We’ve all been screwed

Yeah, great news today. Really great news. Amazing news.

The UK’s biggest-selling newspaper has been shut down. 200 journalists are out of work. A dying industry is shoved nearer to the grave.

So, great news.

You know things are going badly wrong when Max Mosley is all over the TV, crowing. And Hugh Grant. Even Ed Milliband had the confidence to come out and say something vaguely approaching an opinion. (He thinks someone did something wrong. Possibly.)

The News of the World did some bad stuff. Okay. If Andy Coulson needs to get dragged through the streets of London tied to the back of Hackney cab, then hung, drawn and quartered, his head put on spike as a warning to hacks, I’m cool with that.

But the killing off of a newspaper, a don’t give a fuck, punk rock, let’s have a go at the bastards newspaper that skewered the reputations of, off the top of my head, Max Mosley, Boris Johnson, John Higgins, Fergie, Sven, Pakistan cricket and Paul Burrell. I am not cool with that.

The Screws brought you this stuff, with gusto, on a Sunday, when you’ve got a hangover and are loading up on carbs and fats at the breakfast table.

All the folk reading the broadsheets got the story a day later, rehashed from the original with a few literary allusions thrown in to shine the shit their readers could not bear to read from the original source.

What the Screws delivered was what the British public, minus the hacking into dead children’s phones, wants. And how do I know? Because over one in ten people in this country read the thing. How many read the Observer? No one, apart from a few in Stoke Newington, and some old lefties in nursing homes.

I can’t help feeling all of those who are really happy about the demise of the News of the World fit into one of three categories:

1. Those who have genuinely suffered at the hands of the Coulson / Wade axis.
2. Those who still hold a grudge against Murdoch for what happened with the printers’ unions back in the 1980s.
3. Ignoramuses who understand nothing about the value of a free Press pursuing a story in the public interest (or just because it is a bloody good story).

I don’t think Nick Davies, the fabulous journalist who has pursued this story for years in the Guardian, can be happy about the Screws being closed down. He wants good journalism, campaigning journalism. Coulson’s head on a stick, for sure.

But if genuinely terrible people like Max Mosley and Hugh Grant get their way, this could lead to a shackled Press, fearful of pursuing stories because of the possible comeback. That no journalist would want.

I used to be a journalist, on a local paper. I’ve found that anyone who has been a journo for any length of time is essentially of the same breed. Nosey, gossipy, sweary, interested in asking questions for the sake of it, interested in stories for the love of it. Totally unable to work unless there is a looming deadline, a malevolent editor hoving into view.

I always knew, as a reporter, that people did not trust you. They thought you cynical and dirty. Then, much more often than not, told you everything you needed to write a good page lead. And loved that little bit of publicity for themselves.

The first principle of journalism is that bad news is good news. If there is a murder, let it be a crazed swordsman slaying a blonde virgin. If there is a road crash, let it be at high-speed with students, gifted and talented students, out of their minds on meth. If there is a scandal, the more intricate, the more high profile, the more you are able to milk it, the better.

The bitter irony for all journalists, and anyone interested in a free Press, is that the closing of the News of the World is a really, really good story. Perhaps the best story we will have for a long, long time.

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