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From a very early stage in my career it was very clear that I was never going to make a decent investigative journalist. Yes, I'd won a couple of awards for documentaries on 'hot topics' - the hijacking of an airliner, the re-development of London's Docklands and its impact on the local community - but I was just too 'nice' to have the instinct for a real scoop.
Despite being an alumni of City University, the UK's, and possibly the world's, finest School of Journalism, I emerged blinking into the journalistic sunlight with a superb grounding in the techniques of broadcast news and current affairs, but a lack, deep inside, of the killer instinct that would have me climbing walls, sifting through bins and, yes, hacking phones.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not apologising for any of this, nor am I blaming City. Some of my peers ended up as journalistic household names and, having had a lengthy career in PR, I'm still using a combination of media skills to earn a comfortable living. I am also the first to state, loud and clear, that tabloid journalism is one of the most highly skilled of all media jobs, requiring the ability to tell a story within limited vocabularly and space. There are many highly talented tabloid journalists, some of whom I've had the pleasure to work with.
However, when I read a Tweet which states: "Most of the people who lost their jobs today didn't hack anyone's phone." in relation to the sudden closure of the News of the World, as a journalist am I really supposed to feel sympathy?
Maybe there's something wrong with me, but throughout my career, particularly in public relations, I always lived by the principle that if I didn't believe in the story, organisation, product or service for which I was working, it was difficult - to the point of near impossibility - to work to a high standard.
While I'm sure that the majority of journalists on the News of the World were not directly involved in phone hacking, I cannot believe that any of them were working for that newspaper without buying into the overarching principle under which the paper operated.
James Murdoch's statement to the assembled NotW team said that the paper "has a proud history of fighting crime, exposing wrong-doing and regularly setting the news agenda for the nation. When I tell people why I am proud to be part of News Corporation, I say that our commitment to journalism and a free press is one of the things that sets us apart."
What he seemed to omit was that it was journalism and freedom at any price, both financially and morally.
I have experienced the NotW's "proud history of exposing wrong-doing" first hand when, in it's desperate desire to satisfy the public's interest in knowing whether a paedophile was living next door, I spent a week helping to protect an employee of the company for which I was Head of Public Relations who had been wrongly identified by their 'interested' next door neighbour from a completely unrecognisable photograph published on the front page of the NotW.
The baying lynch mob, whipped up by the NotW and it's glamorous sister, The Sun, was instrumental in the near distruction of the life of an entirely innocent individual and his family. We could only watch helplessly as a pack of journalists fought outside his front door to get more images. Ironically, it is the righteous indignation of the next door neighbours that has now killed the newspaper.
So the News of the World is dead. Well whoop-de-doo. The reality is that, like the banking world, little will really change. It's not even like re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, because there is no danger of News International sinking beneath the waves. It will re-emerge with a shiny, new Sunday Sun and Rebekah Brooks and the Murdoch clan will still be at the helm.
Morality and brand values permeate all levels of an organisation but come from the top. While individuals who are prepared to allow their media outlets to determine the public's interest and satisfy it any cost remain in control, there will be little change. I'm not so naïve as to think that News International is the only organisation in this situation, but it's certainly the most obvious. If it wants to demonstrate a real commitment to setting the house of journalism in order, then change needs to start at the top.
As for News International investigating itself or the PCC being set the task, don't get me started...
Published 8th July, 2011