It could be worse, I could be a debt collector …

You might be surprised how easy it is to find people for stories. It’s easier now than ever.

On my arrival in Australia, for example, where I worked on a national magazine in the early days of internet trickery, on my first day the editor handed me clippings and told me to find the people in the news piece for a real-life feature.

I’d been two days in the country, I was jet-lagged and anxious, I didn’t even know where the loo was yet, but I was, by this time, used to tyrant editors.

So, a quick computer search, using street details from the court story, a look on the electoral roll followed by a visit to the website for the telecoms company and I had a phone number. My boss was oddly impressed. It turned out they aren’t as tabloid over there.

But the reality is, with a partial address I could’ve found a neighbour’s number (and I would’ve called them and got them to pop a note through the door because you can’t nip across Australia). With the limited info from the news story I could find a type of job, then track down a workplace and an email address. Now, even with just a few details – and a bit of imagination – an internet search can find most people on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Friends Reunited.

You could, if the feeling took you, find everything an ex is up to. Their marital status, home address, work address – you could even go on Google Earth and stand outside their home, effectively stalking them from your settee. This is what being a tabloid journalist can feel like. Cyber stalking has become what tabloid journalists do: tabloid journalists and debt collectors.

Speaking of which, the debt collectors will visit any day now: the only men who make me feel better about being unemployed and broke. I might be eating more sardine curry than anyone should have to but at least I am not a debt collector.

I will consider my response to the professional mitherers next time I’m in the shop choosing between purchasing toilet roll and biscuits. (Biscuits.) I remember bringing in the Millennium drinking cava with dossers and never thought for a second I’d be a giro away from permanently joining them. I was a national reporter: I lived in a posh pad in north London, so far removed from them as to forget them until recently. It was like an 80s dream – a scene from Working Girl – but now we have the decade’s revival and I’m more Yosser Hughes.

I live in a housing association flat now – like Bob Crow I support social housing – but I visited many a grand home back then. People in tabloids aren’t all working class, you know. There was the couple who spent their honeymoon cycling the globe. Odd idea but backed by much money and the sort of eccentricity you’d expect from a Guardian reader. I nearly ran over their cat on the way down the gravel drive: not intentionally, of course.

There was the doctor who had many tortoises and made me promise not to tell as she fed me Moroccan food in the garden of her palatial home. I picked at the greyish chicken and hoped it didn’t crunch. If it was tortoise it was very tasty.

And the stripper who had left behind her parents well-to-do home, packed in her degree and followed her passion which, it turned out, was doing unlikely things with leather belts in front of heaving, dribbling men: More on her another time.

While at the other end of the scale there was the mum whose daughter had become addicted to heroin, stolen and robbed all her possessions, spent all her money on drugs and rehab and left her so poor she had to  – wait for it! – move into council property.

I found most of these people from throw-away lines written in court reports, council agendas, in news in brief, from chats in pubs. Should it be that easy?

Food in the fridge: Two caramel choux buns, half a tube of garlic paste, six cheese slices and a bottle of Netto cava

Amount of time spent looking people up on the internet: Too much

News comments that amused me: Sky reporting on police seeking out fraudsters urged us to become “armchair detectives” adding we should get in touch if we, “spot these people in the streets, at work, in your golf clubs”. Am I so far removed from working life now that you’re all in golf clubs?


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