The damage done to journalism by phone hacking

  • //images/angela_ward.jpgOver the past few days, many journalists have probably been busy thinking up alternative ways of describing what they do for a living.  With phone-hacking scandals falling out of the News International offices on a daily basis, admitting you are a journalist at any type of social occasion is currently a no-no.

    I spent 22 years working as a journalist and it was always something I was proud of - apart, possibly, from my very first job working as editorial assistant on Tobacco magazine.  While the subject matter left a lot to be desired, it was actually a great introduction to magazine production.

    Over the years, when people asked what I did for a living, some would gasp with excitement to learn I was a journalist - imagining me chasing stories and doing exciting things. While the majority of my early career was spent on business-to-business publications, it was glamorous at times.

    I spent a number of years on a duty-free business title and used to regularly visit the top perfume houses in Paris as well as being invited on press trips to locations such as Oman, Nice, Venice and Zermatt. I also interviewed a smattering of celebs - usually about their latest perfume, rather than their latest love-affair.

    Today, however, it's a relief to say that I'm in PR - even though many of my journalist friends tease me that I have moved over to ‘the dark side'.

    Tabloid journalists have, of course, had a reputation for dirty dealings for many years. I spoke to an old tabloid hack once who told me stories of his early days in the job, when he would be routinely sent out to search through the dustbins of the rich and famous and hang about on doorsteps.

    When I was a child, my father was the bank manager to a well-known television celebrity. At one point he was unwell and his wife - also in the public eye - told my father of receiving endless telephone calls from journalists on copy deadlines, who by-passed any pleasantries with a hurried ‘is he dead yet?'.

    Today, there is no doubt that celebrities ‘work' the media to their advantage. They need column inches to sell their latest record, film or television show and, through a contact I have at a ‘red top', I know that not only do the rich and famous work hard to get stories in the press, but they also have agreements with the press to keep certain stories out of the limelight, in return for certain favours.

    However, the phone hacking and simply dreadful stories which have emerged recently - such as Milly Dowler's phone being hacked - is on an entirely different level.

    Intercepting voicemail messages on mobile phones is against the law . However, in July 2009, the Guardian newspaper claimed News of the World journalists were involved in hacking up to 3,000 public figures.

    Somehow, hacking the phones of those people in the public eye doesn't seem so bad.  In some way or another, they have chosen a career in the limelight, whether it is as a singer or a politician. The same cannot be said of murder victims and the families of dead soliders.

    Journalists on the red tops are under immense pressure to break the next big story, but this latest step has backfired. The News of the World has closed down and all eyes are on News International to see what they will do next..

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