The media frenzy on so-called “honour killing” …

The parents of Shafilea Ahmed did not kill her for “honour” but because domestic violence “transcends culture, class, race, and religion.”

This as the conclusion of the leading investigating officer – so why are our newspapers full of bold headlines and in-depth discussion about “honour killing”?

As far as I can tell –and I’m happy to be corrected – it is the media that has made the link between Shafilea’s parents’ excuse for murder and “honour” not the police or the judge.

Speaking after the sentencing, Detective Superintendent Geraint Jones, who led the inquiry for Cheshire Police, said: “Over the years, many people have asked me – is this a so-called honour killing? For me, it’s a simple case of murder.

“This is a case of domestic abuse by two parents towards their children. Domestic abuse is, sadly, something which the police have to deal with too often. “

The judge, when sentencing her parents for murder, told them: “Your concern about being shamed in your community was greater than the love of your child” but didn’t use the term “honour killing” – a term put in speech marks by most domestic violence charities and those newspapers not accepting it wholesale.

Women’s Aid says that with domestic violence: “’Blaming the victim’ is something that abusers will often do to make excuses for their behaviour, and quite often they manage to convince their victims that the abuse is indeed their fault.

“This is part of the pattern and is in itself abusive. Blaming their behaviour on someone else, or on the relationship, their childhood, their ill health, or their alcohol or drug addiction is one way in which many abusers try to avoid personal responsibility for their behaviour.”

The charity defines domestic violence as, “physical, sexual, psychological or financial violence that takes place within an intimate or family-type relationship and that forms a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour. This can include forced marriage and so-called ‘honour crimes’. Domestic violence may include a range of abusive behaviours, not all of which are in themselves inherently ‘violent’.”

While “honour-based” violence, according to Domestic Violence London, “can exist in any culture or community where males are in position to establish and enforce women’s conduct.

“Males can also be victims, sometimes as a consequence of a relationship which is deemed to be inappropriate, if they are gay, have a disability or if they have assisted a victim.”

So why, if shame, honour, embarrassment and doing things wrong – or your favourite football team losing – are common excuses for domestic abuse, has the UK media whipped itself into a frenzy about “honour killing” rather than reeling in horror at domestic violence?

Women’s Aid:

  •  1 in 4 will be a victim of domestic violence in their lifetime – many of these on a number of occasions
  • 1 incident of domestic violence is reported to the police every minute
  • on average, 2 women a week are killed by a current or former male partner.

Meanwhile, in the US a white, middle class Christian couple killed their black adopted daughter. As with police in the UK, “investigators found the Washington state couple adhered to a harsh child-rearing regimen prescribed by a controversial Christian parenting book, the prosecutor said earlier this month that religion was not relevant to the criminal case.”

Another couple were charged with murdering their child who they believed had the devil inside her and God told them to stick a rose down her throat. While their status as “immigrant” is seen as significant here – their religion isn’t further discussed.

There are, of course, more intellectual approaches than that of the Daily Mail – aren’t there always? The New Statesman, for example, states that “the left cannot remain silent over honour killings” and refers them as an “epidemic of abuse and violence” – so “honour” is being accepted as the distinguishing feature in this case – not domestic violence as outlined by the police.

The Guardian though produces a piece on a charity supporting women at risk of forced marriage and “honour” crimes: because many charities including Refuge campaign against domestic violence as a whole when supporting victims of “sexual violence, forced marriage, honour-based violence, female genital mutilation, prostitution, trafficking and stalking”.

It is clear that no one would suggest that Shafilea’s case shouldn’t be discussed in a wider context or that “honour” isn’t used as an excuse for violence against women and men.

One could suggest, though, that this violence be discussed in a more rational manner: perhaps we would benefit from the UK taking a calmer, less emotionally-charged and academic approach to domestic violence rather than a knee-jerk response to “honour” killing.

If you look to the news now the discussion of “honour killing” has become white noise and – if you dare to look at comments on articles – is being used for further attacks on Islam: one could almost think all Muslim condoned violence against women.

Perhaps some journalists still lucky enough to be in paid employment could report more on the experiences and understanding of those dealing with domestic violence across all cultures on a daily basis; it could look to the nuclear family as a constant in domestic violence; investigate the links between mental ill-health, such as stress, and domestic violence; or consider the role of the patriarchy across many cultures when “honour” is used as justification for domestic violence.

Remember other excuses – accepted by UK police in confronting domestic violence – include football teams losing during Euro 2012 and the World Cup.

The video below made by Refuge – a charity providing safe houses – highlights how hidden domestic violence can be in the UK as women hide their bruises, take responsibility and make excuses for the damage done at the hands of their abusers.

We need to discuss domestic violence as an experience across cultures and classes. Isolated incidents – however horrific – are examples of domestic violence within families not of broken cultures.

Because domestic violence is a terrifying and very real problem for many people in our country which “transcends culture, class, race, and religion”.

Stay calm and stuff the Jubilee …

I went to town to see the Queen*. I could tell you, as the Daily Mail describes, that she looked “stylish in pastels” or I could gush that “Her Majesty and Prince Philip stepped off the royal train at Victoria Station to rapturous applause from more than 800 flag-waving fans

The reality, though, is I walked past Albert Square watching the people holding their camera phones aloft, and I couldn’t be bothered waiting for her to appear. The reality is also that it seemed of little interest to most Mancunians.

I won’t be allowed to miss out on the hysteria though because the Manchester Evening News promises a souvenir supplement on Saturday. The city is told with excitement that Queeny tucked in to “steak and venison pudding [...] served with celeriac mash and buttered savoy cabbage” which was “as all being prepared, cooked and served by town hall staff.”

It sounds like a fine meal and in the glorious surroundings of Manchester Town Hall – built in the mid-1800s to brag about the city’s wealth rather than tackle the slums. I wonder, though, if any of the town hall staff serving up the grub are worrying about potential redundancy or whether they can afford their next meal.

I can see, of course, that Jubilee fever is intending to take our minds off mass unemployment, the destruction of the NHS and the fact that we fund her family’s existence as well as the bonuses for fat cat bosses in banks. It tried much the same in 1977: when firefighters went on strike over pay, there was an International Monetary Fund bail-out, an oil crisis, the Labour government faced a vote of no confidence by Liberals and the Queen wanted us flag-waving for her Silver Jubilee. I didn’t then and I won’t now.

The crowd outside Manchester Town Hall was small as I passed. I like to think that fellow Mancunians see no point in standing in the streets – sunny or not. One website run by journalism students states that HRH was welcomed by “thousands” adding, “hundreds of children, parents and celebrators waved flags”. It also reports on anti-monarchy protesters greeting the Queen.

I can honestly say when I passed it was more like dozens – even the cabbie said he was surprised by how few had turned out, especially considering the sun was shining on this rainy city for a change.

The city’s streets weren’t lined with flag-waving royalists when I walked them. In Albert Square I saw some tourists taking photos; workers having their lunch in the sun; students milling about before they go home to wherever and, of course, photographers up on a statue to ensure a clear view of Her Maj – not a cheering crowd wanting to catch a glimpse of a pastel-wearing parasite.

Because, whether she’s in pretty pastels or polka dots and purple, it’s hard not to resent the expensive tour of an unelected monarch visiting a city facing tough cuts, potentially shedding 50% more jobs than Tory councils and with an average wage of less than £2,000 as the cost of living soars.

It is also particularly upsetting when one considers that the Save the Children revealed in february that 27% of the city’s children live in severe poverty. Its campaign previously called on the Chancellor to Chancellor to announce an emergency plan in the next budget to channel new jobs into the poorest areas and increase financial support for low-income families.

It says that single parents and families are living on less than between £7,000 and  £12,500 a year. Meanwhile the Royals are given hundreds if thousands, according to the British Monarchy website. Even Prince Andrew receives £249,000 per annum.

*I didn’t actually go to see the Queen. I went to the People’s History Museum.

Could UK have Cameronvilles?

I’ve experienced homelessness. Now, as I find my benefits still suspended – meaning I have no Jobseekers’ Allowance, Housing Benefit or Council Tax Benefit – the panic is creeping in that I will experience homelessness again.

I’ve not been told why this suspension has happened beyond “loss of paperwork” but that was said in a phone call, leaving no paper trail, so I suspect either untrue or not the basis of a complaint for me.

I told the unemployment office that I had part-time work, I asked if I was within my rights to take it, I was told to keep signing on until I received my first wage – then my benefits were stopped and I was left with, literally, zero income. I checked my bank account this morning and I am penniless with my rent due in a week.

I’ve effectively been penalised for trying to find work. I would’ve been better off staying on benefits: I would still have my dole payment and still be filling in my Looking for Work booklet and going through a routine which meant I had money for food, bills and accommodation.

I never imagined while working for years as a journalist, while studying hard for all my qualifications, while trying to build some sort of financial stability for myself that I would, one day, be sitting at home panicking that I might not have one for much longer.

As a child I lived through a housing crisis and ended up in a squat in a derelict terraced house. This house was in the middle of a street of squats and became the subject of a BAFTA-winning documentary in which I can been seen dancing happily amid the chaos.

My moment as an early reality TV star didn’t leave a mark – I don’t think I even saw the documentary untiI I was much older – but the experience of homelessness certainly did. My fear of it can quickly lead to panic and depression: if you have no home, you have nothing as far as I’m concerned.

We were of course abused for being homeless: insulted by passers-by, bullied at school as the squatting movement came under attack from the national press – those without homes and income seen as having brought it upon themselves, as not taking personal responsibility for their financial hardship.

Now, some 35 years, later this social problem of too little housing, mass unemployment and increasing poverty is again a growing problem which is creating homelessness.

I watch the BBC news, my fists clenched in fear and anger, as I see Americans make tent cities having lost their jobs and their homes – but still desperately trying to cling to some sort of normality. Just like the Hoovervilles of the Great Depression these settlements are being found on empty land across the country.

Panorama writes, “Conditions are unhygienic. There are no toilets and electricity is only available in the one communal tent where the campers huddle around a wood stove for warmth in the heart of winter.

“Ice weighs down the roofs of tents, and rain regularly drips onto the sleeping campers’ faces.

“Tent cities have sprung up in and around at least 55 American cities – they represent the bleak reality of America’s poverty crisis.”

America is the richest country in the world but people are living in tents and “47 million Americans now live below the poverty line – the most in half a century”.

These people have lost their jobs and had their benefits cut by a brutal system that demands financial independence of individuals while failing to provide a way for them to achieve it – there are no jobs.

Conservative minister Maria Miller says that in the UK there is “no shortage of jobs” and rabid Tories cling to this lie to excuse a lack of compassion and to spread the blame to those of us slung on a scrapheap while the rich get richer.

The reality though is that in Lewisham 34 people chase every vacancy – with over 10,500 unemployed for 300 jobs available. In Hartlepool it’s 21 people chasing every vacancy. In Hackney it’s 22. While in South Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and the City of London it’s fewer than two people for every job vacancy.

Much like the US we find that no jobs followed by benefit suspensions – even for those who have made the effort to find work but failed – means abject poverty. People are cutting back on food and fuel bills to pay their mortgage or rent. And the government not only wants to cut the amount of Housing Benefit people receive but also want to raise the age at which single people become eligible to claim for a one-bedroom property to 35. It doesn’t take a genius to see where this could inevitably lead.

All this while there are no jobs to help people out of poverty: history repeats itself the first time as tragedy, the second as farce and I now hope I won’t get to experience being homeless again.

The Sun: Don’t take it personally …

Personal responsibility is apparently something we all have and we should think twice when making decisions – such as when we line up to buy food from supermarkets known to build on school playgrounds because they’re cheap; or when we give hard-earned money to utility companies who rip us off because we have to; and when we go to work for idiots because we’re not stinking rich.

I live in a world where I have to work to survive. I live in a country where newspapers are closing down almost weekly. I live in an economy that is failing and freelance contracts are as hard to find as Rupert Murdoch’s conscience. Somehow, though, I should take personal responsibility and refuse to work for a newspaper – any newspaper – with a right-wing agenda.

Personal responsibility, I’m told, means taking the moral high ground and turning down work for the greater good: being an NUJ activist wouldn’t be enough. Arguing with editors and coming up with creative alternatives to the knee-jerk right-wing news will not suffice. No, I have to go hungry, to refuse wages from a boss I don’t respect and a company I can’t stand.

Would you do the same? Do you work for a council making cuts? A company ripping off customers? A corporation taking advantage of others? A multi-billionaire who will survive no matter what you do?

Most of us do – and journalists are no different.

Calling for personal responsibility is in itself right wing: to blame workers – and demand a decision to starve rather than take a living wage – isn’t just romantic moralising, it isn’t just smug condemnation, it’s daft. It’s beyond ridiculous when journalists are compared to fascists.

Journalists are workers – some are also black, some gay, others are women, some are disabled, even those working on tabloids – and like all workers have to go where the work is and we too face discrimination when doing so.

This new rhetoric around personal responsibility simply shifts the blame from the powerful – from the owners of the work, the holders of the purse strings – to the workers.

We might be responsible for our own actions but we can only change things by taking responsibility as a whole – not by singling out individuals for condemnation: no matter how much better we feel about ourselves when doing so.

Perhaps individual workers could also be blamed for low pay; for accidents in the workplace; for not having a pension; for not having a job at all.

Maybe if we all take personal responsibility and stop being fat, curb our alcohol intake and don’t have chronic diseases we won’t need the NHS either.

I think I’d enjoy being able to choose not to buy in the cheapest supermarket, not to give my money to a corrupt energy company and not to work for a boss who is powerful enough to spread nasty opinions globally, but it’s not a choice I’ve ever had.

When right-wingers condemn those on benefits as scroungers they often do so claiming people should take personal responsibility and not rely on the state. The rhetoric of personal responsibility is not far removed from that of responsible capitalism – and neither looks to make life better for workers.

Those condemning News International journalists aren’t demanding personal responsibility – they’re just looking for individuals to be held responsible.

The Sun: Don’t blame the journalists, blame the bosses …

There is, no doubt, excitement at the thought of The Sun closing down. Once again, I won’t be joining in.

I doubt there will be equally loud calls for the army and police forces to be closed down because, essentially, people are siding with the powerful: journalists are just workers who are dispensable, their unemployment and resulting poverty isn’t a big deal, and they’re to blame for their own actions.

Well, I disagree.

Newspapers are closing down: many of them are free newspapers which not only affects journalists but the chance for those without money for the internet or to buy newspapers without easy access to in-depth news. As the Guardian reported in December, “There have been at least 31 closures of weekly newspapers in England, Wales and Scotland in the course of 2011. All but two were free titles. It is noticeable that the bulk have occurred in the last couple of months.”

Journalists – including those now in training – already have fewer and fewer job opportunities. I am, remember, Unemployedhack. Unemployment is not something we should take lightly when it faces anyone, never mind an entire industry.

Many journalists – perhaps some led by ambition – do things they later regret. I mean regret on a personal level, not following an arrest. They do so because bullying in journalism is rife, commonplace and happens to the best of us, because they are told to get the story at any cost or lose their jobs.

Journalists were so in fear of never working again the, according to NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet, “feel too scared and frightened to give evidence in a way which would allow them to be identified by their current or prospective media employers.

“Those who have experienced or witnessed bullying of a vicious and engrained nature have largely been too fearful to speak out in case they lost their job or were forced out. Those who have witnessed first-hand unethical behaviour or been pressured into working in a way that is unethical are frankly terrified about being identified”

Stanistreet continued, “The range of issues the journalists have raised [...] include, but are not restricted to – endemic bullying, huge pressure to deliver stories, overwhelming commercial pressures which are allowed to dictate what is published and the overweening power and control of editors over their journalists and of employers over their editors.

“Many newspaper groups simply won’t let the NUJ through the door.”

News of the World former news editor Ian Edmondson talked of a culture of bullying, saying: “It’s a case of you will do as you are told and you live in that environment”.

I’ve been bullied, at some point, by every editor I’ve had. I’m not a shy person, I don’t suffer in silence … but I’ve been reduced to tears, sitting alone in a district office, or my car, or at home wondering why on earth I ever became a journalist.

I’ve been screamed at, threatened, manipulated, insulted, overworked, ridiculed, isolated, undermined …

I was once having a hard time, health-wise, and was taken for a coffee by my editor. I was building myself up as we walked to the café (not the staff canteen) ready to explain what I was going through and to seek support.

“You’re going under and you’re not dragging me down with you. I think you should leave,” I was told before I could even order my frothy coffee. My disability was not an issue, legal ramifications of no concern: I was to go and to do so quietly. The bullying continued in the editor’s office, in private, once we returned.

Another editor used to proof-read our pages with a red pen and get so angry doing so that the paper would be full of rips and tears by the time it was thrown across the office at us.

“This isn’t good enough. This is substandard. I can’t be doing your job and mine,” was a favourite call as the editor kicked the table. There was no recognition that we had no longer had proof-readers to do this expected role in a newsroom.

My first editor took great delight in rejecting front page stories minutes before deadline. These stories were good but still the phone would ring.

“Find me something else. I’m sick of this topic. I’m sick of you. Get another story or get on your merry way.”

The glee in the editor’s voice was never disguised and we were told of how excited he looked making the call afterwards when we met up with colleagues in the pub.

I confronted each one to some extent: the first editor was reported to the union and management and the bullying in isolation responded to in emails; the second I confronted then made a formal complaint when it continued; and my first editor, well, I always had two stories ready and would wait half an hour before sending him the second, better story (I  wouldn’t recommend this tiring option).

Recently, at Leveson Inquiry, Kelvin McKenzie said “if the atmosphere towards what you’re doing is different than before, then you need to change with it.”

Journalist Brendan Montague at the-sauce.org secured a world exclusive from a former mole at the News International about The Sun’s front page showing NUM leader Arthur Scargill apparently giving a Nazi salute under the headline “Mine Fuhrer”.

He wrote, “Union members at the printers refused to publish the filthy slur and instead humiliated bullying editor Kelvin McKenzie. They publicly shamed him by running across the splash: “Members of all The Sun production chapels refused to handle the Arthur Scargill picture and major headline on our lead story.”

This is where the strength lies – not in joining in the bullying of journalists enjoyed by money-grubbing newspaper owners or fame-seeking editors.

When my first editor finally lost his job – when he was bullied by new buyers and discarded like yesterday’s  newspaper – I danced around his desk: literally. This was a cause for celebration; his bullying resulted in his unemployment and was his own responsibility.

Don’t join the bullies: defend journalism and defend journalists.

Still no news on whether my benefits are still suspended or if I’m being paid by my employer

Chaplin wants his lunch so I’d better get it or he shouts

Stand up for journalism …

Still the anger towards journalists continues on Twitter. Some of it is threats of violence, some knee-jerk reactions to other Tweets and some just juvenile vitriol – but it is commonplace.

“”Having a baby will be a celebrities hottest accessory” Are you being serious?! Journalists are beyond the valley of stupid.”

“Hate the press. Hate journalists. I have no respect for them whatsoever.”

I hate journalists! Extremely HATE!”

i hate journalists!!!!!!!!

Most of journalists lie anyway”

At risk of repeating myself, not all journalists write for red top newspapers and those that do are not all excited by seasonal filler stories, fashion, celebrity gossip or any other nonsense they’re told to produce. Not all of them hack phones. *Sighs.*

We need a debate about journalism – not a witchhunt.

The most amusing among the comments are those weakly attempting to politicise their hatred: saying journalists are class traitors, establishment cronies, puppets of the state.

“Journalists are wage slaves telling it the way their neo-liberal masters want them to tell it. #classtraitors”

Then there’re those – sometimes in the same thread – saying bloggers are the future as if independent and political journalism is something new.

These arguments ignore that journalism began among workers writing about their plight, their politics, their fight against the bosses and that, in time, newspapers were bought, sold and created bigger profits for fewer powerful media owners. It ignores that independent journalism is thriving – but isn’t paying a living wage to journalists.

But even when being open and independent we can’t win with some Tweeters:

“I really hate journalists who cover stories and tweet their subjective nonsense. Tweet the story not yr political view!”

“Twitter proves that all you have to do make a lie the truth is repeat it often enough. Embarassing how journalists use it as a news wire.”

Only 45 people have joined the I Hate Journalists page on Facebook, described as: “I hate all journalists, from the funny body movement they make when reporting news, its like they r looking for a spot on the camera, to the psycho bullshit they write. U knw they suck, we dnt mean all just 102% ha! Ha! suck heavily!”

Here people write:

“they make up lies and have their own agenda and cant be trusted and should be murdered. i hate them.

“PLANT BOMBS IN ALL MEDIA HOUSES,,,AND KA BOOM..WE DISINFECT THE WORLD IN ONE GO!!!”

“I heard that over 600 journalists have been killed covering conflicts around the globe since 2001 . . . That’s a good start, but it still leaves too many in circulation.”

There are of course, those who aren’t carrying torches and waving pitchforks:

“When you see the situations journalists find themselves in, it’s amazing there aren’t more fatalities/serious injuries. Respect.”

It doesn’t matter that these groups and comments aren’t all UK-based because the work we do is threatening and threatened the world over.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists 85 journalists and media workers were killed in 2011. They’re our colleagues and they weren’t killed for going through Alan Partridge’s bins.

Few journalists would be intimidated by the moronic comments – and many would be itching to correct the spelling and grammar – but the Leveson Inquiry has sparked a discussion that has been lost in the outrage and moralising.

It strikes me as ridiculous to turn on an entire industry because of the actions of a few. Worse still to blame workers for the actions of their bosses and the owners of the media.

It also strikes me as worrying that the debate about subjectivity and non-partisan journalism is confused, lost amid the demand for the truth no matter what: forgetting that even truth is someone’s version of it.

Journalism and journalists are not being defended adequately enough during the Leveson Inquiry. As some people spot their favourite celebrity moaning about intrusions into their privacy they become emotionally involved and in the next breath they berate newspapers for being filled with celebrity codswallop.

There isn’t an open, honest, intelligent debate about what journalism means – perhaps because, to some MPs, journalism means uncovering the expenses scandal and the Leveson Inquiry means getting the chance to have a go back.

The Guardian now reports that “four groups – End Violence Against Women, Equality Now, Object and rape charity Eaves – are calling on the Leveson Inquiry to move away from addressing the concerns of celebrities and other victims of alleged phone hacking by News International and look at the daily treatment of women, which they say contributes to a society where rape can only be committed by evil strangers down darkened alleyways and where a woman is valued only because of her body.”

I agree that this is something to be tackled but hope the blame isn’t put at the feet of journalists reporting on rape using information from the police and courts. There seems to be a train of thought developing that journalists are responsible for what is printed – that shooting the messenger is acceptable.

When I was a trainee I described a burglar as “vicious” and my editor told me I had no right to write this: it was my opinion, he said, that the crime was vicious and, unless the police said it, I should not write it. He was absolutely right – one of the few times he was, as I recall – but while the police are emotive and subjective journalists will, and indeed in some cases must, report it – just look at the comments from GMP, for which they later apologised.

There are currently many journalists in the UK facing job cuts, newspapers facing closures, local news coverage threatened – and this is a threat to democracy. Worldwide reporters are detained -  and even murdered – for telling the truth, for reporting on more important activities than some pop singer’s wedding and because the work they did was a threat to the powerful.

If we lose journalism – good journalism – we lose the voice of communities, we lose our voice to tackle the powerful. If we stop trusting all journalists we give the powerful free reign to publish whatever they like.

Here in the UK we’ve allowed our newspapers to become trashy – journalists and readers alike. We need to reclaim our media from the few people who own it and to ensure journalism and journalists are not trashed in the process.

Don’t hate journalists or journalism. Instead, seek out the independent newspapers – published and online – where you live. Join the NUJ and fight to defend good journalism and talented journalists. Remember that journalism is not reporting who Alan Partridge has slept with – and that most journalists don’t care what he gets up to either.

When you grow to love journalists again you might want to consider this.

How much money I have: ten pounds until Tuesday, which isn’t bad at all

New Year plans: Cava (a gift), a recovered Chaplin for company, Jools Holland on the telly and a bag of Bombay Mix (I might even put it in a bowl). Jobseekers’ Allowance will not stretch to a double fare taxi home from a party

Don’t let Leveson take our colour …

Soap guru Sharon Marshall might not be a big celebrity Leveson Inquiry witness, like Piers Morgan, Mungo and Alan Partridge, but I found her more compelling than most.

I was also frustrated, on her behalf, with the reaction of Lord Leveson to her writing. Her statement that she “combined [...] the dramatisation of my history in the business as a whole to build up a more compelling and entertaining book” was frowned upon.

The Inquiry heard extracts of Marshall’s book, Tabloid Girl, which tells of her career as a tabloid hack. Lord Justice Leveson asked if the book was ”a true story”, which is what is stated on the cover. Marshall said the book was was filled with ”heightened reality” and ”a bit of topspin”.

“I was writing something somebody told me in the pub,” she told the Inquiry, adding that there was no “hard evidence”  and this was not her “writing a witness statement.”

“I intended it to be a good yarn,” she said but Leveson questioned if “topspin” meant “lying”. Marshall – quite rightly – said that she would call it ”colour”.

I’ve shared previously some of the things I got up to when chasing tabloid stories and would now like to defend the need for “colour”.

I’d like to start by reminding people that journalists are writers: yes, they research, they use facts, they should not be making things up but they do have to write entertainingly or no one will read their news and features. The best journalists write descriptively, the worst to a repetitive, pedestrian formula.

Features especially demand what Marshall describes as “colour”. While writing what are known as real-life stories I’ve conducted interviews that could last up to two hours asking about every minute detail of someone’s wedding, break-up, adoption or cat’s death. Every story – however bizarre, trivial or emotive – would mean a lengthy talk with the person involved, sometimes face-to-face, sometimes over the phone.

The reality is, though, you don’t know who it is you’re going to be talking to – how good their memory is, how articulate they are, if they will understand the process of providing as much information as possible for a feature of between 800 and 1000 words.

You need “colour”.

You can ask if the engagement ring came in a wooden box or a velvet box but they might not remember. You can ask them to describe the expression on their partner’s face at the later but they might not be able to. You can ask them to describe the feelings they had in the moment they wed but they might not be able to articulate it.

You need up to 1000 words of good, solid entertaining – gripping – copy with quotes and description. Like all good writers this description is needed as part of the development of the narrative, to put flesh on the characters’ bones and to make sure the piece is interesting to read: it’s journalism but it’s entertainment not investigation.

I once wrote about a gay man who had agreed to have his friend’s child and I conducted the interview with him. He was a nice man, articulate, open, willing to share the sad tale of how the baby he loved turned out not to be his after all. In the first person article I wrote:

“… one night she yelled from the bedroom, “come here. Come here! I ran in, panic-stricken, terrified something was wrong but she was lying on the bed smiling. “Put your hand on my stomach. Can you feel the baby kicking? she asked. I did and it was amazing.”

This is not an entirely true scenario. The moment of panic happened. The feeling the baby kick happened. They did not happen within minutes of each other. I added “colour” to stir emotion in the reader.

I once wrote about a woman whose daughter went missing when she was in the middle of her exams. I wrote:

“I crept along the hallway and saw light beneath my daughter’s bedroom door. I opened it and inside I saw her still hunched over her school books, studying hard.”

The woman did not describe this in a single sentence, she simply told me the latest her daughter had stayed up to study and the rest is “colour”.

I once opened a feature with:

“A cold chill blew in from under the door of the caravan. My wife snuggled up closer. I lay beside her gazing at a spot on the ceiling. I was trying to stay positive but since my business had gone bust it seemed our luck was on a downward spiral.”

The man I interviewed did not say this verbatim: he described his stress, the cold caravan, his money worries and how he lay awake fretting: the rest is “colour”.

No one was harmed in the adding of colour to these features.

Many journalists, once written the feature, will read them to contributing interviewees before publication, getting their approval and making changes. I’ve often been thanked for what I’ve written – I’ve even heard, “that is exactly how I told it” from people I’ve interviewed and known it really, really isn’t.

In many ways what we write is creative non-fiction. It’s what journalists have been doing for centuries to encourage readers to stay with their writing to the end, to feel something for the people described in the story – maybe even to react to the story by giving to charity; perhaps Leveson could be introduced to some of Dickens’ journalism.

Entertaining writing is important – not just to real-life journalism and to features -  and shouldn’t be frowned upon.

A byline on a first person real-life feature often reads “true story as told to …” perhaps it should say “with added colour”.

Sunday isn’t the same …

I still miss my afternoon of celebrity bonks, fake sheiks and general weirdness in the form of the News of the World. I still argue that it’s desperately sad to see a 168-year-old newspaper close.

I found reading the scoops much more entertaining than listening to Alan Partridge and Mungo whinge about what a hard time they have of it – although the Leveson Inquiry is must-see TV.

Back in July The Guardian headline read: NEWS OF THE WORLD HACKED MILLY DOWLER’S PHONE DURING POLICE HUNT with the sub-heading Paper deleted missing schoolgirl’s voicemails, giving family false hope.

The contempt towards NotW journalists was venomous. In fact, I read comparisons made to Nazis on Twitter for anyone who decided to work for News International – which is as ridiculous as blaming a town hall cleaner in a Labour city for the war in Iraq.

Not just journalists lost out in July, there would likely be PAs, cleaners, copytakers, editorial assistants, runners, couriers, freelance art designers and many more on the list of those punished for the phones of crime victims, celebrities and politicians being hacked.

There were jokes about strangling journalists, they were dismissed as scum and the entire industry loathed for deleting messages of a murdered schoolgirl which led her desperate parents to believe she was still alive.

I remember reading the headline myself, my stomach lurching as I imagined how they must have felt when they were given false hope only for it to be dashed so cruelly and shockingly.

Now we’re now told it’s not true: News of the World journalists didn’t delete the messages that meant false hope for Milly Dowler’s mum and dad.

The Guardian reports:

“It is understood that while News of the World reporters probably were responsible for deleting some of the missing girl’s messages, police have concluded that they were not responsible for the particular deletion which caused her family to have false hope that she was alive.

Detectives told Milly’s parents in April that the paper’s journalists had intercepted and deleted messages on the murdered teenager’s phone. Evidence has now revealed that Milly’s phone would automatically delete messages 72 hours after being listened to.

This means the paper’s journalists would have inadvertently caused some voicemails to be deleted after they began listening to them, but police found that some messages had also been deleted before the News of the World began hacking into her voicemail.”

The reality is, though, some still hacked a dead girl’s phone for a story in a profit-driven newspaper: this can’t be defended with the argument that they didn’t read and delete specific messages.

Back then we’re told there were 4,000 possible targets but now we’re told it’s more likely 800: again, the original story is inaccurate but the actions still can’t be defended.

The Guardian should print an apology and publish a correction because they simply got it wrong: but the News of the World wouldn’t be saved, this revelation wouldn’t make any difference to the outcome five months ago.

The apology and correction from the Guardian should be part of the discussion at the Leveson Inquiry, not lost amid the line-up of minor celebrities and their self-publicising whinge: but even this won’t stop the damage to the reputation of our trade.

We can’t cling to this shred of information to defend what was still widespread hacking to get stories to make money for Murdoch. We can’t defend the indefensible.

We can though recognise that the reasons for closing the News of the World weren’t moral outrage by its owners, fears of a permanent ad revenue loss, or a drop in readership following the Guardian investigation – Murdoch’s priority back then was his BSkyB bid and that was his reason for closure, not fearing an investigation by a broadsheet.

We can also choose to put the blame for the hacking, the closure, the job losses and the mistrust of our trade and our journalist colleagues where it should be – firmly at the feet of money-grubbing News International bosses.

Is privacy for paedos?

It’s been a peculiar day for a national inquiry into the activities of the press and rights to privacy.

Paul McMullan – a caricature so extreme as to be almost unbelievable – shared his excitement at the dark arts he was told to take part in, he says, to please his bosses.

McMullan was brutally honest: “I absolutely loved giving chase to celebrities. Before [Princess] Diana died it was such good fun. How many jobs can you have car chases in? It was great.”

He was bizarre: “”In 21 years of invading people’s privacy I’ve never actually come across anyone who’s been doing any good. Privacy is the space bad people need to do bad things in. Privacy is for paedos. If there is a privacy law your secrets are going to be much more valuable than they were before.”

And he shared an important insight into life at News International: “”Andy Coulson brought that practice [phone hacking] wholesale with him when he was made deputy editor. They should have had the strength of conviction to say, ‘Yes, sometimes you have to stray into black or grey illegal areas’ instead they said we didn’t know they were doing it. They should have been the heroes of journalism. They’re the scum of journalism for trying to drop me and my colleagues in it.”

Much of this was, of course, met with shock and disgust on Twitter. His name started trending and the insults flying from readers and journalists alike. There was also much humour despite McMullan again admitting he fears one of his stories led to the suicide of actor Denholm Elliott’s daughter.

The angry reaction to the tabloid press was similar when defending Hugh Grant and Steve Coogan: a full-on attack on journalism and journalists; an assumption all journalists rifle through bins; calls to curb the power of the press; pity for all those who were “victims” of the nasty practices of British journalists.

You could almost believe that no one read what was printed in the News of the World – despite its circulation being in the millions.

Then I was shown a YouTube clip – watched by millions – of a woman ranting wild, idiotic racism at fellow passengers on a tram.

The video – filmed secretly – was viewed by 3,438,078. The story was reported across most national titles. She was later arrested for a public order offence (Racially Aggravated Section 4a) and remanded on custody: her name, age and where she lives was, of course, revealed in court.

This too started to trend on Twitter. The woman received threats of violence, anonymous death threats, abuse and was vilified and demonised.

She had been secretly filmed being stupid and repulsive on a tram and that stupidity was watched by more than three million people – in much the same way Hugh Grant and Steve Coogan were caught out being chauvinistic with lapdancers and prostitutes by the News of the World and read by many millions.

She has no opportunity to blame the press for her own stupid behaviour and pig-ignorance during a national inquiry broadcast live.

While one can’t remotely defend her outburst one can’t help but wonder where the discussion is about her privacy and – in a world where celebrities get to whine endlessly about media intrusion – if people like her will now become the focus of the gossiping, moralistic, stories of the tabloid press?

Back to the future …

When the images of Mungo, Partridge and The Woman on the Left are no more than reminders on a visual hacking timeline I hope journalists can enjoy an industry that is reformed, radical and read.

Now is an exciting time for journalism – despite the attacks on us, the jealous wannabe journos insulting us on Twitter. We’re seeing a potential return to traditional news values in digital form: when journalists didn’t fear being partial and subjective but wrote about topics more important than a celebrity’s weight gain. We’re seeing a potential return to writing stories which stem from the community and are more interested in people’s views than chasing a profit.

It’s a time when political activism and journalism is revealing inequalities and injustice, as Annie Besant did, as George Orwell did, as John Pilger did and, whatever you make of him as an individual, as Assange did when he worked with the New York Times to expose journalists and civilians being killed by US troops in Iraq in 2007.

Journalists today exposed the MPs expenses, it is journalists that exposed hacking at the News of the World, journalists that have exposed and demanded a discussion of police brutality, global occupations and revolutions.

The establishment has every need to feel afraid. It’s no surprise we’re being painted as the enemy because this is convenient: if we’re dismissed as scruffy yobs rifling through celebrity bins then the public won’t trust us when we expose the rubbish of the powerful.

Even sitting here, in my jamas, I can use my journalistic skills to enjoy writing, share my opinions, add to the exposure of Currie’s attitude towards the poor in this country – and talk about my cat. But we don’t need more citizen journalism and blogging – we still need vigorous training, for journalists to use that training to investigate and report on issues in a way that is interesting and of value to readers.

Genuine errors are easily corrected

The old journalism of chopping down trees, distributing reams of paper, door to door deliveries might be dead but journalism isn’t. It’s more exciting than ever.

Good journalists still find an issue, or it is brought to their attention (without listening to personal phone calls), and they investigate it, doing their best to get a variety of opinions then integrate those opinions into a news report which is of value to readers … you can’t do that when discussing the colour of the lycra stretched across Madonna’s gusset. Or they share their experiences and opinions from an intelligent, informed perspective.

And while modern speeds of reporting might lead to errors these are easily corrected if they’re honest mistakes, not deliberate silliness.

We need critical, investigative journalism that keeps the powerful in check and the sort of training that would make a trainee journalist confident beyond writing about celebrity lifestyles. We need this, we need journalism, not for all journalists be used as scapegoats.

There is no question that the hacking is repugnant to readers and journalists alike but Hugh Grant and Steve Coogan can’t dictate how journalism works – adding to the voices of ad executives and businesspeople already ruining the trade.

Celebrities might fear embarrassing stories but a good journalist couldn’t care less about who Steve Coogan sleeps with – but while news is profit-driven, run by businesspeople not journalists, and the news of the screws sells papers, then owners will want those stories. A shift towards good journalism could even see poor journalists fall by the wayside.

She would’ve reported from a police kettle

People enjoy eye-witness, up-to-the-minute, fast-moving news: the riots alone proved that. Local newspapers used Twitter to keep their thousands of followers informed, then again to tell what was going on in court and now, in some cases, are contributing to the discussion of the injustice that took place during arrests and sentencing. This is traditional journalism working in a digital age.

I genuinely don’t believe everyone wants daily exposure to which celebrity is going into the jungle, which has lost weight or split with their celebrity lover, whether eating red food while wearing green will give you cancer or if a footballer had sex.

I genuinely believe the vast majority of people in this country want something worth reading.

Plans today: Complete job interview preparation and, of course, watch the news and view some papers online. I’m now watching a BBC report on concerns about the type of tear gas being used against protesters in Egypt – which I first read about last night on Twitter