Friday, July 29, 2011

Hacking and Tweeting

Alastair Campbell used to say that no story lasted for more than forty eight hours. I don't know what he thinks of the phone hacking saga's marathon stay at the top of TV running orders but plainly we're in for the long haul, as the judicial inquiries play out in parallel with the two police probes - and whatever criminal proceedings come out of them.

So here's my list of tweeters who are particularly good to follow on this story, which comes with the usual caveat that no twitter list can be definitive...

The Guardianistas:
Editor Alan Rusbridger;  and his deputy Ian Katz. Guardian Politics is also useful, Patrick Wintour is the political editor. There's also media editor  Dan Sabbagh, and reporter  Josh Halliday. Web editor Jonathan Haynes is well worth your clickage, while the Sultans of this story are investigations editor David Leigh and his special correspondent Nick Davies - who gets a lot of the credit for keeping on keeping on.

Other hacks
Providing not so much news-tweets so much as pungent tabloid comment via both her feed and her blog, Fleet Street Fox is essential. But she has just got a well deserved book deal, so we might be hearing less from her. Guido Fawkes is also key, as is Dizzy Thinks. Danny Finkelstein of the Times often makes useful observations. Keir Simmons of ITV works hard on the story as does Andy Davies at Channel Four. I'm not quite sure who Bernard Cole is or who he works for, but he says interesting things on this issue. The story is now across the Atlantic and Michael Wolff, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair is a great follow. My colleague Robert Peston continues to break stories on phone hacking, as does the BBC's Jon Manel. The view from inside Wapping is represented by, among others, the Sun's Political Team.

Some Players
In no particular order,  I follow Tom Watson, the Labour MP for West Bromwich East who has become the Murdoch's tormenter in chief..Louise Mensch and Therese Coffey  are his colleagues on the Culture and Media select committee. She has just had to apologise to the ubiquitous Piers Morgan for misquoting an article about phone hacking. Jeremy Hunt has a twitter feed, but he's been quiet of late. His department, The DCMS  tweets more frequently as does Number 10. Others worth a look are Sara Payne's Phoenix Chief Advocates and Hayley Barlow, the publicist who was until recently working for the News of the World.

Not exhaustive, and I promise I'll update this entry as the saga unfolds.

Saturday, July 09, 2011


A long time ago I went to a house fire. An old lady had died, and I was tasked with doing a report for Radio Manchester. I parked the radio car (an estate vehicle with a gigantic telescopic mast on the top - these were analogue days) and had a shufty at the house. It was certainly a mess. It was the days when there were two big causes of house fires, chip pans and exploding TV's. Firemen would wax lyrical about the dangers of plugged in TV's. I don't think they explode anymore. Apparently chip pans are still a problem. But I digress.

Another old lady emerged from a house nearby. I asked her who had lived in the burnt out shell.
"I don't think Mrs Wells have would have wanted her name published." she said.
I wrote down "Mrs Wells" in my notebook.
"You fiend" hissed the neighbour.  
Actually I don't think I used the name in the end.
I think I had a fit of  conscience.

But this week I kept remembering the neighbour. She was certainly being critical of me, but if I wasn't much mistaken, there was a tinge of pleasure in the way she expressed it. I was a fiend. And that's the way I thought about the News of the World. They were fiends. And wicked. And week in and week out three million of us bought the paper. I was one of them, from time to time.

I have to be honest. I loved some of the stories the NotW came up with. Nobody was sacred.(Maybe that was the problem). There was an amazing never-ending parade of exclusives. They'd started before I was born. That iconic shot of Christine Keeler sitting naked on a chair at the height of the Profumo affair? The NotW.  Jeffrey Archer and an envelope full of money for a woman he'd never slept with? Them. And of course there was the fabulous fake Sheikh himself, investigator Mazher Mahmood, whose gleeful exploits among the greedy and gullible surely earned himself a secure place in the heart of anyone who considers themselves a hack.   

Their methods and targets were the very worst, now we know. And looking back it did strike me as a tad odd the way people's criminal records would pop up in their journalism. And they seemed to know all sorts of amazing things about very private people. Over the years I did also notice that police raids, really sexy ones with proper villains being foiled by brave armed officers, did have a curious habit of occurring in front of a Wapping snapper.

They were drawing journalistic holy water from a magic well, or so it seemed to me. There was obviously always a dark side to the operation, but nobody felt like pointing it out. Other hacks were a bit scared of their operators, they were so mean and slick. Phone hacking, well that was bad, cheating and illegal, but who cared except Hugh Grant and Sienna Miller? Until this week when it all came to bits under the scrutiny of the Guardian. When I heard the Milly Dowler and UK war dead families allegations it was clear to me that the paper was finished. Who on earth can have thought, for a second, that intruding on those poor people was a good idea? The paper, which often seemed dangerously comfortable in the shadows, had finally lost its way.

Will I miss the News of the World? Yes, quite a bit if I'm frank.  I'm afraid it's easily the most interesting of the Sunday red-tops. Footballers will rejoice as the market for kiss and tells has just received a mortal blow. On the other hand some great sports reporting has just gone out of the window.

It's the last one this weekend. I'll buy it and keep it to show to kids in years hence. This was a newspaper, I'll explain. But they had to shut it, in the end.

Update: @langrabbie points out the iconic Keeler photo wasn't for the NOTW, which is true, although the paper did buy her story for £23,000. The truth behind the pictureis revealed on the V&A website.