THE CATALYST which created Leveson, the now erroneous Milly Dowler ‘false hope’ moment, may have vanished. But the pressing need for this inquiry remains.
To agree with this position I realise you need to accept the need for reform exists. You either do or you don’t. I do.
The Leveson Inquiry should be the spark that ignites a tabloid revolution.
In fact, without radical reform, tabloid newspapers will slowly fade from any meaningful prominence in our lives. They are dying as we speak.
I am a huge admirer of our industry. And a fierce and loyal protector of those who inhabit it. But I am not blind to our ancient style and tactics which make us an anachronism on the modern media landscape. Privately, I know many of us feel this way.
The need to modernise and revolutionise our technology – iPads, paid-for internet content etc – has been well argued for elsewhere.
But the case for tone and style has been largely overlooked.
Tabloids which were once merely strident and bold have stepped over the edge, inhabiting dark agendas of hate and gratuitous criticism.
We are like the cocky bigot at the dinner party. Embarrassing and out of step with the assembled guests who thought they had invited Mark Zuckerberg but got Sid James instead.
Tabloids are losing the bond of trust and loyalty with their readers, especially the young who see our tone and style as crass, heavy handed and old fashioned.
Worse still, they see us as no more than a damp piece of paper shoved through the letterbox by a 15-year-old schoolboy at 7am to be read by dad on the train.
To the under 25s, we are as cutting edge as Alvar Lidell reading the BBC news on the wireless in a dinner jacket.
Vicious character assassinations, bogus public interest defences, gross invasions of privacy, sensational misleading headlines, cliché ridden copy. They don’t like the cut of your jib or mine. And they don’t buy us in numbers that matter anymore.
And after a raft of phone hacking admissions and allegations, we are no longer seen as the gruff but dependable watchdog.
The dog developed a vicious bite, attacked the readers and they no longer want him in their home.
But we cannot simply transfer our existing tabloid model onto the new, burgeoning technology in much the same way as the BBC could not hope to modernise itself by putting brilliantined old Alvar on their website.
To do so will see the continued, inexorable decline in our readership and our inevitable demise.
Our industry desperately needs to find a new voice if it wants to continue being heard.
Leveson will provide a once in a lifetime opportunity for us to look at ourselves squarely in the mirror and see all our faults and foibles laid bare and put them right. We delude ourselves if we look in this mirror and believe we are still, “the fairest of them all”.
The criticisms which have been hurled our way are sometimes exaggerated, and often one-sided. But many are painfully accurate.
We need to rein in our worst excesses, re-establish a bond of trust with the reader and refine each newspaper’s unique personality and attitude which has remained frozen since the 1950s and 60s.
It is not just our public face which needs modernising. Many tabloid newspapers are antediluvian to their hidden cores and management styles are of another age.
I still cringe at the memory of one poor freelance who was on a shift and a little late with some copy. In full earshot of the office, the executive walked over to her desk and told her: “Put your coat on, go home, don’t come back.”
Another gimlet-eyed executive told a well respected staffer being sent on a big buy-up: “Your wife’s just had a baby, you have a big mortgage, don’t f*** up! You need this job.”
And I am unable to forgive News International for making one of our most respected and valued colleagues redundant when his young wife was battling cancer.
Staff brutality like this takes place on a regular basis. When I was news editor, I was asked to attend several News International seminars organised by HR where the chief theme was, “How to Sack Your Staff and Not Give Them a Pay-off”.
The irony of that, given my current position, is not lost on me!
I console myself with the memory of being called as a witness to one sacking and telling them, in front of their intended victim, exactly what I thought of their bogus 'disciplinary'.
I expect Leveson to push all our problems to the surface and we ignore them at our peril.
It remains to be seen if the Inquiry is up to the job of course but we must hope that it is.
I have a few early criticisms.
A few random, crank witnesses seem to have been called merely because they are visible. Peter Burden was an obvious one. Everything he related to the Inquiry was based on supposition and hearsay. The fact that he had written a book based on all of this seemed bizarrely to qualify him as an expert witness. And the Inquiry lapped up his bile.
But it was Paul McMullan’s appearance which did most to damage the credibility of Leveson and his team.
They smiled indulgently as he poured out his vicious parody of tabloid journalism. Worse, they failed to step in when he began to hurl unfounded allegations against Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, seriously prejudicing any possible criminal proceedings against them.
When I took the stand and offered an alternative account, it was met with sneers.
The Leveson Inquiry must avoid at all costs the nervous belief that its raison d'être will only been served if it finds fault with us and that many millions of pounds of public funds will have been wasted if he concludes nothing is amiss in the tabloid world.
The biggest sneer of all was reserved for the meeting room immediately before my appearance when Robert Jay QC introduced himself and announced that in his opinion, the News of the World was ‘nothing but smut’.
I felt like Cinderella being mocked by one of the Ugly Sisters for her shabby clothes.
You may or may not agree with him. But on that day, I began to suspect the Inquiry had a pre-conceived conclusion of what tabloid journalism is about before it had heard the evidence. I hope not.
Certainly, Lord Justice Leveson looked strangely unfamiliar with our management structures when he appeared bewildered by my assertion that a chief reporter would have no influence upon whether or not video footage of Max Mosley should be up-loaded to our website and whether Mr Mosley should or should not be contacted prior to publication.
That would be like me assuming it will be one of Lord Justice Leveson’s solicitors who will be reaching conclusions, making recommendations and writing a report when the Inquiry ends and not the learned man himself.
The Inquiry needs to get a firm grip on how newspaper decisions are made and who makes them if it is to have any real understanding of how our industry works and make any meaningful criticisms of it.
Further evidence of an adversarial approach to those who defend tabloid journalism came from David Sherborne, the lawyer representing the Dowler family and other victims of the News of the World's phone hacking.
At the Inquiry he waved a piece of paper, Chamberlain style, which he inferred was evidence of my criminal activity. I am certain I am aware of what this piece of paper contains and so are the police and it is nothing of the sort. I brought it to the attention of Simon Greenberg and Bill Akass at News International in April 2011 at a meeting and later in a memo.
It has long been understood that you can libel someone by innuendo. But if you can substantially prejudice potential criminal proceedings against someone by innuendo, then this was surely a fine example.
It is perhaps too much for us to expect a blemish free Inquiry during thousands of hours and millions of spoken and written words.
The calibre and quality of the Leveson Inquiry team is impeccable.
But they must ensure they give no-one the excuse to brand it a “circus” or “anti-tabloid”, words which have already been bandied about a little too often.
We need a tabloid press. It is a massive force for good, as the Daily Mail’s bold coverage of the Stephen Lawrence murder has shown.
We need Leveson to allow us to see ourselves as we are, to move on and reform. And there must be the desire within us to do so.
But he must ensure the mirror he holds before us is shining and true and not a twisted fairground distortion.