Archive for July 15, 2011

She’s gone, but the rest may still follow

A few minutes ago I received the news that Rebekah Brooks has finally fallen (or been pushed onto) her sword as chief of News International.

We are currently in the eye of a storm that one day will be taught in media classes in universities all over the world.

Her resignation perfectly follows the NI reaction to the hacking scandal – too little, too late.

There is a school of thought in PR that says you take the blame, take the pain, keep your trap shut and move on. Its effect is to appear contrite and limit the life-span of a story. It is often very, very effective.

For NI, this could have meant carrying out a proper investigation when the original hacking allegations came out, publishing the findings and taking appropriate disciplinary action all the way up the chain where warranted.

This, as we know, is not what happened.

Instead, the laughable “lone wolf” defence was put forward as NI refused to concede more than was already in the public domain. No-one in any position of responsibility at the News of the World or NI was held to account.

The result is that the revelations have gotten successively worse for the world’s most feared media barons and that, in their attempts to slow down the runaway train of bad publicity, they may well end up derailing their media train altogether.

And yet the resignation of Brooks is not the worst piece of news for Murdoch this week.

That prize is reserved for the preliminary investigation into whether or not the systemic NOTW tactic of hacking into mobile phones was used at the time of the 9/11 atrocities in the great city of New York.

If what seemed to be a cheeky tactic to get the jump on the competition was used on one of the blackest days in American history, Murdoch’s empire will be buried faster than you can say “Enron”.

This is, after all, the country that gave us “freedom fries” and if Murdoch’s minions have hacked the phone of a firefighter or police officer who gave their lives on that day, America’s revenge will be swift, brutal and richly deserved.

Murdoch, an American citizen, was attracted to the land of the free by their values and patriotism. It is fitting that it will be the very same patriotism that leads to the demise of his empire.

But for now, let us enjoy the fact that Brooks has gone, and with her the idea that a newspaper can consist of lies, entrapment and hacking from cover to cover.

Today is a great day for journalism. But there are greater days yet to come.


Why Rebekah Brooks should resign from newspapers- along with the rest of us…

The Hotel Torni in the middle of Helsinki is a wonderful place. From the bar at the top you can look out over the rooftops of this wonderful city and winter or summer, it is a beautiful sight.

There are only two dangers; one is the narrow staircase that leads from the lift up the final flight to the bar.

The other is that, having consumed enough alcohol to make you both attractive and clever, you will get into a heated discussion with a foreign correspondent.

I did it once with Daniel Frykholm, who at the time was Reuters’ top man there.

Despite the fact that he subsequently left the world’s biggest news agency, Daniel was (and I suspect still is) a Reuters man through and through, possessing just the right combination of intelligence, humility and curiosity that makes a great news reporter.

Odd then that he would argue in favour of tabloid newspapers, saying that, ever since the time of the “penny dreadfuls”, the general public has had a hunger for the most salacious stories, and would gladly set the truth aside just to read an incredible rumour.

It was, as a colleague of ours once remarked “not necessary for it to be true-only possible“.

I disagreed. For me, it is not the function of news journalism to entertain, and not everything a journalist comes across is news. In much the same way, just because the public would be interested doesn’t mean a story is in the public interest.

The fac that we as readers are unable to make that distinction is the driving force behind circulation slaves like Brooks, who has more or less sacrificed her career because of her desire to go further than anyone else in the business.

But paper never refused ink, and the truth is that millions of readers queued up every week to read about the sexual indiscretions of Premier League footballers and politicians. Banner headlines proclaimed the shortcomings of celebrities about whom the most shocking thing was usually their stunning lack of talent.

Simply put, if we didn’t read it, they wouldn’t write it, and in doing so they wouldn’t tempt journalists to root through people’s garbage or hack their phone messages.

We have a responsibility not just to be more selective about what we read, but to be critical of it, asking the obvious questions- why am I being told this? How did they find out? What are the sources? Has money changed hands? Entrapment? To paraphrase the Dublin expression, what is the story?

Reading is a skill, reading a newspaper is something that requires a more suspicious and enquiring mind, and it is only when we start to read more carefully and selectively that journalists will feel obliged to write in a similar fashion.

And if we decide not to, we should do what the despicable Rebekah Brooks has thus far failed to do and resign from the newspaper (reading) business.

And hope to hell that she quickly follows us.

Junk, bonds and bailouts on the boardwalk

I love Stockholm. It’s hard not to.

One of the most beautiful, cleanest and safest cities in the world, it has everything you could ask for.

It’s a brilliant place to raise a family too, and having lived there for 12 years I can easily see myself living there for 12 more.

But it’s not Dublin, and for me nowhere in the world beats our dirty Victorian gem of a city when the sun shines down upon it.

The smiles of people on Grafton Street and O’Connell Bridge yesterday afternoon only served to brighten a lovely summer afternoon, and for a few brief hours before the clouds closed in all was well with the world.

But if you looked a little closer, as far as the boardwalk that runs either side of O’Connell Bridge, you could see that evidence that all is not well. For many, it’s getting worse.

Since I arrived, it’s been hard not to notice the rise in the number of broken people begging around the boardwalk, drinking strong cider or just sitting there in a methadone trance.

Where once one or two of them would huddle on Eden Quay, now they spill out onto the pavement as large groups congregate.

Over in Temple Bar they ask tourists and residents alike for spare change, hoping to scrape together a few euro to replace the can of beer that some cruel culchie Garda just poured down the drain in front of them.

The queue outside the Focus office, which offers them advice and help and tea, is long. The junkies and the drunks aren’t known for their patience.

What is obvious from the queue is that the resources once devoted to dealing with Dublin’s previously rampant heroin problem are no more. When we talk about “austerity” we are talking about these people, for they are first in the firing line.¬†Junkies don’t vote.

They are closely followed by the elderly, the sick and the children with special needs, all easy targets with no voice of their own, and no lobby powerful enough to speak on their behalf.

When we talk about a “bailout”, these people are not the recipients of it; they are the the ones paying for it, sometimes with their lives, always with their dignity.

There is no doubt that the Brethern (as poet Pat Ingoldsby calls our friends with addiction issues) have contributed massively to their own demise, but that is no less of a reason to help them.

After all, we seem to have no issue helping those whose addictions to money destroyed our country.

We have no problem excusing those whose addiction to votes has destroyed our faith in democracy.

And we have no problem believing those that are addicted to power when they tell us there is no other way than the path they have chosen for us.

There is another way, and it starts not with those in negative equity or unemployed. It starts with the children and the elderly and the junkies ¬†and the drunks whose very lives depend on the rest of us getting our act together and telling the rest of the world that we’d sooner help the drug addicts than the money addicts or the power addicts.