Padraig Reidy: We all seem to be grieving for newspapers


It’s the newsagents I’ll miss the most. There are few more reassuring signs of civilisation than a well-stocked newsagent.

The tiny shop next to my local London underground station lays out a trestle table every morning, upon which sits a vast range of papers; the UK nationals, of course, and the local north London papers. And then Irish local and regional papers. The Kerryman, the Anglo-Celt, the Roscommon Herald, the Kilkenny People, the Kildare Nationalist, like Patrick Kavanagh’s barge “bringing from Athy/ And other far-flung towns mythologies.”

Newspapers are enthralling, odd things. The idea that every day a short novel’s worth of text is somehow corralled into print is strange and brilliant. And yet, gather more than two print journalists, even from still-profitable publications, in a room, and talk will soon turn to managed decline of the newspaper industry in Europe and the United States, and how the industry must be more like Buzzfeed, or less like Buzzfeed (it is mandatory to have an opinion on Buzzfeed).

This week, a group journalists gathered in the House of St Barnabas in London’s Soho, to discuss whether or not Britain gets the press it “deserves”. The panel, chaired by Miranda Sawyer of the Bug Consultancy, featured journalists Sophie Heawood and Matt Kelly, and media analyst Douglas McCabe. Heawood, who recently took up the dream gig of The Guardian newspaper’s weekend magazine main column, spoke interestingly about her path into broadsheet journalism via music writing (proving the truth in the advice given to all aspiring writers, Heawood spotted the gap in The Guardian’s coverage of the London grime music scene and inserted herself in it). Heawood, who gave up a column with Vice for her current Guardian slot, pointed out the irony that while we all seem to be grieving for newspapers, she still saw it as a move up in the world to go from new media to old.

McCabe pointed out that while we grieve, lots of people are still going out every day to buy a newspaper. Eventually they may not, but this decline may not happen as soon as we think.

The venue, a candlelit chapel, lent the night a funereal air. Certainly the short speech given by former Daily Mirror features editor Kelly felt a little like a eulogy. Kelly talked about his time as an indentured apprentice on a small Merseyside paper 25 years ago, earning £4,000 a year, of learning the ropes of court reporting, local government, all the dull but necessary things vital to local journalism. He moved to the Liverpool Echo and then the Daily Mirror, where he started on a salary of £42,000 in 1996 (a number that drew gasps from the young audience, which, one suspected, contained quite a few people who were in the apparently common position of being “full-time journalists” who don’t really get paid).

The Scouse journalist recalled glorious times of fully-staffed newsroom where “the budget” was only something politicians needed to manage. He claimed to have had no idea how much money he spent on journalism over the years, but he had spent thousands on keeping undercover reporter Ryan Parry in Buckingham Palace for two months in 2003, a story which sticks in the brain mainly because it’s when we first found out that the Queen keeps her cornflakes in Tupperware. The story was a success: Daily Mirror circulation spiked by 25% for three days after initial publication.

This, Kelly suggested, does not happen anymore: once your story goes out on the web, it’s everywhere. That bounce is lost. But that was not the real concern, he suggested: the real concern was that the route through journalism he took was dead as a model, that young reporters were not learning the basics, and that the metric-measuring web would always lead people to favour clickbait over difficult stories. So do we get the press we deserve? No, suggested Kelly. We get a significantly better press than we deserve. Analytics appeared to show that people only really wanted to read titillation, and for years journalists and editors had kidded themselves that people admired them for their hard-hitting journalism.

This led Kelly to his conclusion: the public doesn’t even deserve the British press. Hacks work hard on genuine stories, and the public doesn’t read them.

It’s a humbling, sobering thought for a trade not known for humility or sobriety. All that work and there you are, utterly unappreciated. Ask the average person not engaged in the media to name a great scoop. They will say Watergate. Ask them for another, and they might say MPs expenses. Ask what papers, or even what journalists were responsible for them, and the people who have seen All The President’s Men might be able to answer.

For most people, journalism and the media are kind of nebulous background noise. In the past, you had some kind of reason why you bought a particular newspaper, even if that reason was just that you always bought that newspaper. Increasingly though, people are barely aware of what publication they’re reading. Ask a recent graduate what site they read every day, or what their preferred news source is, and they will say be more likely to say Twitter than The Guardian. Which is why that publication and others are scrabbling to find new ways to bond with people beyond encouraging the reader going to a shop and buying a newspaper.

This fragmentation brings up the question of whether newspapers will maintain their influential position in society (be that good or bad) and if not, whether this will affect arguments for press freedom as distinguishable from everyday rights and liberties. We witness versions of this question from time to time: when local bloggers are excluded from council meetings because they are not accredited press, even if they are the only people in the area willing and able to cover the proceedings, for example. In the past, papers have been defensive of their position (many journalists can still get a scarcely believable amount of contempt into the word “blogger”) but in the post-Leveson world, in Life After Brian, it’s apparent that there is an interest in ensuring that press freedom and free speech are universal.

Explore the latest issue of Index on Censorship magazine for discussion on the Seeing the future of journalism: Will the public know more? In print, online or on your iPad.

This article was posted on 9 October 2014 at

Jefferies coverage a "watershed" for UK media, Mirror reporter tells Leveson

Ryan Parry, the Daily Mirror journalist whose byline appeared on the libellous coverage of wrongly arrested Bristol landlord Chris Jefferies said the episode was a “watershed moment” for the British media.

“All we can do is learn from this and improve for the future,” Parry told the Leveson Inquiry. The Daily Mirror was fined £50,000 and The Sun £18,000 respectively for contempt of court over its coverage of Jefferies. It was revealed today that the Sun has withdrawn its Supreme Court appeal against the contempt ruling, while the Mirror’s appeal is ongoing.

Parry said he was pleased with how he had conducted himself on the coverage of Jefferies, who was wrongly arrested on suspicion of murdering his tenant Joanna Yeates in December 2010.

“If he came across…as an eccentric, it’s because the evidence suggested he was,” Parry said of the correspondence he had had with Jefferies’ former students. One story carried the headline “Nutty Professor”, while in others Jefferies was referred to an “oddball”.

Gary O’Shea, a journalist at the Sun who had also covered the case, told the Inquiry that their coverage should have been more “neutral and dispassionate”, and said that the paper’s libel settlement with Jefferies was an acceptance of this.

“We don’t often go wrong, we don’t often make mistakes, and when we do they’re honest mistakes,” O’Shea said. The paper’s publishing director, Stephen Waring, also took responsibility for a headline in a story about Jefferies titled “Obsessed by death”, and apologised to the former teacher.

Earlier in the day, the Inquiry heard from a selection of women’s groups who discussed the sexualisation of women in media. Anna Van Heeswijk, of pressure group Object, said the redtops’ page 3 feature existed “for the sole purpose” of women being sex objects.

Van Heeswijk added that violence is often trivialised and eroticised in the papers, and pushed for “consistent” regulation of print media, arguing that the press should abide by the taste and decency watershed that determines what can be broadcast on television before 9pm.

Heather Harvey of Eaves Housing for Women told the Inquiry that media coverage of women and the sexist abuse they may encounter online “actually curtails and limits” women’s freedom of expression and their ability to engage in public debate.

Overhyped headlines and inaccurate stories were also slammed today. Inayat Bunglawala of Muslim group Engage accused the Daily Express and the Daily Star of being “the most egregious offenders” in relation to Britain’s Muslim community. He and Robert Jay QC read through a series of headlines from the two redtops — one from the Express read “Christmas is banned, it offends Muslims” — which Bunglawala said were aimed at increasing hatred and prejudice against Muslims.

Bunglawala noted that he got a one-paragraph clarification after complaining to the Press Complaints Commission about a story in the Star that claimed remembrance poppies were banned in Muslim areas. He added that it was a “very odd situation” that the Express and the Star are not members of the PCC.

Fiona Fox of the Science Media Centre praised Britain’s “excellent” science journalists but blamed sub-editors for writing inaccurate headlines. She cited a report in the Independent today headlined “Once they were blind, now they see. Patients cured by stem cell ‘miracle'”, which describes how two blind people have shown signs of being able to see again.

“Within science extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence, but in the newsroom it’s the exact opposite,” Fox said, lamenting media reports of preliminary findings. “It would solve a lot of problems if journalists just didn’t over-claim for these stories.”

The Inquiry continues tomorrow with evidence from journalists Roy Greenslade and David Allen Green, RMT union leader Bob Crow and further testimony from investigative journalist Mazher Mahmood.

Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson

Phone hacking a "bog-standard journalistic tool", ex-Mirror reporter tells Inquiry

A former financial reporter at the Daily Mirror has told the Leveson Inquiry that phone hacking seemed to happen daily at the paper, and was “openly discussed”.

James Hipwell, who wrote the City Slickers column for the paper from 1998 before being jailed in 2006 for writing about firms he owned shares in, stood by his witness statement in which he said phone hacking was a “bog-standard journalistic tool”. He told the Inquiry the practice was openly discussed by the showbiz desk, recounting that the team had deleted a message from a celebrity’s voicemail to stop the rival paper, the Sun, intercepting and getting the story.

“It didn’t seem to me to be an ethical way to behave, but it seemed a generally accepted method to get a story,” Hipwell said.

He said he did not report the practice to former editor Piers Morgan because it seemed that it was “entirely accepted” by senior editors on the paper.” He said that, while he did not see hacking talked about in front of genuine management of the company, he witnessed it being discussed with senior editorial managers.

Hipwell also said he witnessed a colleague hacking into Morgan’s phone in early 2000, although he said he did not think it elicited any useful information.

Morgan told the Inquiry yesterday he had “no reason to believe” the practice was occurring at the tabloid while he was editor from 1995 to 2004.

In a witness statement to the Inquiry, Morgan said Hipwell’s claims were the “unsubstantiated allegations of a liar and convicted criminal.”

Hipwell said he could not prove Morgan knew about the practice, but added that “looking at his style of editorship, I would say it was unlikely he didn’t know it was going on.”

He said Morgan was the tabloid’s “beating heart” and “dear leader”. He described how Morgan would go up behind reporters and look at what they were writing on screen, and would re-write headlines and copy late at night after publication.

“The newspaper was built around the cult of Piers,” Hipwell said, noting that as editor he did his job “very well”.

Yesterday Morgan told the Inquiry editors only knew 5% of what their reporters were doing, and that he only “very occasionally” asked reporters about the sources of their stories.

Yet, Hipwell said, “nothing really happened on that [showbiz] desk without Piers knowing about it.”

Hipwell also contradicted Morgan’s statement that the PCC code was on the wall of Mirror newsroom. He told the Inquiry he was never briefed about the code or journalistic ethics, and that he did not see any visible signs of ethical leadership from the paper’s senior managers.

He said corporate governance was not a term used in the newspaper office.

Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson

Daily Mirror journalists did not hack phones, Piers Morgan tells Inquiry

Former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan told the Leveson Inquiry he does not believe phone hacking took place at the paper under his leadership.

Morgan said he had “no reason to believe” the practice was occurring at the tabloid. He added that he has never been made aware of any evidence of paying police officers while he was at the Daily Mirror.

He admitted private investigators were used “from time to time” at the redtop, but said he was “never directly involved”.

“Certainly all journalists knew they had to act within the confines of the law,” he said.

Morgan edited the Daily Mirror between 1995 and 2004, as well as the News of the World from January 1994 to November 1995.

Speaking to the Inquiry via video link this afternoon, Morgan challenged former Mirror reporter James Hipwell’s written statement that phone hacking was so frequent it seemed like a “bog-standard journalistic tool”.

Morgan said that “not a single person has made a formal or legal complaint against the Daily Mirror for phone hacking.”

He added he did not believe he had ever listened to recordings of what he knew to be illegally obtained voicemail messages.

Being quizzed about his diary entry from January 2001, in which he referred to the “little trick” of being able to listen to mobile phone messages, Morgan said he could not remember who had made him aware of this method.

During questioning by counsel to the Inquiry, Robert Jay QC, Morgan admitted he had listened to a tape recording of a voicemail message from Sir Paul McCartney to Heather Mills, but declined to say how he obtained it so as not to “compromise” his source.

When asked if he was acting ethically, Morgan said, “it doesn’t necessarily follow that listening to someone else talking to someone else is unethical.”

Lord Justice Leveson said he was “perfectly happy” to call Mills to see whether she authorised Morgan to listen to her voicemail.

He was also asked why he said in an April 2007 interview that phone hacking was “widespread”. He replied that “the Fleet Street rumour mill, which is always very noisy and not always particularly accurate, was buzzing loudly”, adding that he felt Clive Goodman, the News of the World reporter jailed for phone hacking in the same year, was “made a scapegoat”.

“I feel sorry for him,” Morgan said.

Describing the industry, Morgan said that editors “know only 5 per cent of what their journalists are doing at any given time”, and that he had only “very occasionally” asked reporters about the sources of their stories.

He described victims’ lawyer David Sherborne’s assertion that he had learned of phone hacking through whistleblower Steven Nott as “absolute rubbish”. He said Sherborne was “massively self-inflating” the importance of the story, and that Nott was “slightly barking” and a leading a “psychotic campaign”.

The Inquiry continues tomorrow, with Hipwell giving evidence.

Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson