What happens when journalists become the story?

28 January 2011

When spin doctors become the story or spokesmen need a spokesman, we know the game is
up. So say Alastair Campbell and Andy Coulson, and they should know. So what happens when journalists become the story?  

The re-opening of the investigation into News of the World phone-hacking case has sent a chill across Fleet Street. Collectively, journalists really had hoped this would go away. A prurient
interest in the private lives of stars and public figures is nothing new. The pressures of a tabloid newsroom are immense, and it should come as no surprise that journalists looking for an edge
were prepared to take such technological liberties. But no one could have predicted that this would snowball to quite this extent.

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What is now happening with the News of the World has the potential to shake up journalism just as the expenses scandal shook up politics. And in a sense one is the natural extension of the other.
For too long an endemic cynicism poisoned the political culture to such an extent that no one thought anything was a story any more. But the MPs’ expenses scandal means that it is no longer
possible to shrug at low-level corruption in British politics. The investigation into the activities of journalists at the News of the World could do the same for journalism. A quick glance at the
Information Commisioner’s report from December 2006 into the use of private detectives by journalists will demonstrate just how prevalent this practice was.

Four years ago, the Information Commissioner tallied up over 300 employees of newspapers and magazines who used private detectives to access personal information. I would suggest that it was
difficult to work in a newsroom at the time and not know this was going on. There are a lot of people out there in journo-land who will continue to shift uncomfortably in their seats and hope that
this whole sorry affair blows over.

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Show comments
  • rndtechnologies786

    View is good.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    Are you saying that you as a journalist knew all about this sort of thing but never bothered to tell us? Why? Because we didn’t need to know? Because everybody does it? Because you don’t write things against other journos as ‘professional courtesy’? Pathetic.

    Journalists are under pressure to break the law, just as MPs were underpaid and were entitled in their own minds to fiddle their expenses? Pathetic. Is that why the expenses story took so long to penetrate the bubble?

    So what is it that you teach to those journalism classes? Are they all too cynical to be told about ethics? Or is it about establishing plausible deniability, which is where Coulson fell down, his was of the implausible variety?

  • Jeremy

    When journalists become the story they (apparently) stop reporting it.

    Journalists appear always to have their attention turned outwards – towards other people, other institutions and other organisatons. And it is precisely the lack of public and publicised scrutiny into their own affairs which has allowed corruption and abuse to wax therein, unchecked and uninvestigated, for so long.

  • Former tabloid hack

    Absolutely right, Martin. The worry is that the met will now make up for earlier shambles by going for everyone. Don’t think it’s an exaggeration that EVERYONE was at it. Anyone who did general news and anyone who worked on a tabloid newsdesk. An entire generation of Fleet Street journalists could be in trouble…

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