Sunday, July 10, 2011

It's the end of the World as we know it (and I feel fine)

Will Twitter kill the blogosphere star? It's been two weeks since I last blogged here and yet I seem to spend more hours than are really necessary or even enjoyable on that silly micro-blogging site bashing out quips at 140 characters a time (you can follow me @patrick_kidd if you like).

Still, it's not as if there has been much to write about in the last fortnight. Apart from the former head of the IMF getting off a rape charge, the final flight of the Space Shuttle, the creation of a new country in Africa, a famine in Africa, the world's first synthetic organ transplant, England winning a one-day cricket series and Betty Ford dying, what else has happened?

Oh yes. A 168-year-old newspaper was closed and 200 journalists put out of work. Any job losses in any industry is a tragedy - and some have fairly pointed out that the News of the World had not done too much blubbing over public-sector redundancies - but the death of the Screws is tremendously sad.

It is not that it was a great newspaper (I guess I'm not its core audience, but I always thought it was pretty dull and awful), but it was a success as the 7.5 million readership attests. Most of the staff and, by reputation, its last editor were honourable, hard-working people who had nothing to do with the phone-hacking scandal. I'm still not really sure why the paper had to go.

Advertisers were pulling out all over the place after the claim that the paper had hacked into Milly Dowler's voicemails, but the paper could still have been saved if those who were seen as responsible for its brand becoming toxic had gone.

Suddenly, Hugh Grant is seen as the voice of morality. Not that he did anything about phone-tapping when he was Prime Minister... Max Mosley, whose porn dungeon escapades attracted the Screws, also tut-tutted. I expect Ryan Giggs and Jeffrey Archer will also soon be seen shaking their heads with faux disapproval.

I don't want to excuse the News of the World's tactics. Hacking into the phones of murder victims and the families of those killed in war or on 7/7 is disgraceful; hacking into those of celebrities a bit tedious (as bad as reading their Twitter, I imagine) but nonetheless illegal.

But how many of those who did it were still working at the paper? And how many other papers have done the same? A study by the Information Commissioner's Office in 2006, highlighted in this week's Spectator, revealed that 139 Mirror Group employees and 91 who worked for the Mail had paid for obtaining private information. At News International, there were 30.

The practice was not that common, but it was universal and it should be the perpetrators - on all papers - who get punished, not the innocent subs, designers, brief-fillers and gardening correspondents. Closing one paper and putting the innocent on the dole queue is like hacking off an arm to cure a nose bleed.

It's the freelancers I most feel sorry for; they won't even get a pay-off and will have to join a very congested marketplace. Perhaps many of them will be rehired to staff the proposed Sun on Sunday, but that also raises the question of why the News of the World had to shut. It was the subject of phone-hacking that was toxic, not the paper.

If we were to close down something and change its name every time there was a scandal, we may as well do away with Parliament and open Congress because of the MPs expenses. It does not allow for redemption.

It was the suddenness of the decision that proved so shocking. Few saw it coming, not even Mystic Meg. I was one of the first to tweet the news on Thursday, not through any great connection that I have but because I was one of the few to wade far enough down the email that was sent to all News International staff by James Murdoch. It was two thirds of the way down before he said "By the way, you're all fired. Release the hounds." I imagine most colleagues had given up reading by then.

There was genuine shock and bemusement in the Times newsroom when rumour spread. The Times editor, who had only been told himself half an hour earlier, came and addressed the troops briefly and with dignity, saying that our paper was not tarnished by allegations and that we should continue to set the standards for professionalism in our trade.

As I left the office that evening, the crowds spilt out on to the plaza from the nearest pub. Wisely, the News of the World staff were taking to drink, joined by colleagues from The Sun. It was claimed by some on Twitter that the Sun staff had gone out on strike in sympathy. They hadn't, but they wanted to down a couple with their friends. It would have been nice if Rebekah Brooks had put her card behind the bar.


BenS said...

Interesting insight Paddy, thanks for sharing.

I suppose that occasionally brands can become so toxic that they start to affect others near them. For example, a particular model of car could (if it were technically duff) affect the value or standing of other cars made by the same manufacturer. For example, all Toyotas seemed to tarred with the same brush recently, due to one or two of their models being called in for recalls. It seems possible that NI may have taken a view that there was no going back and took steps to protect its other products (including the Times). There's also the need to be seen as "fit and proper" for the Sky deal.

I agree that those losing their livelihoods through no fault of their own suffer too greatly and I do hope that they find employment on the Sun on Sunday.

BenS said...

I used the online translator to understand Anon's point. Unfortunately it's a little off topic, although Paddy may be able to make the witty connection, which I am struggling for. Perhaps an "apartment renovation" is a euphemism for "bugging"?

Paddy said...

I imagine that was some oligarch who was planning to buy the Times if News Int collapsed. Just wanted to see if I was still happy to work for him and whether I like blinis.