Monday, 30 January 2012

News Int Committee Will Break Up the Firm

SATURDAY’S desperate meltdown on the Sun was a crisis waiting to happen.
And as long as News International’s ill-fated Management and Standards Committee continues to exist, it will happen again and again. Until the balance tips and it is either forced to close or is sold off.
Either way, many in the industry now believe there won’t be a Murdoch owned Sun for much longer.
And with the collective losses of the Times and the Sunday Times running at £45 million to the year ending June 2010 and £87.7 million the year before, the likely outcome is that all three titles would be sold off as a more financially attractive package.
The formation of the committee was misguided from the start and is forcing News International to implode.
If you put any newspaper in the world under such microscopic scrutiny, you will find evidence of wrong-doing somewhere along the line or in its past which will be sufficient to embarrass it. Especially if it is then handed to its competitors and the police.
The committee certainly didn’t expect to virtually decapitate the management structure at the Sun.
But it should have done and was naïve to think it was going to be involved in a simple face washing exercise in public before announcing all was well.
A captain of industry once said to me that he believed most small to medium sized businesses go through a brief period of trading whilst insolvent at some time in their history.
And if the police and a team of accountants put each company’s financial history under the microscope, most financial directors would be locked up.
So it is with newspapers and the temptation to push the boundaries of what is acceptable in the desire to gather information in a highly competitive market.
In the high pressure environment of News International, men were tempted to go one step too far. Not many, but in sufficient numbers and levels of seniority to destabilise the company if it became public.
Again it was suicidal naivety for the Management and Standards Committee to ignore this as a possible outcome.
Add to their naivety a huge dose of over-zealous, careless analysis of the evidence and you get a Matt Nixson situation.
Fired by the committee for committing an ‘illegal’ act, a committee member then began a campaign to beg the police to arrest him. To no avail. The police weren’t remotely interested.
No law had been broken but Matt’s career has. Disgraceful.
I notice that the four men at the Sun who were arrested were questioned on suspicion of “aiding and abetting misconduct in a public office”.
This doesn’t sound like paying police officers to me which is covered under the 1906 Prevention of Corruption Act.
The Management and Standards Committee has been trawling through reporters’ expenses going back years.
One reporter was asked why he had been buying drinks for police officers.
The answer is to get a good crime story out of them, of course
Now if that’s “aiding and abetting misconduct in a public office”, then we might as well all pack up and retrain as astronauts.
The outcome of the police investigation into the Sun four will be critical not only for those journalists but also the careers and credibility of those on the committee.
When I was accused of hacking Gordon Taylor’s phone in 2009, I handed News of the World executives the evidence that it wasn’t me but others.
If they’d acted on that instead of sitting on it and clinging to the ‘rogue reporter’ defence, there would have been no continuous media outrage, no political pressure, no second police investigation, no arrests, no sackings, no News of the World closure, no Management and Standards Committee, no Leveson and the Sun would not be looking over the precipice.
News International’s chief fault has always been its inability to self-criticise, preferring to self-aggrandise.
That fault lay at the heart of the events of 2009. And it lies there still.
It will take until the moment they are switching off the lights at Wapping or handing the keys to someone else before they realise they have lost the trust of the readers and now the staff and are embarked on a Kamikaze mission which will end not only in their own destruction but that of thousands of loyal and talented staff who have done no wrong and deserve better from their employer.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Thankyou 25,000 Times

GREETINGS from the ‘Umble, ‘Ovel on the ‘Ill, from where this blog is penned.
We have just passed the 25,000 hit mark, which takes us flying past the Isle of Arran Shoemakers’ Monthly, the Hansom Cab Lamp Fitters’ Gazette and leaves us just a tad behind the BBC Home Service Guide to Your Favourite Wireless Stars.
We really are going places you see!
And to celebrate this millstone (Surely 'milestone'? Ed) this blog will be undergoing a fabulous re-launch to take us hurtling forward into the modern steam age.
My chum Juliet is working on dummies now and I must say they are extremely impressive. Even my picture no longer looks like a cross between Kim Philby and Stan Laurel.
In 1987, I met with Quentin Crisp, who I hope needs no introduction.
I asked him why he had shamelessly flaunted his homosexuality in the 1930s when it was punishable with a beating on the streets or a spell in jail.
Staring back at me, through the mirror he was using to fix his make-up, he replied: “If you are going to urinate in public, at least learn to do it in style.”
Thankyou for reading.
Neville T
Stan Laurel 1890-1965
Neville Thurlbeck 1961-

“Draining the Swamp” – Et tu, Brute!

IT’S SAD News International had to describe the arrests of Sun men Chris Pharo, Graham Dudman, Fergus Shanahan and the legendary crime editor Mike Sullivan as, ‘draining the swamp’.
Notwithstanding the allegations, this is a deeply offensive comment on nearly 100 years of journalistic excellence and dedication to News International.
As ever, the stab in the back is given to the press anonymously as News International attempts to wash its face in the anguished perspiration of those who gave their lives to it. They did this to me too last year.
They and those who collude with this approach are fast becoming reviled in our small industry.
In 1998, I was accused of the very same business as these four men are today.
Then, Rupert Murdoch backed me to the hilt. To the tune of £360,000 in legal fees. With the promise of keeping my job even if I went to jail by two of his most senior lieutenants.
(Which is why I found it odd he should say he’d never heard of me to the CMS Committee last year.)
I rang one of these lieutenants to seek their reassurance and got it.
Another said publicly at a champagne ‘do’ in the editor’s office to celebrate my acquittal, that my future had never been in doubt. “Rupert was behind you all the way. That’s why I could give you my assurance that your job was always safe,” the person told me and the assembled group of a dozen or so executives.
So you see, I know how bogus News International’s position is and the outrage it now affects.
The decision to let me continue had to be sanctioned at the very highest level. That man, Rupert Murdoch, is still there.
In 1998, I was allowed to continue in my post for 18 months while on police bail on the principle that I was innocent until proven guilty.
The following year, I went on to win Scoop of the Year at the British Press Awards and given a series of pay rises which eventually made me one of the highest paid reporters at News International.
All while still on police bail and awaiting trial.
I suspect for these four men, their feet won’t touch the ground, so quickly will they be thrown from the building and then to the wolves.
And instead of trying to build a case for their defence, their employer will search every corner for what it believes to be evidence of their guilt and run gleefully to the police with it.
With Matt Nixson, they were begging the police to arrest him after they dismissed him for alleged wrong-doing frantically waving all sorts of tripe evidence.
Humiliatingly, the police weren’t remotely interested.
Back to the repugnant metaphor, ‘draining the swamp’.
News International would have us conveniently forget it is it which created the situation it now finds itself in.
Let’s be clear about this, it is the organisation itself which is the swamp.
And no amount of feigned outrage will persuade us otherwise.
As I said ten days ago in my blog ‘News International’s Crisis of Trust – The Readers’, the company is like a porcelain cup which has broken and come back from the invisible menders. No one will ever feel confident when they sup from it again.
Tread lightly on these men’s reputations. They earned them through hard graft to make your owner rich. And keep you in a nice, safe job.
Good luck to all of you on The Sun.
Let the courts condemn. Not the court jesters.

Friday, 27 January 2012

J B Priestley Makes an Entrance

J B PRIESTLEY, a name once fondly recalled by virtually anyone of any sensibility in Britain, but now lying in a quiet literary siding, suddenly sprang from the news pages this week.
Priestley had turned down a peerage and a Companion of Honour, we learned.
J B Priestley 1894-1984
Few were surprised. An ardent, old-style, intellectual socialist, he was as far to the left as Tony Benn is today. Priestley was no Establishment lackey.
He died in 1984 when he was almost 90. But even those in their 40s will be able to recall his TV broadcasts. Like the historian AJP Taylor, he could address lofty themes and make them not only understandable, but hugely entertaining to the average man.
Which makes his current obscurity slightly baffling.
The same fate befell Sir Laurence Olivier. Feted as the greatest actor of the 20th century, when he died in 1989, ITN ran a 25 minute news bulletin on News at Ten.
That sentence is worth repeating. When he died, ITN ran a 25 minute news bulletin.
Now he is regarded as very old hat. Even old ham. Too declamatory for those who prefer their actors to grunt, mumble and swagger across the screen as they do in the BBC's version of Birdsong this week.
During his centenary year in 2007, I studied the TV listings expecting some form of major tribute. Nothing.
Priestley’s sudden fall from grace among the fashionable literati can be traced to the time when Old Labour was cast into ignominy first by the electorate and then by the Labour party itself.
Like Olivier, he suddenly became dated simply because he was wedded to an old style. And there is nothing as unfashionable as the last style to be ditched. Better to wear a frock coat and a top hat than platform shoes and a kipper tie, heaven forbid.
My journey to Esher library today illustrates my point.
I wanted to re-read his English Journey. Printed in 1934, it was a journal of his journey through England in the autumn of 1933. It was a masterful and seminal piece of social commentary.
Sadly they didn’t have a copy. Worse, there were only three copies in the whole of Surrey. The one at Guildford was lost and the other two were in remote, rural outposts.
I did try and my cuttings service is not what it once was, so please bear with me!
What I do remember about this book was its astonishing relevance to today.
The character, the attitudes, hopes and aspirations of a nation are little different from now.
It’s not what has changed in England but what has remained the same which is part of its joy.
As a reporter, I travelled to most of the places Priestley described and they were reassuringly similar.
In Birmingham, he describes a queue of scores of working class people filing into a hall to sit around tables and play bridge with packs of "greasy" cards for money.
They never break into a smile and every move is calculated to win the next thruppence.
It wasn’t until 1960 when Bingo made its first entry into Britain.
But in 1933, the populace were still determined to have a flutter on the way from the factory to the hearth.
There is the overwhelming sense of, “T’was ever thus” in Priestley's work.
The costumes and set might have changed but the characters remain the same.
It’s a theme I will return to another time.
For now, let’s hope JB Priestley’s principled stand on establishment baubles nearly half a century ago propels him back onto the reading map.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

In Defence of Mazher Mahmood

AN INVESTIGATIVE reporter of the calibre of Mazher Mahmood will always be required to rub shoulders with disreputable and unscrupulous contacts.

His admission to the Leveson Inquiry today raised many eyebrows when he said: "Most of the people I deal with would be regarded as unreliable witnesses. I've had front page splashes from crack addicts.

“We do use unreliable people all the time but it's information that is important, that we vet and check thoroughly.”

As well as crack addicts, you can add to that list porn merchants, robbers, muggers, petty thieves, protection racketeers and even paedophiles.

These are the unwholesome types we must deal with every day and are listed in the contacts book of every undercover journalist worth his or her salt - tabloid or broadsheet.

They are not the sort of people you want around your dinner table. But if one says, “I know a teacher who is selling drugs to his pupils and I’ll introduce you to him”, he becomes interesting.

And once you have evaluated and proved the tip and it’s in the newspaper, he becomes invaluable.

Undercover journalists exposing crime don’t get their stories from school librarians or nursery nurses. They get them from hard boiled crooks with scores to settle.

Focusing on one crazy act of folly when he was a junior reporter nearly a quarter of a century ago makes his media detractors look small.

It's time we considered this ‘conviction’ to be well and truly spent.

To his credit, Maz has managed to escape the horrendous fall-out from the phone hacking scandal and has taken his formidable skills to the Sunday Times.

How many of his detractors in the media could claim to have won the Reporter of the Year award twice and Scoop of the Year at the British Press Awards?


Maybe they are talking to the wrong people.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

War Horse by the National Theatre. Review.

Kate Colebrook as Emilie with the puppet stars
FORGET the film – go see the play.
The National Theatre’s gripping and devastating production saw many in the capacity audience rise to their feet as the curtain fell. Dozens were crying.
It has been many years since I have witnessed this in the West End.
The puppetry is brilliant and magical and clever lighting makes them almost real.
And the eerily accurate study in equine mannerisms is a huge credit  to horse choreographer Toby Sedgwick.
If the National Theatre’s production had stopped here, it would have had a sell-out show on its hands.
But Michael Morpugo’s book, from which this was adapted, takes it onto a sublime level.
This is the pain of war on the innocents.
The suffering is magnified through the prism of a child’s eye but is never mawkish or sentimental.
Stand-out performances include 21-year-old Jack Holden as Albert, the boy who loses his beloved horse Joey to the Western Front in World War I. He manages to portray a tender love which is as strong as steel. A difficult task artfully accomplished
Alex Avery as Captain Nichols plays the courageous, patriotic officer which was so typical of his generation but without falling into stereotype.
Robert Horwell’s performance as Sgt Thunder provides much needed comic relief, taking the audience on an emotional roller-coaster ride from despair to belly-laughter in seconds.
And then there is Goose. The cantankerous puppet so amused the audience, it got a special cheer at the curtain call.
The direction of Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris has a light touch and we are never left feeling conned by the tug on our heart.
A few years ago, I had the privilege of hearing Morpugo discussing his work at the Hay Literature Festival.  He explained that as a war baby, the family tragedies, the fears, the uncertainty and violence in the skies above him had been seared into his frightened imagination.
In War Horse, he manages to unlock this fear and convert it into a childlike, un-jingoistic comment on war as serious as Sheriff’s Journey’s End and Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front.
There will be nothing to outclass this show on the West End all year.

* War Horse is at the New London Theatre, Drury Lane, London WC2B 5PW and is booking until February 16, 2013.
For tickets and times, go here:

Thursday, 19 January 2012

News International's Crisis of Trust - The Staff

THERE WAS one extra person to settle a phone hacking claim against News International today, I can reveal.
It was Cornelia Crisan, the former lover of actor Ralph Fiennes.
A spokesman for Olswang, News International’s lawyers, said: “Crisan has settled but there was no statement in open court in that settlement, which may be why it has not been reported. However, the settlement order has been signed by the judge.”

I am still trying to find out how much she settled for.
But the background to this story reveals the hidden dangers for all News International journalists.
In February, 2006, I was dispatched by a newsdesk executive to intercept Ms Crisan on a train and put to her an allegation that she had been conducting an affair with Fiennes.
I did so, alighted then wrote a few pars of copy. From memory she refused to comment.
That was my total and complete involvement.
What I didn’t know was that Ms Crisan was selling her story to the Sunday People and the Mail on Sunday through the publicist Max Clifford.
And that the News of the World had hacked the phone of Max Clifford’s assistant Nicola Phillips in order to steal her story.
(The same executive who dispatched me by the way was the same one who dispatched me to put allegations to Gordon Taylor. You may see a pattern emerging here.)
Back to Ms Crisan.
While that executive hid from the legal fallout once again, I was subjected to a High Court action.
News Group Newspapers and Glenn Mulcaire were accused by Ms Crisan’s lawyers of hacking her phone.
I and a fellow reporter were accused of, “deliberate and intentional harassment of the Claimant by the Third and Fourth Defendant at the direction of and while in the employ of the First Defendant”.
In plain language, the allegation was our boss at News International instructed us to ask Ms Crisan some questions in the course of gathering information for a story. And that this amounted to harassment.
The financial claim was £25,000-£50,000. Plus eye watering costs which could amount to hundreds of thousands of pounds. Plus the very expensive legal advice I needed right up to today’s resolution.
As there was no criminal allegation against me, in the normal course of events, one would expect a big newspaper group to back their former journalist with legal representation.
Not so News International.
My request to Will Lewis, the general manager at News International went nowhere. As did my request to human resources director Derrick Crowley.
I even tried News International’s lawyers Olswang myself. Lawyer Dan Tench tried but failed to obtain approval to represent me. It was all down to me. My legal costs, Crisan’s legal costs if we fought it and lost. Then damages.
And all simply because I asked a woman a question on a train, in the normal course of my work, on the instructions of my news desk.
This will have dramatic implications for all staff at News International, especially reporters and photographers.
It shows News International no longer consider they have a duty of care to their staff.
People like Will Lewis have made News International a dangerous place to work and an unlikely choice of career move for anyone of any quality in our industry any more.
There is a growing perception that top down, systematic corruption, as revealed in court today, could see you robbed of your job, your house and your liberty.
And News International will walk away and leave you to it.

News International's Crisis of Trust - The Readers

THE MOST damaging allegation to emerge against News International today was that its directors took part in an orchestrated cover-up of criminal wrong-doing and sought to destroy incriminating evidence.

The senior executives stand accused of, "deliberately deceiving investigators and destroying evidence".

If this is the case, we can expect some more very high profile arrests.
News International isn't even bothering to contest this claim by the lawyers of phone hacking victims, which tells us a lot. 

It comprehensively destroys the company’s posturing as New News Int as opposed to Old News Int.
By closing down the News of the World, removing Rebekah Brooks, conducting a witch-hunt against its staff and secretly briefing against them in the manner of the playground coward, it had hoped to do just that.
It tried to pretend it was now a completely different company and nothing to do with the nasty fellows on the News of the World.
But we now learn the same directors who faked this posture were at the same time swimming around in a soup of evidence of criminal activity.
It is this chronic lack of good corporate governance which will hole the ship.
Much more evidence against News International will come in the future.
I worked there from 1988 onwards and I am aware of executives who witnessed practices which would send the share price crashing through the floor.
I expect much of this to come out in industrial tribunals and High Court actions by former members of staff.
But it is the irrevocable loss of trust which could sink it.
Like Jack Profumo doling out gruel at an East End soup kitchen or Richard Nixon on a round of speaking engagements, we may come to accept News International as no more than an interesting but flawed side-show.
But as we would no more think of voting either man back into office, so the readers will never think of trusting News International again.
This is the battle that News International faces in the long term and it is one they will lose. The titles will be sold when Murdoch senior passes on – at the latest.
I have spoken to many current senior executives at News International over the past weeks. Many say they cannot get out quick enough. But no one is interested in having them.
I witnessed the coal-mines and shipyards of Sunderland closing down for good after centuries of proud, world famous history in the 1970s and 80s. Many serving and retired workers cried at the time. I now understand where their cries came from. It is a sense of failure that everything you have worked for all your life has suddenly turned to dust and didn’t work out.
News International is like a perfectly formed porcelain cup which has shattered into pieces. In a few years time, it may come back from the invisible menders looking shiny and new. But no one will ever truly feel confident when they sup from it again.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

When Rupert Spiked the Splash

THERE has been a request on the blog for examples of stories where a lot of time and money was spent getting nowhere.
Examples are rare but I can think of a couple.
The problem here of course is because the stories didn’t go through our rigorous legal process, it would be fatal to name the stars involved.
The celebrities will sue and yours truly will be forced out of his ‘umble ‘ovel in the ‘ills and into the workhouse.
So, with that in mind, here is heroic failure number one.
In September 2005, I was dispatched to Austria to prove an A list celebrity was conducting an extra-marital affair with a beautiful young socialite.
Because of the nature of the investigation, I had to stay in the Hotel Schloss Pichlarn in Irdning – for five weeks. It was a five star hotel and not inexpensive.
Photographs were taken and affidavits sought and obtained from several witnesses including a taxi driver. A tape recorded interview was obtained from a police officer who had moonlighted as a body guard.
The girl was traced and she was persuaded to come on side.
She was interviewed and every minute piece of proof was combed over.
Then more pictures of the girl with make-up artists flown out to give her a final bit of polish.
Finally, a lawyer was sent from London  to handle the swearing of the affidavits in case an Austrian lawyer blabbed and leaked  our big scoop.
And all of the above had to be translated into English!
All this cost tens of thousands of pounds of course.
But this was nothing compared to the impact the story would have had worldwide.
It never saw the light of day.
The celebrity in question was in litigation with us on another matter. It was entering delicate stages and we didn’t want to damage the resolution process.
Story spiked. I came home.
But this pales into insignificance compared to the experience of Phil Taylor, my former colleague and good friend.
In 2002, Phil’s mission was to prove that the wife of one of the most famous celebrities on the planet had a secret past as a high class prostitute.
Phil, one of the best reporters I’ve come across, spent months travelling all over the world using his considerable skills persuading and cajoling her former mesdames, clients and friends to help him prove his story.
It was a daunting task. But he succeeded. The story was certain to land him Scoop of the Year.
Phil was writing up his story in the office when the editor Rebekah Wade, now Brooks, went out for lunch with Rupert Murdoch.
She returned with a face like a double bass.
Phil was summoned to Rebekah’s office. The story was being spiked and she was extremely sorry but she couldn’t explain why. As a consolation, he was told he could take a holiday anywhere in the world with his family at the company’s expense. He went to Jamaica I believe.
Rebekah was as devastated as Phil. But she kept her word and never revealed why she pulled the story.
The explanation  behind this will agitate those of you who hate proprietary interference.
A senior executive later told me that Rupert had asked her not to run it.
Years beforehand  in the early 1990s when Rupert was launching Sky, he was hemorrhaging cash left, right and centre as the infant satellite broadcaster barely spluttered into life.
Rupert had staked his family fortune on the venture and for a period, it looked like he might go under. Hard to believe now, but for those of us at News International at the time, we feared he might.
The multi-millionaire celebrity in question injected much needed cash.
Rupert never forgot it and the story was pulled.
Should we criticise him for it?
Unconditional loyalty to friends and those who give you a hand up when you are down is a priceless human virtue.
It shows the common humanity of the man.
It’s what always set Rupert Murdoch apart from Robert Maxwell.

Monday, 16 January 2012

The Day Rupert Murdoch Spiked the News of the World Splash

TOMORROW I will post a blog on the day Rupert Murdoch asked his News of the World editor to spike the main splash of the week.

Can we have nominations for which editor had to dump one of the biggest stories of the decade?

A Piers Morgan.

B Phil Hall

C Rebekah Wade

D Andy Coulson

E Colin Myler

Sunday, 15 January 2012

7,000 Not Out

Much popping of Newcastle Brown Ale corks tonight in the scullery of my hovel in the hills where this humble blog is penned.
Thanks to you, dear readers, we have surpassed the 7,000 hit mark in just 20 days.
And so we leave the Isle of Arran Shoemakers’ Monthly trailing in our wake and have the Hansom Cab Lamp Fitters’ Gazette firmly fixed in our sights.
Thanks too for all your emails.
Could I ask that instead of emailing, you post on the blog, even anonymously?
Like the stand-up comic, we bloggers crave feedback from our audience.
The late and very great Frankie Howerd once said there was nothing  more annoying  than people who chuckle silently, their chests heaving with mirth but uttering nothing as much as a hoot. (The punchline to this gag incidentally was, “Listen missus, no please, yes you missus, yes! Get your titters out!")
More of Frankie – and our meetings -  another time.
And so it is with me and your much valued comments. I do not seek your approval, just your opinion.  And an email to me is like a silent titter to Frankie!
Unless of course it is confidential. I’ve had a few of those and I’ll look carefully at them. One of them was especially eye watering!
Otherwise, your emails will add to the debate enormously if you put them on the blog instead.

You can be as pro or anti tabloid/Thurlbeck as you wish. Just be clean and legal.
Apologies for the design of this blog. The erstwhile head of PR at the News of the World  informed me on Friday over a thimble or two that the layout  is, “Frankly rubbish!” and looked a bit cross about it. I promised to do something about it.
Now where's my bottle opener?

Friday, 13 January 2012

The David Beckham Scoop

ALTHOUGH sensational scoops do not mean sensational sales, there is always the exception to the rule.

The News of the World’s ‘David Beckham’s Secret Affair’ splash is one of them.

That scoop, in April 2004, put on more than 600,000 sales and it defined Andy Coulson’s editorship and won Scoop of the Year.

For that, we paid Rebecca Loos a hefty six figure sum.

My expenses alone amounted to precisely £45,285.38.

This was because the operation was carried out in such secrecy, we didn’t even want to trust any agencies with our travel itineraries in case they were leaked.

That meant I had to fork out personally for everything, including return flights to Australia and hotel rooms there for six weeks for myself and a female contact.

Then there was six weeks in Spain with Rebecca Loos. Hotel rooms for both of us for four weeks plus the hire of a secluded villa in Sotogrande for two weeks where we hid Rebecca from the world’s press who were trying to find her.

Then hire cars, meals for the girls etc. It was hellishly expensive and it all went on my Amex card.

The managing editor Stuart Kuttner, a forensic examiner of expenses, signed off every one for me.

With Stuart, trust was everything and if you lost his trust, you never got it back. Fortunately, we had a very good working relationship.

The cost of the enterprise was more than off-set by the leap in sales. And the worldwide syndication ensured we made a very healthy profit.

Under the noses of the assembled paparazzi, I spirited Rebecca away in the dead of night from her home in Madrid, kick-starting weeks of painstaking work on proving her story was true.

And no, it wasn’t phone hacking which nailed it.

I’m afraid the proof boiled down to a two word diary entry which I found in a cardboard box.

We were just about to call it a day and come home when I unearthed the crucial evidence.

Suddenly I was in a conference call with the editor Andy Coulson, his deputy Neil Wallis, legal manager Tom Crone and an outside barrister.

A few hours later, the presses began to roll.

I’m sure this is interesting to some and tiresome to others.

There is a whole chapter here if anyone is interested. Let me know if you think there is a readership.

It would also be interesting to analyse why this particular story had ingredients which sent sales soaring when other tabloid scoops we think “sensational” have no effect at all. All thoughts appreciated.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

My Thanks

I'VE HAD many very sincere good wishes since I put my email address on my profile. I have thanked you all personally and privately.

My colleagues especially make me feel ashamed for being such an unsociable bugger over the years! I'm humbled and extremely grateful.

The goodwill of strangers I don't deserve. But I thank you nontheless.

As of now, the total readership of the dozen blogs has reached 5,996.

For the past few minutes, I've been waiting for it to teeter over the 6,000 mark to make a really sensational splash headline. But all to no avail alas as you have all fallen asleep with boredom.

Don't you realise I've now got as many readers as the Isle of Arran Shoemakers' Monthly? Show some respect, perlease!

I will try to be relevant and failing that, at least interesting. If I fail in either respect, I'm sure I will be hearing from you!

Judging by the Twitter followers, many of you are London based media types.  So to broaden this blog a little, I will be doing some theatre reviews at the Rose Theatre, Kingston-upon-Thames which is a dynamic little venue set up by Sir Peter Hall.

I will extend this to include the Wimbledon Theatre, Richmond Theatre and the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford, Surrey. Another of my favourite venues is the Soho Theatre in the West End and I am currently in touch with them too about reviewing their productions.

Back to media matters. I'll do a follow-up tomorrow on my 'Scoops and Sales' blog and give you an insight on the story that proved to be the exception to the rule - The David Beckham Secret Affair investigation.

Thanks for following me and my ramblings. Adieu for now.


Matt Nixson

HERE IS the latest on Matt Nixson's fight to clear his name:

As the police have declared publicly they aren't remotely interested in even speaking to Matt about his email, one has to assume that if there is any illegality involved, it is of such a miniscule nature as to not even warrant the police spending money on petrol to visit his home.

News International have betrayed many of their staff and sacrificed many careers of loyal and long serving people.

Non moreso than Matt Nixson.

News International have schooled and instructed their reporters for decades on how to tell everyone with a good story, 'We pay the best in the business and we can pay cash so your boss won't find out'. I could speak for hours about these lessons.

This was our mantra. And one we were encouraged to chant every day of the week to contacts from most walks of life.

But they are now faking mock outrage and turning the guns on their staff while many of the tutors of this modus operandi are still in place.

And they are trawling through their staff's emails to find evidence of their pernicious education in order to hand their students over to the police.

The fake outrage is all part of a pretence that the News International of today is a totally different company from the News International of yesterday in the mode of New Labour/Old Labour.

But the deceit and hypocrisy is palpable to the media community and beyond.

Fortunately, this type of propaganda is as believable as 'Comical Ali' during the invasion of Iraq.

Sadly, no aspiring journalist or media executive could ever hope to apply for a job and place his or her future in the hands of this firm with any confidence any more.

It is rapidly becoming a very rare phenomenon indeed - a pariah company. And I say this with a heavy heart.

More of this later.

Back to Matt.

I had the privilege of working alongside Matt and he is one of finest journalists from the News International stable.

He also happens to be one of the nicest.

It will take time. But he will clear his name and he will get his compensation.

Matt will be back.

Scoops and Sales

MAIL on Sunday editor Peter Wright delivered valuable information to the Leveson Inquiry yesterday when he revealed that exclusive scoops do not translate into increased sales.
It is important for Leveson to seize this point to eliminate any suspicion that editors are tempted to push against the boundaries of truth and profit from their inaccuracies.
I can think of many times on the News of the World when we broke stories which were followed around the world yet resulted in disappointing sales.
One of our biggest stories of the 1990s was when we exposed Jeffrey Archer for fabricating his alibi during the Monica Coughlan libel trial.
The investigation led to Archer’s jailing and a string of awards.
Sales flatlined.
Weeks of work and thousands of pounds went into exposing the first scandal of the supposedly squeaky clean Labour government who promised to rid politics of the sleaze which had dogged the Major years.
Within weeks of being elected in 1997, we revealed that the new Foreign Secretary Robin Cook was having an affair with his secretary and brought them crashing down from the moral high ground.
Sales dipped.
Editors realise that core sales are governed by reader loyalty and readers aren’t blown about from newspaper to newspaper according to the daily news agenda.
They tend to pick a paper for its general waft and weft and stick with it.
When an editor is sizing up the importance of a story and whether it should hit the front page, he isn’t thinking of how many sales it will generate and the extra revenue it will pull in.
His mindset is much more prosaic. He is thinking, “Is this a good story?”
Ken Loach said much the same thing yesterday about film directors. They don’t make films to make money. They are artists who make films for their own enjoyment.
The same can be said for editors. They are journalists who print stories which excite them.
And if they make money for their film studio or proprietor, it is because they are particularly good at their craft.

Monday, 9 January 2012

My Damascene Conversion?

THE GUARDIAN'S very charming and persuasive Lisa O'Carroll reported extensively on my blog last week here:

Lest people really do believe Lisa's claim that I have undergone a Damascene conversion, my very close friends are already bored with this blog, saying, "You've been banging on about this for years!"

I'd also like to think I was issuing words of advice to a wayward old friend rather than "launching a scathing attack" on him!

Thankyou for taking the time to read this blog in the numbers you have (5,327 as of 8.10pm tonight). We are all in this debate together, friends and foes alike.

And whatever your opinion, I will publish it. Just keep it clean and legal.

Leveson. Mackenzie v Mohan

IT WAS good to see Kelvin Mackenzie and Dominic Mohan on the same stage today.
One, a garrulous, cavalier batsman and redoubtable lobber of exploding hand grenades.
The other, a pensive, calm strategist with an undertaker’s demeanour and a bank manager’s eye for detail.
They are both brilliant editors. Yet one of the only things they have in common is a sniper’s instinct for whom to target on the news agenda.
Otherwise baggy trousered Kelvin and pointy shoed Dominic are different beasts in our jungle.
But their vastly different styles are an indication of how tabloid journalism is already on the move down the road of reform.
Kelvin was undoubtedly one of the most gifted tabloid editors of all time.
But he had the luxury of a much clearer pitch to play on.
A modern editor must negotiate the obstacles of privacy, super-injunctions, no win no fee libel actions, Parliamentary scrutiny and now Leveson.
All this demands a supreme tactician. A brigadier rather than a bombardier.
Add to that my recurring theme that young people do not understand or want us anymore and you need an editor who listens to the heartbeat of his younger readers like never before.
Mohan went some way towards indicating that he gets this point when he said:  "I like to describe the paper as celebrating modern life and that it's 2012 rather than pining for and wishing it is 1955 again, which I think is what a number of other papers do."
It is one of the reasons why the Sun is still regularly picked up by the under 25s. You even see the odd one floating around in university JCRs.
The Murdoch preference for gung-ho editors like Kelvin Mackenzie, Derek Jameson and Piers Morgan has been replaced by shrewder operators.
Tabloid veterans may pine for Kelvin’s blazing front pages which lit up the news agenda every morning.
But it is to the likes of Mohan that we must invest our hopes for the future.
All red-tops follow and mimic the Sun.
And it falls on the modern man at the top to show them the new tabloid style.
So when Leveson points us in the direction of reform in 12 months time, we can greet it and accept it knowing we are already nearly there.

Notes on Leveson - update

FOLLOWING the statement of Robert Jay QC at this morning's hearing of the Leveson Inquiry, I would like to make the following clarification.

I am pleased to hear Mr Jay does not hold the belief that the News of the World was, 'nothing but smut' and that he was referring only to one particular article. I accept the integrity of what he says as I hope he does when I say this was not the impression I was left with.

Mr Jay is clearly a very able man. But no one is immune from making ambiguous comments.

There are important issues being debated today and I have no wish to get in the way.

I will of course comment on proceedings and will continue to do so in what I consider to be a fair and balanced fashion.

Friday, 6 January 2012

On the Death of Bob Holness

WE ALWAYS remember with affection the small things that really cheered us when we were going through a bad time.
I remember Bob Holness with huge fondness for the welcome relief he brought me during a particularly grim patch.
It was 1984 and Bob was presenting a show called Anything Goes on the BBC World Service.
I was in a tiny village called El Hosh in the middle of the Sudanese savannah, teaching then freelancing.
The famine was sweeping in from Ethiopia. War. Malaria. Mud hut. No TV. Few books.  All very grim.
My only luxury was a short wave radio. And Bob’s avuncular tones and his broad, catholic taste in music was something I looked forward to immensely.
Sometimes in euphoria or melancholia or when we fall in love, we find a piece of music, a melody or a song, which chimes exactly with the way we feel and we cling to it.
In this brief and mercifully unrepeated blue period, a long forgotten song, which is still one of my favourites, began spinning around my head.
It was ‘Goodnight Vienna’ by Jack Buchanan, recorded in 1932.
So for the first and only time in my life, I sent off a postcard with a request to a radio show. And Bob kindly obliged.
Letters took a long time to reach London in those days – four to six weeks – but one baking hot morning in January 1985, a postcard arrived for me at the village post office.
The photograph on the front announced it was from a beaming Bob Holness. The message on the back announced that Jack Buchanan’s ‘Goodnight Vienna’ would be spinning on Bob’s record deck in a few days time and to tune in to the show.
Over a cigarette, Buchanan’s lilting, crooning tones lifted my spirits.
Fast forward 20 years when the old trouper was appearing on an Ant and Dec show and I called him to find out how it was going.
At the end of the chat, I reminded him of my ‘Goodnight Vienna’ request and told him how his show had been a little oasis during a time which, looking back, had been quite depressing.
To my surprise, he remembered the request, telling me his father had owned the record and he had always been intrigued by Buchanan enigmatically changing key towards the end, which indeed he does.
But it was the genuine joy he felt at having made a difference to one person in a remote outpost which really made me warm to the man.
There was much more to Bob Holness than Blockbusters, although that gave him well deserved financial security. There was 50 years of consummate, broadcasting professionalism with a liberal dash of old style charisma.
Bob came from the same school of broadcasting as Brian Johnston, Hubert Gregg, Alan Dell, Malcolm Laycock, Alistair Cooke and Robert Robinson.
When you heard them and followed them you will always miss them when they’ve gone.
And here is ‘Goodnight Vienna’. Listen for the change of key which Bob remembered from his childhood a few bars from the end which seems to change the mood from melancholia to hope and optimism in a beat.
Goodnight Bob.


GOOD morning and thankyou for taking the time to read this blog. There were 1,941 'hits' on the Leveson blog yesterday.

Thanks also for your feedback, both positive and negative. It's a debate and there are many points of view.

All media blogs will be announced on Twitter - @nthurlbeck

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Notes on Leveson and the Need for Tabloid Revolution

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.

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