Letter from the editor: Friendship can corrupt


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The Independent Online

It is becoming clear that last week marked a landmark moment not only in the history of modern British journalism, but also the relationship between politicians and the media and the public perception thereof.

What is less clear is the public’s continuing appetite for the type of journalism that the News of the World’s phone hacking enabled. Whither the 2.6 million buyers and 7.5 million readers of the blithely nicknamed “News of the Screws”? The next few weekend circulation figures will offer some clarity.

Will readers choose the kind of journalism represented by our sister paper, The Independent on Sunday, or more of almost the same in the rival red-tops? The big winners I see in all this are the Mail on Sunday and the all-conquering Mail website.

Reading the fascinating last edition of the NOTW, it is clear tabloid journalism really began to change with the Christine Keeler diaries buy-up. The subsequent four decades have seen an inexorable shift to not only a celebrity-driven news agenda but a managed, “spun” political agenda between ever cosier party leaders and editors.

To be clear, it is journalists’ job to get close enough to politicians and celebrities to be able to get stories. And politicians believe they need know the media well enough to be able to explain through them what they are trying to do. Over the past two decades in particular, since Labour tried overtly to correct the bias against the party that it believed cost them the 1992 election, this relationship has become ever more incestuous to the point of “friendship”. At whatever level of journalism one works, the moment a contact becomes a friend is a dangerous one.

We have all faced that difficult call where we have to write something we know will cause that contact/friend embarrassment or worse. Plus, we have all suffered at some time under the FoE syndrome: special treatment for Friends of the Editor. From personal experience, it can happen almost without one realising. We all know that power corrupts, and money obviously corrupts, but perhaps friendship corrupts in the least obvious but most insidious manner of all.