THE behaviour of journalists has been under the spotlight for two weeks now.
You may have been gripped by the News Of The World hacking scandal and the allegations of criminality and a cover-up at News International.
Now, as more papers are exposed for dodgy practices, the public view of the integrity of the press is no doubt deteriorating on a daily basis.
As a local journalist I often encounter people who include me as a member of ‘The Media’ and daub me with the same brush as the most unsavoury and unscrupulous tabloid hacks.
You probably think I know how to hack a phone and spend my days paying the police and Kirklees Council officials for juicy tip offs and off-the-record information.
Well I’ve got news for you. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Us local journos are as much in the dark as the rest of you about how some of this sensational information is gathered.
As an aspiring journalist I learned quite a lot about the methods of the national media – especially the tabloids – by reading the excellent book Flat Earth News by Guardian reporter Nick Davies, who, by the way, was one of the first reporters to expose phone hacking almost a decade ago.
The book reveals the extent of cheque book journalism and unethical tactics that goes on in the national press and that those cheques, or brown envelopes, aren’t just going to cynical kiss ’n’ tell babes and con artists.
The first time I suspected this might have happened on a story I covered was when I went to a murder at Bradley Road, only a few yards from our new offices.
The incident happened late on a Friday and at 9pm when we’d normally be sending the final paper down the proverbial tubes for printing, but I was just heading out to the scene.
I was at the police cordon a short time after the tragic stabbing of Carol Berry by her daughter Claire’s jilted husband, Sebastian Mercante, and saw no other journalists.
I spoke to neighbours and they did not mention seeing other members of the media (they usually do when they tell you to go away).
Normally police refuse to give us statements at crime scenes, but I got a small amount of information from a detective and local residents and returned to the office.
At about 10pm the police press office confirmed the victim had died but did not name her.
I wrote my piece with help from veteran Examiner news man Neil Atkinson and went home thinking I had done as thorough a job as any reporter could do.
Imagine my horror the next morning when two of the tabloids, The Daily Mail and The Sun, had completely scooped me.
The Mail had Mrs Berry’s name and an account of former soldier Mercante’s murderous plan and subsequent suicide off a Manchester car park after the attack, which they attributed to ‘police sources’.
When I try and speak to detectives directly I’m usually told they’ve nothing to tell me or to ring the press office.
When you consider the national story must have been written between 10pm and 4am – in other words when most people are either asleep or out socialising – you start to think they must have had some help from people with access to police information either in the UK or in Tenerife, Mercante’s home.
The next day, a Sunday, The Mail’s updated story had a full account of the brutal attack on Mrs Berry and her son Andrew, which revealed what weapon was used, where Mercante bought his ‘torture kit’, including pictures and a full history of his life and marriage to Claire.
The police press office is closed on Sundays.
Whether it’s private investigators, criminals or the police themselves I don’t know, but it’s fair to say I don’t think much of the newsgathering was done using the techniques I was taught on my training at Sheffield College or have learned during my four years at The Examiner.
A lot has been made of the phone hacking, but for me Rebekah Brooks’ admission that News Of The World had paid the police for information is far more worrying.