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Opinion: If the phone-hacking scandal proves anything, it's that serious, investigative journalism is the best way.
the public what it wants. In America, that means The Simpsons as well as Fox News. In Britain that means a "newspaper," The Sun, best known for its picture of a topless maiden on page three every day. People lap it up.
American anglophiles who think the people of this country are the descendants of Jane Austen's characters and live life as one long episode of Masterpiece Theatre with occasional visits to an old church for a Royal Wedding should pause and reflect — 7.7. million tabloid newspapers are sold here every single day. Close to 20 million people read the things. That's 40 percent of the adult population. The tabloid editorial mix is basically the same from paper to paper — only the writing style and political allegiance changes.
It is no secret that the tabloids use checkbooks and subterfuge to get their stories — no one cared when the first phone-hacking reports appeared. It was just celebrities being embarrassed and they could afford their wounded pride. The monopoly issues surrounding the News Corp. bid for BSkyB meant nothing — so long as the programming was good who cared who provided it?
It was only when the phone-hacking story hit ordinary people: the family of the kidnapped schoolgirl Milly Dowler and victims of the July 7 terrorist bombings that the public became outraged.
If allegations that Murdoch's British journalists tried to hack the phones of victims of Sept. 11 prove true will the American public be similarly outraged?
3. The saga is the clearest rebuff yet to claims made by a certain type of tenured journalism professor or internet-based press commentator that newspapers are dying and being re-placed by citizen journalists. I said in my first piece when the scandal exploded last week that it had the feeling of the end montage of the film classic "All The President's Men." Revelation piled upon revelation faster than even live-bloggers could keep up with.
The Guardian newspaper made this story happen in the same way that the Washington Post made Watergate happen. It's editors gave chief crime reporter Nick Davies all the resources he needed. Davies literally spent years digging and developing sources to get to the bottom of phone-hacking. When the story led to the doors of Downing Street, the Guardian's editor, like Ben Bradlee, backed his reporter to the hilt. He is willing to put his paper's reputation on the line against the prime minister's.
Davies first report appeared in 2009. Nothing much happened. The paper told him to keep digging. Davies kept pushing. A year later another story, and some news organizations followed it, including this one. The lever and fulcrum was David Cameron's catastrophic decision to hire Andy Coulson as his communications chief. That put the new prime minister at the heart of the story. In January, Davies' revelations forced Coulson's resignation. More digging followed and then last week, the Milly Dowler revelations and the dam broke.
Only a well-funded, solid journalistic institution like The Guardian could provide the time, space and money for a reporter or a team of reporters to work at a story for years. Managers of newspapers and broadcast journalism outlets are overly fond of consultants like McKinsey and Grant Thornton. It is easy to imagine them saying, "Nick Davies, how many stories did he publish this year? No value for money, you should get rid of him." More than one news manager in the world of journalism has taken that kind of advice in recent years.
Here is the important point: This is a story about journalism and its unique power — for good and evil Journalism is not like any other business — and it's product cannot be measured by normal business school taught analytics. The main product of journalism is not tittle-tattle and check-book obtained "scoops" about celebrities — as Rupert Murdoch has found to his cost. It is about digging out the facts about how societies are governed, about corruption, about eyewitness accounts of how the world works. Strong institutions — led by editors who are willing to give reporters the time and space — are necessary to fund that work.
And without their efforts and vigilance then parliaments and congresses and presidents can be cowed by all manner of powerful special interests, especially those whose idea of the journalism business is give the people what they want: tits and ass and a large dose of prejudice.