages, Mr Rusbridger is a thoughtful listener, who calls himself 'a soggy liberal'.

One current Guardian journalist confides: “Alan was deceptively steely.

“It’s no secret that the finances were in a bad way when he left. There’s been a lot of finger pointing but if he was given too much power, then that’s a governance issue.”

The source added: “At morning conferences he could come across as slightly bumbling, speaking in a barely audible voice and appearing happier for others to do the talking. But he showed great courage and character in publishing stories like Snowden and phone-hacking.”

Perhaps it also says something that during those morning conferences – where staff discuss the day’s stories – Mr Rusbridger sat on a sofa alongside colleagues, whereas his replacement Ms Viner stands and holds court from the front. Predictably, Mr Rusbridger won’t be drawn into any debate about the symbolism.

The married father-of-two might have moved on, but he is hardly putting his feet up at LMH. Wading into the argument on access to Oxford; he is also chairman of a Reuters Institute for journalism and Oxford Chamber Music Festival, while sitting on the boards of the Royal National Theatre and the Committee to Protect Journalists. He filled the Smithsonian for a recent talk, regularly features in podcasts, interviews and the like, plays tennis (‘not well’), music and has two dogs, Hamish and Bonnie.

Busyness and variety are themes: he is a former labourer, tomato picker, painter, decorator, ‘cleaner of automotive parts’ and forklift truck driver who professes ‘strong views’ on human rights, free speech, social mobility, internationalism and the environment.

Yet his real love is clearly journalism and - though it is a word he finds impossible to define - it is what his most interesting thinking focusses on.

Reporters are ‘the bees of the world’s information systems’, he says, while advocating greater interaction between journalist and audience.

Beneath the conventional demeanour, he is something of an industry rebel, casting his Guardian as an outsider in an often problematic Fleet Street.

Other intriguing nuggets surface when he looks back or focusses on print. Regularly trawled out is a famous passage from Washington Post alumnus David Broder, about papers being ‘partial, hasty, incomplete, inevitably somewhat flawed, inaccurate… and back tomorrow with an updated version.’

Having thought about such issues for decades, his overarching view remains simple: “I ended my career believing as strongly as ever that reliable, unpolluted information is as necessary to a community as a legal system, army or police force.”

Amid a sea of pessimism about the industry, it is noteworthy that Mr Rusbridger appears relatively optimistic – even referencing the upsides of social media and technological change.

The positivity comes with a warning, though: “Trust me,” he concludes ominously, “we do not want a world without news”. Yet he is far from certain of what journalism’s future will really hold: that, it seems, is another story – and probably one of great drama.