Thursday, 7 July 2011

It's the End of the (News of the) World As We Know It

Well I thought up this not that imaginative title on the drive home from work today and was so pleased with myself decided I had to use it, even though what I really wanted to talk about wasn't the NOTW. Nope, I actually wanted to moan about some claptrap I read in the paper yesterday. Having conjured up such a terrible play on words I thought of canning the job and applying to the NOTW themselves for a job, but then remembered they aren't hiring. Ever again.

Today saw the end of the paper's 168 year history of low-end investigative journalism. I'm not going to miss it, but lots of people will. Why? Because we are a snoopy lot who live our vicarious lives of iniquity, perversion and nefarious activities from the comfort of our judgemental breakfast table on a Sunday morning. The only thing we Brits love more than a feel-good story or the building up of a hero is some good old fashioned scandal and watching someone be torn down. Bad news sells in this country and the press know it.

You might say the NOTW broke the golden rule - they got caught. Not that they didn't try to hide it. Totally false submissions to Parliament, imprisoned employees hung out to dry as scapegoats and the mystery of a full police investigation that yielded no evidence of wrongdoing from a press room that looked as guilty as a puppy sitting next to a pile of poo, to borrow a phrase. One wonders if the subsequent 6 or so full-public-judge-led-inquries (still obsessed with these I see) that are being demanded will find any link between the apparent inability of the plod to find any naughtiness at the NOTW and the fact that the same paper has illegally paid the police more for information for stories than Parliament could conjure up expenses for in a whole year.

Not only did they get caught though, more importantly they got caught meddling in lives of the little people. This is where they fatally misjudged the public. We like to see rich people fall, famous people fall. If someone finds out Max Moseley likes peculiar officially-not-Nazi-but-still-definitely-dodgy sex, NOTW readers lap it up, and those who purchase the Sun, the Mirror and any other red top. In fact, lots of the broadsheet readers probably are more interested than they'd care to admit. They don't desperately care that it came via not the most upright of methods. When they find out which footballer is cheating on his wife because of a phone tap, again they just enjoy the scandal.

However this week it emerged they fucked with "our boys" - the military - their mourning families and other families who suffered newsworthy loss. Sainsbury, O2 et al did not pull their advertising (making the NOTW economically unviable overnight) when it became obvious in 2008 that NOTW were engaging in illicit activities, notably phone hacking. Why? Because the people concerned were considered newsworthy - the means justified the end - the people's desire to hear gossip about Sienna Miller etc easily outranked any qualms they had over the illegal means by which said gossip was garnered. But this time advertisers fled like rats from a sinking ship when the NOTW got caught messing with the little people.

It is perhaps our saving grace as a nation. We are not total misanthropes. What motivated us to search for ill in those whose lives are better than ours is simple envy, not an innate desire to see all mankind suffer. It appears we draw the line on a relative scale. Breaking the law isn't cool in the eyes of the British when it hurts those whom they consider worse off than themselves.  Not a ringing endorsement, but maybe the court of public opinion finally came out with a correct judgement. Maybe people power shut down NOTW. It's a nice thought, even if it is far more likely it was just political posturing to salvage the multi-billion pound BSKYB deal...

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