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My column at the News of the World

IMPORTANT update, 3pm 7 July 2011

Since writing last night, I’ve watched further news and slept (or not slept) on this, plus taken on board the overwhelming volume and tone of your responses. I’ve spoken with the paper’s editor this morning and asked that instead of running my column (filed last week) I have some space to write something of my feelings on what’s happened and the fact that it mustn’t be allowed to happen again – to which he’s agreed.

I’ve also decided to take some time to think this through calmly and listen to the facts as they develop – while I do so I won’t be writing for the paper.

Update Note 4:50pm 7 July

I’ve just read a statement from News International that the News of the World will print its last edition on Sunday see http://www.politicshome.com/uk/article/31458/ – staggering. Obviously that may well change the fact that I was going to write a piece about the nasty events and impact on journalism. Yet I’ve not be able to get through to anyone there yet.

Original Blog:

My column at News of the World

Like everyone else I was sickened when I read of the accusations of the voicemail issue with Milly Dowler, the most recent punch in the whole nasty episode of hacking that went on at the News of the World. It is of course a long way from my own journalism, was long before I joined the paper in 2008 and I know only what I’ve seen on the news.  Yet I do have a page in the paper, and a number of people have asked me what I’ll do, so here are my rough thoughts.

Let me be straight from the start, if these things were happening right now – as opposed to back in 2002 – and the paper was arguing it’s done nothing wrong I would’ve stopped my column already.  As it is, my column for this week was filed last week before this broke. Today I called and spoke to Colin Myler, the paper’s current Editor, made my point strongly and was assured (again) the paper now is a different beast to a few years ago.

I’m torn and have been wrestling with myself over this for a couple of days due to the association. While I strongly believe it’s important this type of irresponsible, morally bankrupt behaviour that gives my industry a bad name is both punished and stamped out, that needs to be balanced against my campaigning passion for educating people about their money, and helping as many people as possible.

If I pulled from the paper now, it wouldn’t stop the hideous past, nor would it stymie the investigations and punishments due to those involved. It would just mean News of the World readers got less information about money.

I need to plainly say the News of the World has been brilliant for that, not just because of its enormous reach but as it opens doors to politicians, putting its resources into supporting fights even when they go against advertisers’ interests.  It’s given me an incredible vehicle to reach many people on important issues like PPI campaigning, financial education in schools, consumer rights, payday loans, campaigning for fairer energy bills, tax credits and more – and most importantly it reaches people that this website and my other work doesn’t over those crucial issues.

I’ve had many offers of columns in other papers, so jumping ship wouldn’t be difficult – but the News of the World is the only paper that has a money page up the front. It’s been a long slog to push the profile of money journalism in a paper many wouldn’t think was its traditional home – and they let me write my stories with little interference (ie, just changing my appalling spelling, grammar and space issues).

From listening to Alastair Campbell on Newsnight last night, it seems this wasn’t solely a News of the World issue – though it appears it was the worst of the bunch –  it’s a tabloid journalism (or possibly even just journalism) issue. I doubt it will be long until the focus broadens.  

It’s one of the reasons I hope there will be a full independent enquiry on top of the police investigation into all the papers who did this, to give us better definition over what rights to privacy we do or don’t have. Therefore if I switched to another tabloid (which is the only place to get the wide reach) then in the long run I’m still in the same boat – frankly the only way to guarantee to avoid this and the individuals involved would be to give up writing for any paper.

While some advertisers can say they’ll “suspend their ads” but will for all likelihood be back within weeks or months once the heat is off, that doesn’t work for me. This is a one off decision. The moral temptation is to make a stand, but I’m not convinced that doing so outweighs the long-term good I can do by continuing to write my column in a paper that is a different iteration of the one that did this, with few of the same personnel (many work elsewhere), and get that hard-to-reach readership.

I’m very angry about what happened on this, like everyone else – I don’t know what other columnists have said, but while it would’ve been much easier to stay silent, I felt I should say something.  

The type of work I do necessitates compromises. I work on TV, radio, have a range of newspaper columns not just the News of the World. By definition I do programmes and write in places when the adverts contain sales pitches for payday lenders, secured loans, or PPI reclaimers that I dislike.  Yet if I didn’t it wouldn’t stop those advertisers, it’d just mean the counter message wouldn’t get across.