Rebekah Brooks

Photograph: Carl Court/AFP c/o guardian.co.uk

Rebekah Brooks and husband Charlie

I am fascinated by Rebekah Brooks who was editor of the News of the World in 2000 and of The Sun in 2003 and who in 2009 became chief executive of News International which publishes The Sun and The Times. In those years I was having babies and bringing up young children in a country town. Brooks is, I think, three years older than me.

Brooks has had to give evidence to MPs about phone hacking and to the Leveson inquiry about her time at News International, her relationships with politicians of the day and meetings and social occasions she attended. Yesterday she, along with her husband and four others, was charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice, accused of removing documents from News International and concealing material from the Metropolitan Police who are investigating phone hacking claims.

Look at today’s newspaper headlines, neatly rounded up by Roy Greenslade and The Guardian.

It will now be for a jury to decide if Brooks is guilty of trying to cover anything up at her newspapers or if she is the victim, as she and her husband insist, of a witch hunt.

It is hard to see how an editor, even a former editor gone into management, would not know how certain stories in their own newspapers were stood up or proved to be true. But she and other senior folk from News Corp insist there is no evidence to suggest they knew about any malpractice.

Brooks is a striking figure who was very successful at a relatively young age within a controversial organisation, News International – part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. That has attracted as much jealousy and spite as admiration and this may now be manifesting itself as glee and determination from some quarters as people observe Brooks’ current predicament.

I understand from experience how important it is for a newspaper editor to have good relationships with the power brokers of the day. I also know what it is like to be courted by people in an industry, some in positions of power, others seeking power, when you edit an influential publication. And I know what it’s like when a journalist does something either deliberately or by mistake that someone else doesn’t like.

Libel law exists to try to police the difference between something that is untrue and will damage others by being published and something that is true and published in the public interest. Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry may change all that. Let us pass over thoughts about where the Crown Prosecution Service’s decision to charge Mr and Mrs Brooks leaves David Cameron, supposedly a close friend of Charlie Brooks.

Largely I feel that in many cases, let’s say all but those involving murdered people, the journalist, editor or newspaper is just the messenger of a story and you know what they say about shooting messengers. Don’t do it.


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The future and the blindingly obvious

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Media companies, but particularly newspapers, have had their knickers in a twist for some time now as they wonder how to make money out of “online”. That is, the provision of information via the internet which, before the advent of the internet, they were able to charge money for. It is almost axiomatic today that if it’s “online”, it’s free. Unless it’s porn.

The answer to me, coming from a background of business publishing, is so screamingly obvious that I wonder how so many highly-paid executives have avoided it for so long. Don’t give unique information away for free. Whatever the medium.

The trouble is that, online at least, every organisation is waiting for another to jump first. No company wants to be the first to start charging online readers while others continue to provide things for free because the first to do so fears losing their audience.

Predictably, it’s taken Rupert Murdoch to question this lame, lemming (as in suicidal) attitude to the internet. A few weeks ago he said his British newspapers (The Sun, News of the World, The Times and Sunday Times) would have to charge for content provided online. Now more and more people agree with him, not least Simon Jenkins writing in The Guardian. The argument against charging is that advertising revenue will cover the cost of content that’s free to the end-user. But if that wasn’t true in the real world, why should it be true in the virtual world? And, as a business, why deny yourself a potential revenue stream? Altruism? After a recession? I don’t think so.

Having just renewed my mobile phone contract (for 18 months, thank you) and while questioning why I spend tens of pounds each month on a Sky TV package that I barely watch, another thing has occurred to me.

As a regular Guardian reader and user of its many free websites, I would gladly pay (what? £10 a month?) for unlimited access to its online news/comment/reviews sites plus – and this is the deal-breaker – a hard copy of the Saturday paper. To do full justice to Tim Dowling’s weekly column in the Weekend supplement you have to place the actual magazine on a table where it will be covered in a niagra of apple & elderflower squash and the discarded, slightly grey inner tubes of several half-eaten sausage rolls over lunch. (If only Waitrose sold empty pockets of cooked pastry, I’d save a fortune on deli goods.)

It then occurs to me that it’s only a matter of time before content from different brands such as The Guardian and Sky is bundled together in packages in the way that broadband, mobile and TV services are. OK, it’s more likely to be content from The Times bundled with Sky as they’re both ultimately owned by Murdoch. But I can dream, can’t I?

I have seen the future. And it’s sausage-shaped.

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