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There Is Life After The News of the World

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It lasted little more than two minutes and, like the best News of the World splashes, was executed with brutal finality. Without any warning, we were called from our desks to the centre of the newsroom where Rebekah Brooks was waiting for us with our editor Colin Myler alongside her.

Hesitating slightly while she gathered her thoughts, she said that the News of the World was being shut down after 168 years and the final edition would be published the following Sunday. Surprisingly perhaps, there was little reaction from the 100 or so journalists assembled. A few shouted, 'No' but the majority were stunned to silence. No-one said a word to Rebekah. She asked Myler to say a few words; he said he wouldn't while she was there.

She hastily left.

Seconds later, Sky were running a breaking news ticker tape saying she had been in tears making the announcement (she hadn't) and that there was a 'lynch mob mentality' amongst the 200 or so NOTW staff who were facing redundancy (there wasn't, though people were understandably angry).

There were three questions on everyone's lips.

Why hadn't she quit? When could we go down the pub? And, perhaps most importantly, what the hell (though I might have used a different word at the time) were we going to do with the rest of our lives now the paper was closing?

For many of my talented young team on features, the answer to the third question was simple: carry on much as before. Some - such as our brilliant TV reviewer Ian Hyland - were snapped by our rivals minutes after the news was announced.

A year on, almost everyone I worked with has moved on to better things. Robbie Collin is reviewing films with the same panache and wit - only now for the Daily Telegraph. Dan Wootton is flying to New York to interview Madonna and has the 'portfolio' career he always craved.

My former deputy Natasha Pearlman is about to start as deputy editor of Elle. Others are working in TV and one is leading the life of an international playboy while broadcasting and writing magazine covers and the odd blog for the Spectator.

I'd be lying if everyone at the News of the World had found it easy to move on. Some were in their 50s with young families and little chance of switching careers. One has retrained as plumber.

Our NOTW PR Hayley Barlow - now running her own successful PR company - tweeted last week: 'Out of work former colleague today turned down for voluntary work giving free advice to elderly. What stigma?"

Most of the 200 ARE back working - many at Fabulous magazine (survived the closure) and the Sun, which absorbed significant numbers of ex-NOTW staffers, though Rebekah's promise that everyone would be found work was quickly reneged on. The Daily Mail - a tireless defender of journalism even in the toughest of times - has taken on several of our sub editors.

But many brilliant people - utterly untainted by the scandal - are still struggling to find work - or earning a fraction of what they were at the NOTW. The stigma Hayley describes so eloquently lingers.

And the fall-out from the closure continues with more arrests and the seemingly never-ending pantomime that is the Leveson Inquiry which will inevitably place further restrictions on the most over-regulated media in the free world (libel tourists: welcome to Britain).

Surely Private Eye's Ian Hislop  - easily the most persuasive witness at the whole inquiry - got it right when he said we already had a set of criminal laws which are being used with ruthless efficiency by the police to clear up this mess.

So what went wrong at the News of the World? We'll leave that to the courts, but to me the humbling of Rupert Murdoch and his cohorts came about because of their arrogance. They really did think they ruled Britain, and, frankly, who could blame them when the prime minister was writing text messages to the chief executive that he thought were ending 'Lots of Love'.

I have never wavered from the view that the decision to close the NOTW was right. Whatever pain we have suffered as journalists is nothing compared to that of the Dowlers. A terrible, terrible wrong needed to be put right. Not just to them but all the victims of hacking.

So how have I coped? On 10 July last year, I was 45 with two children under the age of three and my wife was shortly to fall pregnant with our third. I needed to be earning for at least another 20 years and the newspaper industry I loved and had never previously thought of leaving was dying. No pressure then.

But if there is one thing the News of the World prepared you well for, it is how handle extreme pressure. I knew this was a crossroads in my career and I needed to do something different.

I wanted to do two things: write a book and start working for myself. The book was written in the autumn: Brucie: The Biography of Bruce Forsyth will be published by John Blake in October, timed to coincide with the Christmas market and the return of Strictly Come Dancing.

And in January, I joined what journalists still call the 'dark side': PR. I went into partnership at the PR firm AOB with an old mate from Fleet Street, dealing with brands which lend themselves to the popular media and celebrity clients.

We try to do things a little differently at AOB. We write almost no press releases (they all end up in the bin, anyway). Instead we produce the kind of copy for clients which we would have published as journalists.

We still value print but we specifically look to the emerging digital platforms where the vast majority of 18-30s are now getting their content. These digital journalists - mega bright but harassed and overworked - welcome the kind of well-written, meticulously researched, quality content we are providing.

The approach seems to be working. In six months, the business has doubled in size, we are getting our clients noticed and, more importantly, significantly improving their bottom line. We're so busy we needed to recruit a new executive to cope with all the work. That was a no brainer.

I hired a former executive from the News of the World who is thriving in the new environment and keeping clients happy with hit after hit. It is worth remembering this if you are hiring: look beyond the word stigma if you see the words News of the World on a CV.

A few final reflections on what has been the most tumultuous year of my life. I'm a lot happier. I never get bollocked any more. I don't wake up in a cold sweat worrying about the 'list'. I don't spend every Sunday in a near coma through exhaustion. I know who my real friends are (no surprise that it was the celebrity mates who were the most fickle.)

And I certainly learnt what is truly important (third baby Georgia is a little cutie and I see a lot more of all my children and my lovely wife).

So a year on - with all our lives changed irrevocably - two words for Rebekah: thank you.

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