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I'm a journalist, ex-national papers, now working in what we call "new" media.

Clive Goodman, royal editor of the News of the World has pleaded guilty to intercepting voicemail messages and could go to jail.


His boss, NOTW editor says: "As the editor of the newspaper, I take ultimate responsibility for the conduct of my reporters. Clive Goodman's actions were entirely wrong and I have put in place measures to ensure that they will not be repeated by any member of my staff."

Editors don't ask too many questions about how their reporters get their stories. They may have their suspicions but they really don't want to know the details. That is how deniability works.

I first came across the practice of 'phone slamming' - hacking into mobile phone voicemail - when I was on the Express in the late 90s and a showbiz reporter casually tapped into the messages of, I think, Paul McCartney.

This sort of thing has been common on papers for years (and not just the tabloids), as has the equally illegal practice of paying to get information from the police national computer. Now Goodman has had his collar felt, I wonder if reporters will be quite so ready to continue with these practices.

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Tim Toulmin of the Press Complaints Commission believes there should some sort of similar complaints system for blogs. Let's eschew the obvious jibe that he is trying to grab more power for the PCC; is he right?

He says that online generally"there are no professional standards, there is no means of redress. If you want to see how the newspaper industry would look like if it was unchecked, then look at the internet."

Maybe so. Certainly, there is a lot of unpleasant stuff in blogs and blogs do tend to go further than papers in some areas - identifying celebrities and politicians involved in scandals, for example. But anybody who writes a blog is subject to the law and can be sued for libel or prosecuted for hate speech. It may not happen much, but it doesn't happen to papers a great deal, either. What's important is that the sanction is there.

Tim Toulmin is a regulator and naturally comes down on the side of control and protection. Many of us think the opposite: that people should be able to say and write what they want, subject to appropriate laws protecting others from real defamation (and not the hurt feelings nonsense that often ends up in the libel courts) and certain forms of speech likely to promote violence (racist language, incitements to kill) etc. (I think this principle should apply to newspapers too and the PCC should be abolished.)

Let's have debates that are vigorous, acrimonious, pungent, unpleasant. Let feelings be hurt, let pride be wounded, let offence be given and received. The internet is still a bastion of free speech: let's keep it that way.
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Paul Linford is right to take exception at the sneering tone of some of the BBC's coverage of the defection of its chairman. The fact is that the BBC breeds an attitude of superiority in its staff and they simply can't believe that there is any virtue in working anywhere else. That, plus a love of bureaucracy, is the hallmark of the true BBC employee.
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I wrote for PG a couple of times, and was a judge at one of their awards ceremonies as well as reading the mag regularly over the years. Its closure leaves a hole that I hope will soon be filled.

Naturally, I hope the staff all find jobs soon (and I expect they will).

And by the way...

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Radio 4's Today programme on Friday morning was beside itself with excitement at what it thought was a scoop on the Alexander Litvinenko poisoned spy saga. It revealed that it had sopken to someone who had seen his X-rays, which revealed some 'packages' inside his body, about the size of a two pence piece, one of which seemed to have split open. There then followed a good deal of speculation about what these packages might be and how they might have got there, the consensus being that he must have swallowed them deliberately. There was, it seemed to me, a clear inference that Litvinenko might have poisoned himself (other people I've spoken to who heard the broadcast drew the same inference). Here's the report on the BBC website http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6175424.stm

Later in the day, it emerged that the story was rubbih and that these 'packages' were in fact shadows on the X-ray caused by his treatment. This clarification was buried deep in a story on the BBC's website:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6176004.stm - without any acknowledgement that the original false story was the result of BBC speculation.

The BBC holds itself up as an authoritative gatherer and publisher of news, whose standards of accuracy and verification are far higher than the scoop-obsessed press. That being the case, why did it broadcast such a highly tenuous tale without proper checking? Why did its journalists speculate in such a damaging way about Mr Litvinenko? And why, once the story had been shown to be nonsense, did it not admit its error and apologise?
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A survey here shows that journalists work many more hours than they are contracted for. Roy Greenslade discusses it here

Interesting, but hardly surprising. The fact is that lots of people in lots of professions work longer than they legally need to- ask teachers, doctors, professionals in many walks of life.

What this is really about is the fact that journalists on local and regional papers have seen their wages fall in real terms and many exist on a pittance. The problem here is simply that there are too many people who want to go into journalism and the barriers to entry are quite low (compared to becoming a doctor, lawyer etc where a professional qualification is essential). Papers don't need to offer high salaries to attract staff.

It seems to me that journalism is becoming rather like acting (another profession that large numbers of young people want to get into and which has low barriers to entry). There are a small number of highly-paid people at the top of the tree (national newspaper editors, top columnists, star broadcasters) and an increasingly long tail of those (including many freelances) who are barely eking a living, in the forlorn hope that at some point they may get a big break. Somewhat reminiscent of the world portrayed by Ricky Gervais in Extras.

None of this is going to change until large numbers of people decide that the reality of low earnings in journalism is such that it is better to get a secure, better paid but arguably less glamorous job, and there a fewer journalists competing for the same scarce jobs.

Anyway, none of this is new, as any reader of George Gissing's 19th century classic New Grub Street will be aware.
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Poor old Press Gazette has probably published its last issue. Shame. Under the editor, Ian Reeves, they produce a decent magazine and a good website http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/ I'm sure they'll all find jobs before long.

I do fear for the future of the magazine's Grey Cardigan column, ostensibly written by a sub on a West Country local paper. Along with the Martin Luke column in the FT, it's the best-observed, funniest column currently being published.

If PG does go to the wall, I hope that somehow the Cardigan will be saved. Maybe Media Guardian could pick it up?

UPDATE Perhaps I spoke too soon in writing off PG. Roy Greenslade seems to think it may yet be saved.
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My old boss Richard Desmond defends his decision to lay off the entire Daily Express City desk and outsource the paper's business coverage to PA. Sorry though I feel for my former colleagues on the paper, I have to say I think he's doing the right thing.

Though the Express City pages are pretty good, they are not what the paper is about. In any case, most daily City coverage happens like this. Journalist goes to press conference, chats with colleagues from other papers, reads press release, listens to announcement, asks questions. then follows lunch during which he may discuss the story with other journalists, effectively ensuring that they are all saying the same thing. Back to office to write up story. As a result, all papers carry pretty much the same story. Frankly, PA will do the job just as well and a good deal more cheaply.

Just as papers don't individually compile their TV listings or their share price lists, neither should they individually create stories based on press releases. Get it done elsewhere, as cheaply and efficiently as possible.

This should leave more resources for the paper to focus on areas where it really can be different from the competition - be it investigative reporting or high-quality features. Unfortunately, I don't for a moment believe that Mr D is going to usethe money he saves on City coverage to invest in high-end journalism (it's more likely to go into his pension fund). However, he won't be the last proprietor to outsource his City coverage.
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