NOTW wrong with that

posted 7 Jul 2011, 09:47 by James Higgerson

I genuinely cannot remember a time that the news has made me happier.  Only a couple of hours ago, it was announced that the News of the World will close after this Sunday's edition.  Who would have predicted that?

With all the furore over super-injunctions, I was fearing that people were forgetting about the whole hacking scandal.  People were settling out of court for sums that I felt were too low to even make a dent in the profits of the NOTW.  The outrage from the public over politicians and celebrities having their mobie phones hacked was only going to stretch so far, but the revelations that have been pouring out faster than non-News International media services could report them have tapped right into the heart of things that people en masse care about.

The first allegation was the of the hacking of the (then missing) murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, with the accusation suggesting that a private investigator working on behalf of the NOTW was not only hacking into the girl's phone, but he was deleting her messages, giving her family hope that she was still alive.  I don't think there are many things that the majority of society can agree on, but there's a universal moral truth in the breathtaking vileness of such an act.

By Wednesday, other potential hackees were the families of the 7/7 bombing victims and the relatives of dead soldiers.  In terms of lighting the touch paper of moral outrage, these are some pretty hot issues.  They possibly couldn't have harmed their public image more if they had blown up a cenotaph whilst dressed in a burka waving a benefits claim whilst wiping their arses on an image of Madeleine McCann on holiday.

So, with the public firmly against the paper, and the inevitable decline in readership (22 years on from their damning of the Hillsborough victims, The Sun still struggles to sell in Liverpool, so it's not like these things are easily forgotten), News International have decided to shut down the paper after 168 years in print.  The NOTW is a national institution, one so well protected that it's terminal sink into the gutter was not only accepted, but embraced.

Now people will have to look elsewhere for the latest estimates on the length of Cheryl Cole's pubic hair, and will perhaps not get to find out about every squelch and squirt of a Premiership footballer's one night stand with a kiss-and-tell tart.  They might have to decide for themselves how they feel about certain celebrities - like the transition of Jade Goody from ignorant racist to saintly cancer victim. 

The only fear here is that people instead flock to the Mail and the Express for their ill-informed hatred. 

There are so many other reasons why the NOTW shouldn't be in our society, but it's even sweeter that it's their own practices that have led to the paper's downfall. 

(The next few paragraphs are in 'homage' to now unemployed columnist Carole Malone - more on her later)

This is the newspaper that terrifies parents into believing that paedophiles are lurking on every street corner, creating the sort of hysteria that is making people scared of children, and making those with kids scared of every other living adult. 

This is the newspaper that would have you believe that every Muslim in Britain is either an asylum seeker, tax dodger, terrrorist or pervert. that every unemployed person is a fat no-good scrounger and every Eastern European has flooded into our country for benefits and crime. 
This is the newspaper that makes its' own news.  The particularly awful Fake Sheikh who goes out of his way to lure celebrities/relatives of celebrities into crimes and scandal and then reports on their entrapment in the name of civic obligation (which equates to a front page spread rather than a quiet word with the police).

Although I am told that it's pretty good at sport.

Of course this development is not some ultimate act of humility from News International.  With numerous corporations withdrawing their adverts from the NOTW, some were deciding whether to do the same with other NI papers The Sun and The Times.  This closure is an act of self-preservation.  It's most likely not the end of NI having a Sunday tabloid.  My first thought was that The Sunday Sun would soon be launched, and this has been echoed in the analysis that is still raging on the news channels right now. 

It's a grand but equally piecemeal gesture.  As many have said, Rebekah Brooks has sacrificed 200 jobs to protect her own.  Let's hope that she soon finds herself in the position of benefits scrouger. 

But we have to take the good things that have come from this.  Carole Malone will (for now) not have a platform for her ill-informed ranting.  This woman is hateful.  She is the most odious of the Loose Women, which really does say something.  This woman hot-footed it up to Cumbria in the wake of the Derrick Bird shooting and wrote an article about how people were reticent about talking to her following the worst thing that's most likely happened in these people's lives, and concluded that it was due to the guilt they must feel for not doing something to stop the shootings.  Likewise she blames all of societies ills on the fat and unemployed, and feels in a position to inform Colleen Rooney that her husband will definitely cheat on her again. 

Likewise we can hope that NI have now set the standard for dealing with these matters.  From this, can we assume that The Sun will not fall foul of similar revelations?   With some example of life with Daily Star being revealed by a disgruntled ex-employee earlier this year, is it possible that we're really going to look at media standards this time?

At present, this whole thing is making the Government and the Metropolitan Police look terrible.  New Labour's love of the Murdoch family has also been highlighted.  Andy Coulson is apparently about to be arrested, which is going to embarrass Cameron, who has backed the good nature of the former NOTW-editor.  Ha ha ha. 

It also shows how much we're prepared to accept from our tabloid newspapers.  I know a lot about this paper because I've read it a lot over the years.  In the past it was pure guilty pleasure, but in recent years, the influence of the media has been the most recurrent theme in my writing.  The book I'm writing at the moment has tabloid Britain at its very heart, and it's an ugly vision.  This means that I have, in my part, supported this paper, but I hope I have done this with a certain sense of derision.  In a former project of mine - Bad Marmalade - I spent many blogs highlighting some of the worst atrocities emantating from the red tops, which have always been horribly regulated by the Press Complaints Commission.  I also think it's important to know where people get their opinions from.  Having worked with some fairly bigoted people in the past, it's interesting to hear their hatred spoken using tabloid words like 'floodgates,' 'coming over here, taking our jobs,' and 'EU fat cats.'

The NOTW is often horribly sanctimonious, and even in departure it has tried to extol the altruistic nature of what they did.  It's only ever been about sales and advertising, and (in recent decades) bombarding its pages with scurrilous bollocks about non-celebrities and things to be scared of.  The NOTW not being around has never been an issue, so this has been both swift and surprising.

It's not the end for NI, of course, and I think we all expect the gap in the market to be filled, probably by the same staff.  But for now, we have to treat this as the good thing that it is.  Next, though - the real punishment.  More arrests and more job losses.  I don't think we're blind enough as a society to think that this is the end of the matter.  Luckily, the remainder of Fleet Street seem reluctant to let this rest.  A good day.  A very good day.

A different story

posted 24 Mar 2011, 04:16 by James Higgerson

My first foray into novel writing (as an adult - I wrote a series of books in my teens, long lost and only vaguely remembered) happened in the year after I graduated from university and moved to Manchester.  It was about a young man who moved to Manchester after graduating from university.  Luckily my writing has become much less self-referential in the past seven years, but recently I've been wondering how that story would have worked out if it had been written in the present day.

The character in Gap Year wasn't entirely me, but the bare bones of the story came from my own experience, and my protagonist fulfilled the angry young man criteria happily.  He resented working in a call centre (the chicken coop, as he knew it), and encountered all sorts of emotional turbulence that a relatively naive young person encounters moving to a big city for the first time.  He resented the war in Iraq and the lies that politicians told.  He didn't know he was born.

Were I doing this again, my angry young man would be magnified a hundred times over.  He would have protested tuition fee increases and met with the derision of the nation and the press, for protesting something that will have no obvious benefit to him.  As the fee increase won't harm him at all, at least until he has his kids with ambitions, he would have been protesting for the people that followed, the next generation.  In return, he would have met with widespread cynicism and disparaging remarks about being one of the lucky ones to have time to protest.  He would have been called out for being over-privileged and treating further education as a right over a luxury.  He would have known exactly where this country stands on solidarity.

He would have left university tens of thousands of pounds in debt - aged 21 - with a degree but nothing to offer when it comes to employability.  If he went on benefits, he is lumped in with the blanket 'scrounger' term that applies to anyone who isn't in gainful employment.  He would want to be useful, to earn money and have a life.  He would be living back with his parents and settling into the opposite of the life he mapped out for himself.  He would be portrayed as a burden on a struggling country, as being too picky to get a job, unwilling to get real and accept anything that is out there, even though he knew that he was being declined for even the most basic of call centre jobs.   He is also expected to feel grateful, for if he had been born a couple of years later, he would have been suddenly outpriced of the education he'd been working towards all of his life.    

That's how these spending cuts will pass through, because people simply don't give a shit about anyone else.  Those who weren't standing up with the students are now experiencing half-arsed support for their own protests against public sector redundancies, lecturers pensions, the shutting down of libraries, swimming pools and other local resources.  He will see from those older than him that the majority believe that nothing can be done, that it's all a futile effort and that everyone should get on with it.  He will have voted in his first general election and found that even in a democracy, it is possible for no-one to get what they want.  He would know indifference and he would wonder what his whole life has been building towards.

Perhaps this is just the perspective from the city centre.  In places where community still exists, where people talk to each other on the street and show an interest in their neighbours.  Yet it seems to be all self-interest on this side.  The Labour run Manchester City Council have been hit in a political move from the Coalition, and are ticking the maximum disruption box in order to score counter-points.  People care about their own specific amenities being cut, but won't do anything collectively about it.  These cuts are divisive, making everyone state their case and place it as the most pressing concern.  Art is devalued as unimportant in the context of crime and health-care, education has become nothing more than a commodity.  My library is more important than your lollipop man, which in turn is more important than their swimming pool.  Fight among yourselves whilst they go on screwing us from above.  Did solidarity die with the miners, or was that just a rare moment of collective action? 

Were I to rewrite my first novel in 2011, I figure my young man would have plenty more to be angry about.  I don't envy him in the slightest.


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