Tuesday, 2 August 2011

At the tone, leave your name, number and morality...

Thanks to an old friend of mine who suggested the topic, I thought I'd put my half-pee's worth in on the recent "media cack-storm".
Being a local reporter, especially a crime reporter, is mainly about trying to get people to trust me.
I know. It's like the joke about the guy who puts his dick in the mouth of a lion at a circus and asks if there's anyone brave enough to do the same. And one wag shouts up, 'sure, but do I have to kneel down in all that sawdust?'
Actually it's probably not, but I thought I'd put that in there because it always makes me laugh.
Is this Hackergate stuff a laughing matter though?
No, not really.
Personally, I've felt rather pleased to see reporters and news organisations I have loathed for decades - who've behaved in a way that makes me angry and frustrated that my job title is sullied by them, who've come to town and crapped in my field whenever a big story takes place on my patch - finally get their comeuppance.
Problem is, when you've chosen to fart at a disco, everyone standing nearby gets given the same look of disgust and disdain.
Some of the vitriol and bile poured out across the interwebbything has been undoubtedly cathartic for many outraged folk (however faux - I mean, some of it has sounded similar to the righteous indignation from the hysterical whipped up frenzy that was of Manuelgate, and that didn't produce half the resignations).
What's caused me to bang my head against my keyboard in exasperation and depression has been the increasing vitriol and bile aimed at local reporters on local/regional newspapers.
Case in point -this well-meaning article which further down reveals the hatred of the keyboard warriors, who, (quelle surprise) rarely use their real names when they comment. Much like our own 'popular' website, hmm?
Oh, I can handle the jokes from my plod contacts about "are you recording this call Carl?" or "Oi, Eve, have you got a brown envelope with cash for me?"
Mainly because my retort of "I dunno, have you been out killing my paper sellers recently" usually halts all hostilities in their tracks.
The thing is, it's all about ethics. And no, that's not a lisp for my home county.
I was taught journalism with a heavy nod towards the ethics line. I worked on a paper where the news editor was a mean bugger who would swear and shout at his reporters until they cried, but by God he instilled a sense of ethics in you.
If you want to do the job right and get a result you can stand by, then you bloody well behave yourself. However if you are uncovering proper wrong-doing or actual iniquity then and only then can you take the gloves off and fight dirty.
In Essex, I watched as a number of reporter colleagues move onto tabloids like The Sun and the News of the World (and the Daily Mail) and I felt a) sorry for them, b) envious of their new wage and c) absolutely no desire to follow them. (Quick aside - Andy Coulson used to work on my old paper in Basildon, but he left a couple of years before I joined. I know, six degrees of separation, eh?)
This paper is equally tight on its ethics. There are strict rules and Cliff Richard forbid you play fast and loose with them. No impersonating, no bin rifling, no breaching confidence.
Of course, it means we don't get or do some stories. Like all papers you try to get as close to the wire as possible, but you cannot afford to go over it. Not when the margins are so tight as they are these days.
I wrote about the Danielle Jones murder in Grays, Essex and recently heard her phone may have been hacked. I remember her parents. I remember a senior police officer genuinely lament that he had been forced to meet such wonderful people in such an awful circumstance. I would concur completely as Danielle's parents were lovely people who, more often than not, I just wanted to hug tightly and make it all better for them.
If true, then the news about Danielle's phone being a potential target reminds me again of how it was just another cheap and unenlightening story for a paper to swagger about boasting it was the "Greatest Newspaper in the World" with its gargantuan sales figures and 168 year history of paying people to tell them things.
Quick note here - my "payments" to informants? A cup of tea. That's it. Probably at Capn Jaspers and the change goes into the charity Sea Mission box. If I have a spare tenner or twenty it goes to me and my family. My motto is if you have to pay for it, you don't deserve it because you're not a good enough journalist. Just because a source is greedy doesn't mean you should be.
Ratings and sales should not be at the expense of breaking the confidence of the parents of dead children.
I hope that, in the main, the interviews I've had with people who would've otherwise have been snapped up by tabloid hacks with chequebooks, were because they trusted me to not dick them over.

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