From hack to Hell and back again

July 7, 2012

Graham Johnson. (2012). Hack: Sex, drugs and scandal from inside the tabloid jungle. London: Simon & Schuster.

Graham Johnson was for years an important member of the Screws of the World news team. His time at the paper predated the phone-hacking scandal, but Hack clearly shows that the culture which led to the criminal behaviour was well-established on the paper.

Johnson owns up to some pretty awful scams himself, including ruining the lives of people who were only featured in the paper to further its commercial success.

At the heart of the paper’s methods was destroying the lives of people who could not fight back. As Johnson puts it, they were usually too poor and powerless to prevent the NotW from giving them a right royal fucking over.

This is a terrible tale of what can happen when a talented reporter goes off the rails. Johnson worked for the News of the World for years and his insider story reveals a rotten culture. So rotten, in fact, that the phone-hacking and police bribery that finally brought the paper undone in July 2011 seem to be the inevitable end-result of endemic corruption and a conscious disregard for morality, ethics and the law. Read the rest of this entry »

Tits and bums behind the paywall: Why bother?

September 20, 2010

Despite the online goss that The Times and Sunday Times have lost a packet since disappearing behind a paywall in July this year, the Murdoch family is intent on pushing the pay-per-view strategy. Scion James has just announced that the juicy tabloid News of the World will put up the paywall in the next few  months.

Why would you bother? TNotW is just about as low rent as you can go without becoming The Truth Weekender or the weirdly named Daily Sport.

These papers rely on a steady diet of soft porn and boast the longest list of escorts and massage parlours ever to grace the classifieds. There’s money in muck for sure, but it’s the kind of NSFW content that you won’t be cruising in the office over morning tea. In any case. you can’t surf it at work; trust me on this, there’ no need to check. If you really want to see some dorky reality star’s ‘ladyboy bits’ you will have to txt ‘Nadia’ to 89560 and the photo will be sent to your smartphone.

But over at TNotW you can see the ‘yummy mummy’ X Factor entrant and alleged hooker ‘Chloe’ dirty dancing on a hidden camera for free – at least for now. And how is TNotW going to sustain its notorious sting operations once it disappears from Google’s searches and expects people to pay for the pleasure of watching a drunk Fergie disgrace herself again, or a low life crook gambling away cricket’s good name.

There’s actually some doubt that ‘racy’ tabloids even have a future. According to blogger-analyst Peter Kirwan, the British tabloids are all heading down the pipes. Layoffs and revenue plunges are not prevented by ‘upskirt’ and ‘down blouse’ journalism.

Circulation, rather than advertising, is the lifeblood of tabloid newspapers. Unlike broadsheets, the red tops make the bulk of their revenues at the newsagents’ counter. Last year, Trinity Mirror’s tabloids generated £460m in revenue. Almost two-thirds of this amount came from copy sales.

Historically, vast print circulations have elevated the most successful tabloids into an elite category of media that could be relied upon to reach the mass market. In the process, the tabloids became a default choice for advertisers.

Unfortunately, the tabloids’ lifeblood is ebbing away. At its peak, in March 1996, The Sun recorded its highest ever full-price circulation of 4,783,359. Today, the paper sells around 3 million copies a day. The Daily Mirror sells 1.2 million copies.

Would the world be worse off if the tabloids were to bite the dust?
Unfortunately for the dedicated band of bloggers who keep an eye on the British tabloids so the rest of us don’t have to are worried they might be out of work if the tabloids close down, or disappear behind more paywall pranks.

As social media enable links to spread faster, more and more people are likely to discover this particular corner of the Internet. But the bloggers themselves have no illusions about their impact.

Chris Spann explains: “We’re not having an impact on the papers – they’re such powerful structures. But for every person who reads something on these blogs or passes it on there’s a groundswell.”

“The four main tabloids we cover are selling, between them, 6 million copies a day,” agrees MacGuffin. “Our blogs can’t hope to challenge that (and if they all disappear behind paywalls, we’re probably finished).

“The blogosphere is growing in influence, but it remains to be seen if there is a bigger impact – we’d probably need to pool our efforts into one site so it’s all in one place.”

But, he says, the relationship between the media and their readers is ever so slightly changing as a result of the sort of work carried out by blogs.

Read more at the European Journalism Centre

Tabloid Watch is also useful and has a nice take on this week’s beat up about an alleged plot to kill the Pope while he was in the UK. Unfortunately, no Vatican plotters were arrested and the six Muslims who were bailed up by Scotland Yard have all been released without charge. You might not know this if you only read the Daily Express.