Scoop!

I’m indebted to Jon Slattery for inducing a bout of nostalgia in his mention of the 1950s board game, Scoop, which he found in a Camden charity shop.

My grandmother had the same game, and seeing Jon’s photos of the box and the “editor’s phone” – a quasi-random device that determined the outcome of your attempts to fill your front page. Pulling a handle back and forth would move a circular dial with a number of options, one of which would be the editor’s decision regarding your story. It had the sort of tactile, role-playing greatness that merely rolling a die could never achieve. The whole post brings back happy memories of playing the game, kneeled around the coffee table in the front room on many a wet and dreary Doncaster day.


On the subject of newspapers and telephones, I’ve been reading Phone Hacking: How the Guardian Broke the Story, an ebook from The Guardian for the Kindle (and Kindle apps on your iPhone or iPad, etc.). The newspaper doggedly pursued the story when others wouldn’t touch it – at one point in 2009, Rebekah Brooks (former News of the World editor and, until recently, CEO of News International’s UK operation) said:

It [the Guardian] is rushing out high volumes of coverage and repeating allegations by such sources as unnamed Met officers implying that ‘thousands’ of individuals were the object of illegal phone hacking, an assertion that is roundly contradicted by the Met assistant commissioner’s [John Yates’s] statement yesterday.

The Guardian coverage, we believe, has substantially and likely deliberately misled the British public.

Two years later, we found out that the Guardian’s coverage was spot on.

The ebook splits the developing story into a number of chronological chapters, each starting with a brief timeline before reprinting the news articles covering the unfolding story. It’s a good reminder of how the evidence against NI started piling up, until the possibility that murdered teenager Milly Dowler’s voicemail had been hacked up caused the story to blow up so spectacularly and the media who had previously ignored the issue.

True, the book is basically just repackaging articles which can be read for free on the Guardian’s website, but the linear format of a book makes for more pleasant reading than jumping from web page to web page. And you can read it on the tube…

The book is the first in a planned series of Guardian Shorts, topical ebooks which provide background for current news stories. By sidestepping the traditional print route, existing content can be repurposed – and charged for – cheaply (the phone hacking book costs just £2.29 for the Kindle, and will presumably be a similar price when it makes its way to Apple’s iBooks store). There’s also a speed issue: the paper can publish a book electronically months before a bound paperback can hit the shelves. In comparison, Guardian journalist Nick Davies’ own book on the saga won’t be published until autumn 2012.

The most annoying thing about the book is that it shows up just how awful the typographical defaults of Amazon’s Kindle iOS app are. I don’t know how much freedom Amazon’s implementation of the ePub format allows designers, but both this Kindle book and others I’ve purchased make me yearn for a well-designed page. Apple’s defaults within its iBooks reader do look nicer. Still, I’ve yet to find any ebook which is as well-designed, or comfortable to read, as a paperback that’s been typeset by someone who knows what they’re doing.

“A necessary outbreak of journalistic self-loathing”

Journalism may be the fourth estate and have a function in a proper democratic society but I don’t think I’m sharing any secrets when I say that there is nothing democratic about the way a newsroom, or a newspaper, works. The editor is always right, even when you suspect he’s actually wrong. This is because he can fire you – and may well if you whinge in such a way that it gets back to him. It’s like most other jobs, but more so.

So newspapers are an industry full of people who joined it because they were interested in questioning authority, but who have found that in order to be able to do so in the wider world they have to learn to keep a lid on it in the office.

Emma Hartley, in one of the best responses to the phone hacking scandal I’ve yet read.

What should replace the PCC?

A couple of months ago, I booked a one-day media law course for myself and some of The Stage‘s columnists, courtesy of the PPA. I hadn’t imagined that the training would take place at a time when journalistic ethics and issue of legality in the media is at the forefront of the nation’s headlines.

The disgraceful actions of some people at News International – and the ongoing disputes about who knew what when, who lied to which investigating authority and just what it was about multi-billionaire Rupert Murdoch that attracted Wendi Deng – has already cost one newspaper, a number of chief executives and two of the Metropolitan Police Service’s most senior officers. It’s not inconceivable that further resignations, and criminal prosecutions, will follow.

The role of the Press Complaints Commission has been called into question here, especially after its initial enquiry found nothing amiss at News International, a result of the company withholding evidence.

It seems inevitable that the PCC will be replaced, following the Government’s wide-ranging public inquiry into phone hacking in particular and the press in general. But what would replace it?

Continue reading What should replace the PCC?