Friday, 8 July 2011

NotW: "When you were good you were very, very good..."

There’s one topic that’s at the top of everyone’s Twitter timeline: and that’s the closure of the News of the World following the phone hacking scandal, and their other gross misdeeds that have been revealed as a result.

Let there be no doubt, I was as appalled as anyone by the allegations that the NotW had been hacking into Milly Dowler’s voicemail and deleting messages, and then using this to generate gut-wrenching interviews from her family. This is unforgivable. Just as the rest of hackgate was extreme foul play.

But I’m not convinced the NotW needed to fold. It is a British newspaper with a 168-year history and the closure of another British business saddens me. Especially a print journalism business.

To work on the NotW requires the utmost journalistic skill and talent, and it’s a safe bet that those who work there are at the absolute top of their game. You don’t need to personally like the type of stories published by the NotW (the kiss and tells, the celebrity tittle tattle, the lurid exposes), that’s largely a matter of personal taste – and I’d wager that the majority of people rubbing their hands together at the closure of the NotW never read it in the first place.

To all the people gleeful at the paper’s shamefaced closure, just remember that there are hundreds of highly skilled people who are suddenly out of work… despite the majority being guilty of nothing worse than keeping their heads down and getting on with their jobs. We are in a time of recession, which affects everyone in every industry: so being highly skilled isn’t going to help the recently redundant from the NotW anymore than it’s going to help a friend of mine made redundant from a business magazine last week. As for the idea that the NUJ is going to be able to swing them a good deal: that’s just laughable.

There are many people (as far as I can see, none of whom work in journalism) who crow that working for a red top requires nothing more than the ability to make up stories. If that was what the NotW staff did, the paper would have folded a week after it launched in 1843. When I spent five years working for one of the UK’s biggest tabloid moguls, I quickly got sick of people assuming all I did was invent celebrity rumours for a living. I boredly replied that if that was what we did, we’d have the knickers sued off us every week and we’d close. Along with all the other newspapers and magazines that were apparently making stuff up. I can assure you that the fact checking was stringent, and the arguments with the enormous legal team to prove that what we were saying was true were lengthy. And tedious. But necessary.

What is also clear from the gloating coffin-chasers in the past 24 hours is that they don’t seem to realise the volume of talented people involved in putting together a paper like the NotW. They seem to be branding everyone as ‘reporters’, when in fact the reporters make up a tiny percentage of the people who would have seen the paper go to press each Saturday. The reporters may have received the by-line, but the printed paper would not have become a reality without tireless work from: page planners, flatplanners, sub-editors, proof readers, lawyers, editors, photographers, picture researchers, picture editors, designers, production editors, print managers, advertisers, sales teams, distributors, printers, secretaries, receptionists, PAs (this is an incomplete list). Reporters are a tiny part of the production machine, even if they are all you see.

So, while I deplore the phone hacking and interference in the cases or murder victims and missing people, I am also deeply saddened by the loss of the NotW and by the gleeful abandonment with which many have responded to its demise.

Bye, bye, NotW. When you were good you were very, very good. But when you were bad you were horrid.


  1. Obviously, the loss of jobs whenever it happens is horrible, especially when it is so blatantly being done to protect the power of a few people who are ultimately far more responsible for the hacking scandal than most people clearing their desks today (that happened when i lost my job).

    But the NOTW has had a hand in so much awful stuff beyond the hacking scandal. As have all the tabloids. Not just the lurid kiss and tell tales, but infringement of privacy on innocent people, writing nonsense and spurious accusations about innocent people, perpetuating rape myths, perpetuating the idea that women lie about rape, making up quotes... They have printed endless nonsense about asylum seekers and immigration, have written horrible editorial about people on benefits and the unemployed. And then of course the celebrity stuff, upskirt shots of women, she's too fat, she's too i said this is categorically NOT just the NOTW, it is all tabloids and often broadsheets too.

    This blog is great for showing up issues in the tabloids

    To me, there is a massive difference between being happy about people losing their jobs (which i am not) and being happy that the paper itself is closing, just as they were when the Sunday Sport stopped peddling porn as news earlier this year.

  2. All those things you say are true, of course. But as a journalist (and a former tabloid journalist, and someone who built my career working on big-selling celebrity magazines), I can't help but feel saddened by the closure of the NotW and what this means for the future of print journalism. These are my personal opinions.

  3. well, yes, i mean, these are just my opinions too! but i think the issues print is facing at the mo are bigger than this closure.

  4. As a feminist, I don't support the NotW or it's ilk (for all the reasons you rightly point out). But as a journalist, the closure of any newspaper (and to a lesser extent, magazines) saddens me. It's an awkward position, politically...

  5. It's good to see this other point of view, and a difficult call to make. While I didn't read NOTW, I think it's important to have a variety of newspapers out there. However, it did go too far. Let's hope it's warning is enough for other newspapers.

  6. Thanks for your comment, Deb. Agreed - NOTW went too far. But I still think there's a place for the tabloid press in our world. Just one that isn't as muck racking as the Screws became.