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Now the Details

Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Journalism's Dirty Little Secret

I've been shocked, shocked by the number of journalists who have told me that they feel that in principle, phone hacking is not in itself a bad thing if it leads to a "good" story.

Of course, none of them is willing to be quoted or identified. They realize that it would besmirch their reputations, putting them outside the groupthink that is loudly, rightly and consistently condemning the practices that the Murdoch newsrooms have allowed to go on for so long.

Only the excellent journalism at The Guardian and by Nick Davies has brought much of these awful practices to light.

The result is the Leveson Inquiry which brings forth almost daily admissions of these dubious and illegal violations of both standards and personal privacy.

So while those of us who have watched these events from afar and "tut tut" in our right thinking groups, there are not a few in the profession who are quietly lamenting the outing of the Murdoch-ites.

I've been trying to figure out why these people harbor sympathies for a practice that should have been banned long ago. "A firing offense," is how I described it to one such unrepentant reporter.

"No way," he responded. His explanation is that journalism, is a craft - not a profession. As such it should not be held to standards that are formulated in top floor management meetings or in the quiet confines of the academy, but with no understanding of what has to be done to get a story.

Another journalist admitted that his (non-Murdoch and very reputable) newspaper would occasionally resort to hiring private detectives to "get the goods" that a reporter felt unable, or unwilling to do. All of this far away from the intrigue of Fleet Street.

Which leads me to think that once Lord Leveson is finished with his inquiry in the UK, he may find more work to do on this side of the Atlantic. News managers may need to stop
engaging in smug "schadenfreude" and look more closely at what is going on a lot closer to home.

1 comment:

  1. Having worked for a part of the Murdoch empire many years ago in his ]and my] native Australia, I believe the problem - hacking, bribery, hiring private detectives et al - is a large part of the Murdoch ethos: just get the story and to hell with the HOW of getting the story. Rupert's been at it for so long that for those who work in the trenches that "way of life" is presented at every turn. Will being nibbled to death by ducks eventually result in the collapse of some or all of the Murdoch empire? Probably not, but there are many - journalists and others - who wouldn't be sad to see the end of the Fox News Network for all it has wrought on the American people.