The Blog

Not Everyone at The News of the World Was Guilty

I once worked for a magazine when it too become the subject of intense public disgust. Not as grave an error as the sustained illegal activity News International stands accused of, but it gave me a taste of what the News of the World staff will have been feeling this week as they approached the end.

Earlier this week, as Twitter let out its first collective gasp of horror over the News of the World revelations that brought about the end of the paper, I commented:

Feel for everyone working at #NOTW who didn't hack a missing girl's phone, i.e. 99%. Not fun on the inside when something like this breaks.

The replies I received dragged up some well-worn debates surrounding journalism and the ethics of picking who you work for. Broadly speaking, those who agreed with me worked in the media themselves, while those on the outside of the industry were unanimous: my sympathies were misplaced, and anyone who worked for News of the World knew exactly who their paymasters were and deserved a portion of the blame.

True, in our rush to analyse what phone hacking means for the industry we shouldn't ever lose sight of who the real victims are. But once my shock at the callous treatment of the Dowlers began to subside, I had no problem feeling separate sympathy for the hundreds of sub editors, designers, juniors - and yes, journalists - sat in News of the World HQ, feeling as though they were sat uncovered beneath the world's biggest hailstorm.

I once worked for a magazine when it too become the subject of intense public disgust. Through a sequence of oversights that had nothing to do with me or the vast majority of the people I worked with, a 'joke' made it into our pages that was viewed as misogynistic and offensive. Not as grave an error as the sustained illegal activity News International stands accused of, true, but it gave me a taste of what the News of the World staff will have been feeling this week as they approached the end.

I worked on the publication's website, and for three days my job was completely put on hold as my superiors scrambled to find an appropriate response to mounting piles of angry emails, news broadcasts and withering broadsheet articles. I sat and watched an endless stream of abuse role up Twitter's normally friendly pages, informing me that everyone in my office were disgraceful excuses for journalists and worse - women-haters, who must be sat thinking the whole thing is funny.

The whole team was devastated. I've never experienced three less 'funny' days in my life.

On Twitter this week, two of country's most high-profile columnists Caitlin Moran and Giles Coren have individually reported being in some way 'blamed' for Milly Dowler affair by readers, simply because they work for The Times, another of Rupert Murdoch's papers.

But even journalists of their power should not be held accountable for mistakes perpetrated by others who happen to work for the same company. People always demand others take a moral stance when controversies occur - stop advertising with them! Boycott the paper! - but do people really expect someone to quit their job, or not accept it in the first place, because they morally object to some of the things their employers do, or may do?

Should everyone who worked for the Labour government have been blamed or expected to quit over the Iraq war? Think of all things we'd have missed out on, and the good people we'd have lost, if that absurd scenario had actually occured.

Journalism is an incredibly difficult nut to crack. When I moved to London, with no financial support and no contacts book, I took every chance I could to get paid. The notion of 'picking' my employers was laughable.

'Would you take a job with the Mail?' is a common fantasy question among idealistic young journalists, as though, no matter what the role, it would morally reprehensible to join one of the biggest and most successful digital publishers in the country.

Well I know I would. Would I write inflammatory, offensive opinion pieces for them? No. No more than I'd dream of hacking into a missing girl's phone to get them a story. But I'd go there and do the best and most ethically sound work I possibly could within my own role.

Just like the vast majority of the staff at the axed News of the World, who will this week have felt as sickened and depressed by this awful scandal as you.