The unusual case of Matt Nixson, the hack with the big heart

30 July 2012

This is not a great time to be a tabloid journalist. It is an even worse time to be an out-of-work tabloid journalist. Few tears are shed when red-top hacks lose their jobs and they are consigned to a discard pile that includes unemployed bankers and politicians.

This is why the case of Matt Nixson is so unusual. When the phone hacking scandal broke, Nixson had just moved from the News of the World, where he was features editor, to take the same job on the Sun. He was given the push last July amid a flurry of allegations about alleged payments to police and prison officers (Nixson was alleged to have authorised a £750 payment to a prison officer for a story about the Soham murderer Ian Huntley, although he wasn’t told this until five months later). It is now a year since he left his post at the Sun and the police have said they will not be pursuing a case against him.

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I don’t know Matt well. I met him once at a local newspaper reunion in north London (he worked at the Hendon Times with my wife in the 1990s). But I was struck by how much he clearly enjoyed his job, by his loyalty to his employer and his conviction that journalism, even tabloid journalism, could be a force for good. Unprompted, he offered to help with my youth employment charity and we were in discussions about how the Sun could get involved in New Deal of the Mind when he lost his job. Despite the shock (he was sacked just after he had just had his first child) he immediately offered to volunteer for us, something I intend to take him up on at some point.

My experience of Matt’s generosity is echoed by Liz Carnell, the founder of the children’s charity Bullying UK, which he and others at the News of  the World supported. She told Press Gazette Matt is a “lovely man with a big heart”. In a separate tribute Colin O’Toole, who was Matt’s news editor  on local papers, told Press Gazette: “I have never met a more hard-working, talented and breathtakingly honest individual”. His colleague on the Hendon Times, Ian Lloyd added: “To be left in the lurch by employers you have given so much to, and be deprived of the career you love for the benefit of a PR exercise must be soul destroying.”

Roy Greenslade has also written about the extraordinary way fellow hacks have rallied to support Matt Nixson. Such is his loyalty to News International that Nixson himself still hopes to negotiate an amicable return to his old paper. But his story is a sobering one. The reverberations of the moral collapse of the News of the World are still being felt across the profession.  If the UK tabloid press is ever going to rebuild its reputation it will need people like Matt to do so.

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Show comments
  • rndtechnologies786

    Nice think.

  • Barry Brennan

    I have faith that News International will eventually deal fairly with Matt Nixson. The Spectator article by Martin Bright is one reason for my optimism. This hugely-experienced and well-regarded journalist describes meeting Matt just once and being impressed by his enthusiasm and conviction that tabloid journalism could be a force for good.

    I joined many other journalists to say in Press Gazette that having worked with Matt we were aware of his talent and devotion to the job. Senior NI management obviously also saw a special talent, as they approved his promotion from the News of the World to The Sun. His shocking dismissal was a mistake which NI must now understand they have to right.

  • Liz Carnell

    What Martin didn’t say is the reason I said that Matt Nixson had a big heart.
    I’m a journalist in the day job but in 1999 I founded the children’s charity Bullying Online (later Bullying UK). We did some work with the News of the World which included me running a helpline for readers from the NOTW office one Sunday. Stuart Kuttner and Andy Coulson were also involved in the arrangements. A week or so later a cheque for several thousand pounds arrived as the paper’s thanks for the charity’s help. It was followed a few days later by another cheque because Matt had held a whip round in the newsroom for us. His kindness and everyone’s generosity was completely unexpected and made a real difference to a small charity.
    It’s time for this saga to be concluded so that Matt can get on with his life.

    • coventrian

      Andy Coulson? Don’t make me laugh.

      A News of the World reporter who suffered from a culture of bullying led by former editor Andy Coulson, who is now David Cameron’s head of communications, has been awarded almost £800,000 for unfair dismissal and disability discrimination.Matt Driscoll, a sports reporter sacked in April 2007 while on long-term sick leave for stress-related depression, was awarded £792,736 by the east London employment tribunal. It is believed to be the highest payout of its kind in the media, and legal costs could take News International’s total bill well over the £1m mark.
      The shame is not that one Sun ‘journalist’ lost his job but that all of them haven’t – yet.The sooner they all find out what life on the dole is really like – the better.

  • Marshall Law

    Matt’s one of the good guys. In its present state he would not fit in at NI.

  • Sheron Boyle

    Bang on right, Martin. It is not a great time to be a tabloid journalist and even worse to be a freelance tabloid hack. However, you are wrong about Matt’s case being unusual – a proper, decent tabloid hack loves to right a wrong. It is in our DNA – and that is why Matt’s case raises mine and others’ hackles. Because Matt is a proper decent tabloid hack who just loves a great story and in the post-Leveson days he should be the very type that is mooted as a possible editor.

    In our jobs, we love to nail the baddy, bring the culprit to justice, do right by the wronged person. And that is what we all want to do for Matt. I understand some journalists dont want to be named – and isn’t that telling?

    I may lose work by being named but I can cope with that. Because if it wasn’t Matt, who else could it be? And at some point in our fabulous, brilliant, lovely, licence-to-be nosy gossipy funny stylish profession, it might be one of us. And then I’d like to think people would stand up and be counted for me.

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