My only claim to anything News of the World-y is a story I wrote in 2008 as a staff reporter for a London-based news agency. It was about gigantic eco-offensive sunlamps used at Emirates Stadium to keep the pitch green all year round. Click here to read before it's taken down, unless the NOTW website gets archived into what we can only guess will be the Sun on Sunday.
Bummer is though, there's a big typo in the headline. So despite the work that went into it (read below) I bury it in my cuttings.
My story got sold, rewritten - Screwed if you like - and a NOTW byline slapped on, something you learned to be OK with pretty much immediately working for a news agency.
As was often the case in that job, because I was always rushing to submit multiple stories, crucial and trivial constituent parts of bigger stories, raw investigative and shoeleather research, I missed my pitch sunlamps story and never got a cut of the hardcopy.
What I do have is a web printout, detailed memories of the week-long ordeal and a rather hilarious set of pictures of me getting the story, thanks to the good-humoured pap who was as always getting the pictures to go w/ the story -and helping to make light of the crazy ass shit we were asked to do in the name of news.
I was sent by my boss, whose idea the story was, on a tour of Emirates Stadium to get as much on the lights as I could whilst pretending to be an Arsenal fan.
The shots of me in the players' quarters show the funny side of me not caring enough about football to appreciate the cool gig I was on.
The other agency reporter was a big Gunners fan but had been sent to Wales or something that day to work on something dull. He was livid.
He got his revenge by making fun of how long after my stadium tour I was still working on the story. Most days we got through several stories before being sent across town or out of it to work on something else. Every time I filed this story they wanted more. I must have filled half a notepad with shorthand and figures on wattage, voltage, pitch conditions, grass and soil science and EU environmental law.
I recall sitting in Starbucks at Green Park for several hours phoning, among a dozen or so experts the same electrical engineer over and over to ask him more about big fucking lightbulbs and mathematical detail proving how the lighting rigs being on year-round equated to the energy needed to light up a small town.
But when it got Screwed it got stripped of much of the science it was packed with when it left my laptop.
Since the shock announcement that the NOTW would shut forever, I see how an earlier chapter of my reporting life hovers in the timeline of the red top's phone hacking scandal.
As a Richmond and Twickenham Times reporters I, along with five others, covered the double murder trial (and one attempted) of Milly Dowler's killer, Levi Bellfield.
For four months we reported on the trial and each of us has powerful memories of the verdict reading. I was perched on the edge of a table with a French journalist inches from attempted murder victim Kate Sheedy and her family, and feet away from the quiet and dignified French parents of murdered student Amelie Delagrange. Stories of the abyssal sadness in their lives since hearing their daughter was dead haunted me for years. I still often recall a section of the Delagrange's post-verdict statement about Amelie's childhood love of crocuses in early spring.
photos by Colleen McDonnell
Since the news broke that Milly Dowler's phone messages were allegedly accessed by the NOTW and messages deleted giving false hope to her family and potentially altering the police investigation I, like a lot of journalists, have been asked how far is too far when it comes to getting the story.
In my experience if you are employed to get information and stories directly or indirectly for a British national newspaper tabloid or otherwise, you're going to end up pushing the boundaries. I was never directly asked do anything illegal. All that is expected is that you get the story and get it quickly.
They don't want to know how you plan to get more when everything else hasn't worked, and don't dare ask how they suggest you get it when they still want you to get it and the kosher methods have come up dry.
If you've got it you're in a good place - you're on fire in fact. If you've failed, you get punished and points stack against you.
I did some things I should be ashamed of. I harassed relatives of baby killers, spied, rummaged, got kicked out of a mosque, twice. I doorstepped all walks of celebrity and political life with such frequency it became an addiction, got chased at a respectable clip down an entire residential block and around a corner by a Hollywood actor's wife who, when I stopped asked me "why?" To which I answered "because I have a dumb job".
That was intended for her to let me on my way. I loved my job even though in the darkest hours I questioned why I just didn't quit and dramatically improve my mental and physical health.
What is intensely worthwhile to me as a reporter and as news consumer is truth.
I don't have time for slapdash reporting, premature facts on breaking stories that aren't cushioned with heavy caution that they might not be true, speculation without a diamond backboned source giving it oxygen with their own comments, which brings me to my biggest pet hate: unattributed quotes.
Watching, observing, rummaging, listening, investigating, going there, digging, waiting, going back and then going back again and again, that is the truth. That is reporting.
Confusing the broken hearts of a bereaved family by deleting messages is is arrogance.
Proper journalists want to report the truth. Others want a story, the truth they could take or leave.