Journalists get bullied by union-bashing bosses …

Convicted phone hacker Andy Coulson walked free from court yesterday cleared of perjury.

The judge told the jury, “Not every lie amounts to perjury” and that the former News of the World boss’ alleged lies about phone hacking were not material to main case at the Tommy Sheridan trial and so the case was thrown out.

People inevitably took to Twitter commenting on the case – and saying again how little they trust journalists.

It’s four years since the News of the World closed but still people feel aggrieved by what they saw and still they feel little confidence in journalists to tell the truth or to be capable of integrity, loyalty and political principle.Lois Lane

Still few see or accept the reality of the pressures on journalists to do as they’re told. Too many think journalists live in some Daily Planet bubble where they can run into the offices of editors like Andy Coulson and demand to be heard, demand to tell their story, demand not to write something racist or sexist. We rarely can. Like most workers we simply don’t have that power.

When a housing worker in a Tory council evicts a tenant for not being able to afford their rent in times of austerity we can’t blame that individual worker. When a factory worker shoves horse meat into a packet and labels it beef we can’t blame that individual worker.

And – just like other workers – we get bullied if we do stand up for what we believe in.

Michell Stanistreet, the National Union of Journalists general secretary, told the Leveson Inquiry: “”The range of issues the journalists have raised with me 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.”

She added: “They feel too scared and frightened to give evidence in a wayLois Lane 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.”

Some have found the courage to be identified and to walk out …

Rich Peppiatt, writer and director of One Rogue Reporter, walked out of the Daily Star offices in protest at what he saw as anti-Muslim propaganda, stating: “I may have been just a lowly hack in your business empire, void of the power to make you change your ways, but there is still one thing that I can do; that I was trained to do; that I love to do: write about it.”

Peter Oborne resigned from the Telegraph over what he considered its fraudulent coverage allowing HSBC to influence content for fear of losing ad revenue, saying: “I expressed all of my concerns about the direction of the paper. […] I was resigning as a matter of conscience. Mr MacLennan (chief executive) agreed that advertising was allowed to affect editorial, but was unapologetic, saying that “it was not as bad as all that” and adding that there was a long history of this sort of thing at the Telegraph.”

But it’s not all about national journalists and indeed certainly not all about tabloid journalists. The industry – trade press, local newspapers, regional titles, magazines – is rife with bullying and workers too scared to stand up for themselves or for their work because they fear they will be sacked. Superman

Phil Turner has worked at the Rotherham Advertiser for 30 years. He is also the chapel’s FoC – that is he is the National Union of Journalists shop steward.

Phil has been singled out by bosses for compulsory redundancy. The NUJ is appealing the decision, seeing the targeting of Phil as a deliberate attack on the journalists’ union and on the wider trade union movement.

Phil’s colleagues are defending him. They intend to strike on June 11th and there is a protest this Saturday in Rotherham’s All Saints Square at 12 noon.

Chris Morley, the NUJ’s Northern and Midlands organiser, said: “The company has made a grave error in selecting Phil for dismissal in such a transparent attempt to reduce the effectiveness of the chapel at the Rotherham Advertiser. Even when required savings were found elsewhere, the new management of the company still insisted that a compulsory redundancy had to be made in editorial and that it just happened to be the FoC.”

It’s time to recognise journalists don’t have some innate power unavailable to other workers.  We’re not all Lois Lanes and Clark Kents (even Clark Kent left the Daily Planet tired of the drivel he had to produce). 

And we depend on union support and solidarity like other workers.

Also … we’re not all phone hackers. We don’t sit gleefully writing racist crap. We don’t shovel shit into the internet and think we’ve got it made. We do recognise the influence of advertising and of corrupt bosses. We get bullied and victimised.

We’re workers, just like you.

The union is urging NUJ members and supporters to contact the Rotherham Advertiser in protest. Please send respectful messages of protest to Rotherham Advertiser chief executive Nick Alexander and copy in the editor Andrew Mosley and HR officer Debbie Commander.   

You can also send messages of support and solidarity to Phil Turner:

Email the chapel and copy in the NUJ campaigns and communications department:  



It’s a fact …

A few things have thrilled me today so I’m back again.

I have access to heating and hot water – a massive £12 on my meter – and was able to have yet another luxurious bath (please don’t tell Edwina Currie); I’m able to feel smug yet again about justifying the use of colour; I’ve had my fortnightly shop delivered, and Chaplin was thrilled with the economy cat food; and I’ve not received a single call from a debt collector.

Wait. “Justifying the use of colour?” you ask. “Really?” Well, yes. You see I read about the Twitter account of Rupert Murdoch’s protective wife Wendi Deng.

I read in The Telegraph how “Wendi Deng ticks off Rupert Murdoch on Twitter”.

I read in the Daily Mail, “Murdoch’s tweets were toe-curling” but now I could see “wife Wendi … flapping about her husband and flirting with Ricky Gervais.”

And I read in the Guardian how “Wendi Deng flirts with Ricky Gervais after joining husband on Twitter”. The Guardian used a quote from her feed as a sub-heading: “i think you look HOT ricky!!! (sssh dont tell @rupertmurdoch)”. This was described as “a Tweet to comedian by sassy wife who came to media mogul’s aid”.

Except it wasn’t: it was a spoof Twitter account that led a lot of journalists up the garden path.

Now I don’t blame the reporters for writing about this – but it isn’t news. None of it, not one word is worth writing but it is factual, it is the truth. It’s utter nonsense, vacuous, pointless drivel but it is fact … well, apart from the fact that it wasn’t Wendi Deng at all but someone on Twitter having a laugh.

The journalists were tricked when the account was bizarrely verified on Twitter and seemed genuine.

Nevertheless, who cares if Wendi Deng is on Twitter or not? The Guardian also went so far as to analyse Rupert Murdoch’s Tweets – this account is also verified and not yet outed as a spoof – including his top 20 words and how he likes to discuss films.

This is codswallop. It is facts, yes, plainly and clearly but, really, who cares? It’s not interesting, entertaining, it’s not a good yarn and won’t give a tired mum a chance to have a sit down and enjoy a good read before she picks up the kids from school: real-life stories will.

When I wrote about “colour” a while back I got a few mean Tweets saying no wonder I couldn’t get work and what I did wasn’t journalism but the fact is – yes, fact – what reporters do on real-life magazines is journalism and I’d say it’s better journalism than any of the nonsense written about Wendi Deng – whether it’s a spoof account or not. Although it being a spoof did tickle me.

My point is while I shouldn’t, perhaps, have made up that bit about the baby kicking in one feature a few years ago, there is as much pressure on real-life journalists to make their work cheerful as there is for Guardian journalists to analyse the banal.

There is as much pressure on real-life reporters to ensure the central “character” is shown in a good light as there is on Daily Mail writers to find a way of entertainingly sharing Wendi Deng’s tedious Tweets.

And there is as huge pressure for real-life writers to make everything – from a three-in-a-bed gone badly to grieving for a dead pet – upbeat.

I’ve also been told on news desks to make the news cheerful, to choose happy stories over sad. I’ve seen crime stories justified as going into the paper only to make those in salubrious areas feel smug about their lives: especially when the papers stopped delivering altogether to the poorer areas because this didn’t satisfy advertisers. Yes, this happens.

What we should be thinking about is not the fight between fact and “colour” but what our news consists of. Before we dismiss real-life journalism or creative non-fiction for not being journalism – or condemning me to a life on the dole – let’s have a serious think about what journalism really means.

Let’s think about what we mean by fact and what news is significant and worthy of sharing, what will educate, inform and entertain: certainly none of the stories about Wendi Deng managed to meet this criteria.

On a more serious note, personally and journalistically, I was also thrilled to hear the jury unanimously found Gary Dobson and David Norris guilty of the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

The Daily Mail back in 1997 knew they were guilty. Fact.

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

Barking mad …

I think a neighbour’s cat has left half a mouse at my front door: word of my poverty is spreading. I fear what the local toms will do on realising how bored I am and I wonder how one tells a cat your tree-climbing days are behind you.

I’ve a week ahead with absolutely nothing to do. This used to be a dangerous situation to be in. Nothing to do meant no stories, nothing to do meant an angry editor, nothing to do meant attending the editorial meeting with no ideas: nothing to do could mean being out on your ear for, well, have nothing to do.

I wonder if this is what led reporters on the Billericay Gazette to write an unpleasant story attacking a respectable teacher for her personal social networking comments. The story is about a celebrated teacher who swore on Twitter, with comments like, “How easily I slip into the default mode of lazy slut.” I find her comments particularly unshocking as I sit here, in a HP sauce-stained T-shirt and jogging bottoms, with a brew, a bacon butty and no plans.

The teacher didn’t swear at pupils or parents but in personal comments to friends as many of us do on a daily basis without expecting to make the news. [Post edited due to correction – and bit of an insult – from the newspaper in question.]

I began to wonder about the “worst” thing I’d done as an eager and brutal young hack. I will say again that we often write for our editors, we do things to keep our jobs, to stop being bullied but perhaps this seems lame: especially as Murdoch pays out a few million for seemingly routinely hacked phones.

Educating Essex

I don’t think my lowest ebb was the standard taking of family photo albums to ensure no one else could have them, or the casual fibs that one could keep the harder hacks at bay if trusted as the only reporter to cover the story, or even occasionally making things up.

Perhaps it was being chased from a hospital, having snuck into the chapel to interview nurses grieving over the tragic death of a colleague. With only a few generic quotes about how much she’d be missed me and the photographer had grown desperate but soon found ourselves shame-faced and mortified, sitting silently in the car. Mind you, we were still wondering where to get the story.

Perhaps it was traipsing village streets to get someone, anyone, to talk to me about the tragic death of a schoolboy. I’d already checked the estate agent window to put a price on his parents’ house, had a few comments from neighbours using the words “kept themselves to themselves” and could describe the view from the school gates. I needed more.

When I spotted the local church I thought a quote from the priest would be perfect and easy to get. I’d not heard the reporters gathered in the pub mention anything about him so also thought I could have an exclusive quote. If I was really lucky this lad was in the choir and there’ be pictures too.

I walked up the path, as solemnly as one can when excited about getting a great quote and matching photos, and knocked on his door. I waited. I could see movement behind the stained glass window; a shuffling, a shooing and then footsteps towards the door.

“Hello I’m a reporter, I wanted to talk to you abou- ”

Before I could finish my sentence the priest had whistled, mumbled something, then stepped aside while his dog ran down the hall towards me. I span and fled, hack mac flying behind me, back down the path towards the gate. I’ve never been athletic but managed to outrun the mutt. In fact, when I turned around it was a mutt and not the Rottweiler I’d been picturing. I was shamed-faced and humiliated again but now had a long walk back to the car.

As ambition waned and wisdom grew, I calmed down: most hacks do. They start to stand up to bullying editors, realising the boss knew they had an ice-cube in Hell’s chance of getting the story in the first place. It takes confidence, professionalism, experience and a genuine understanding of journalism to stand up to editors – some of whom lack all these qualities. Trainees aren’t always getting the confidence-boost they need from adequate training these days – they even go unpaid on internships. So long as journalists work in fear they will produce tacky journalism to please tacky editors and proprietors.

Then, if they’re really unlucky, they find themselves unemployed and on the scrapheap watching the news, wishing they were in the middle of the action instead of on the settee with another brew in hand.

They find themselves reminiscing – and wondering if the Dean of St Paul’s has a dog.

Amount of money I have: £2.25 till tomorrow

Other money I have: I found 25 Euros, $10 and some obscure foreign currency

Job applications to be completed this week, so far: 2

Year of living vicariously …

Ok, so it’s half a year but I have passed many hours looking at other people’s holiday snaps, photos of them at parties and events, videos of their dog walks and climbing trips.

Social networking can give the illusion of not having spent days on the settee playing Simon’s Cat videos for your own cat: I’ve watched so many YouTube videos of cats snoring, Chaplin now suspects I’m filming him while he sleeps and has taken to napping under a table in the bedroom where he knows I can’t reach him.

You can almost feel like you’ve had a walk on the beach if you see enough Facebook holiday photos posted by friends. Those ancient ruins could be right there in front of you unless your friend is a poor photographer or insists on doing the peace sign or thumbs-up in front of famous monuments.

Friends on a day out

Instant messaging can even mean you have a chat with friends while they’re doing the activity as you sit in the (relative) warmth of your home. It can help you keep in touch not just with old friends, or pals on the other side of the globe but those who are sitting at their desks in work, as bored as you are sitting at home without work.

It’s often argued that social networking is bad for your health, that it is isolating and chips away at your confidence.

One expert says, “”Social networking sites should allow us to embellish our social lives, but what we find is very different. The tail is wagging the dog. These are not tools that enhance, they are tools that displace.”

I’ve been socially displaced by a lack of work: had my friends not talked me down from a job-seeking ledge I could be physically displaced, having moved many miles away, desperate for a job. As someone who can only afford Jobseekers’ Gym, not the chance to talk to real human beings using the neighbouring treadmill or, often, not even passing dog-walkers for a shared smile on a mid-afternoon stroll, I have to disagree. Social networking has lessened my isolation – and means Chaplin isn’t left feeling like a primary care giver.

My self-proclaimed rich German industrialist friend (of the red wine and hair dye gifts) has entertained me many an afternoon with tales of what she has had for her tea, sending gems such as, “it was good and simple but exactly what i wanted spaghetti i had such a craving for it”.

Or surreal discussions that can be analysed for the rest of the evening:

German friend: “I love this: it is my new obsession.”

Me: “The word or the online dictionary?”

Friend: “The online dictionary taht tells you how to pronounce LOVE IT i did anathema the other day and i want a sherlock holmes hat”

These little moments, the simple day-to-day existence of others keeps me entertained. Listening to people moan about work keeps me sane as a reminder that the grass isn’t always greener. This is selfish, but true.

We also know the enormous benefits it has when it comes to organising campaigns … such as Sunday’s March for the Alternative going past the Tory conference in Manchester. So I fail to understand the downer some have on social networking. This blog alone has introduced me to some interesting, generous individuals who, despite being strangers, have cheered me up with a few kind words, some much-needed encouragement and a bit of understanding.

And when it comes to job-seeking it’s invaluable: LinkedIn now gets a new addition every second and “traffic on the world’s top professional web networks has surged since the financial crisis started to make headlines.” It also saves spending money on bus fares to visit employment agencies and Jobcentres and, of course, many applications are now expected to be done online.

All these reasons aside, I’ve had a fantastic Twitter argument with a very angry dog who does not appreciate my typing what I imagine Chaplin would if he could touch one key at a time. He tells me cats are imperialists preying on the weak mice and birds, which is difficult to argue with.

Good news: The warm weather meant much winter preparation washing could be done . . . and the faux fur throws no longer smell of cat farts

Bad news: I’m still unsure if I should spend money on gas – especially while the weather is so warm – so the meter debt for non-use will rise further