Editor-At-Large: The 'News of the World' habit was as addictive as crack

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According to Mr Cameron, "we have all been in this together – the press, the politicians and leaders of all (political) parties". The sight of the Prime Minister under attack for his cosy relationships with newspaper owners and tabloid editors should not distract us from the unpalatable truth that there's another player in the hacking scandal – ordinary members of the public. It might not be popular to say so, but we are equally complicit, as readers and purchasers of the News of the World.

It fed our obsession with the excesses of celebrity culture, from sex and drug scandals to priapic footballers. To be honest, wasn't buying the News of the World a bit like snacking on crack? You're soon hooked and, even if you claim it's just for entertainment, your attitudes get coarsened in the process of reading the stuff. Fans say it reflects the British obsession with sex and crude humour. I think it's responsible for a brutal and demeaning attitude to women and the trumpeting of a high-minded morality that its owners seem to have forgotten. Does it sum up the best characteristics of the British?

Our relationship with the News of the World has been a two-way affair. In the battle for readers, the tabloid press compete to come up with scoops revealing increasingly intimate details about the private lives of public figures. Our appetite for all this stuff – which saw the old gossip columns with their emphasis on the rich and titled completely sidelined for a new cast list – grew out of the multiplicity of television soaps over the past 30 years, and the massive cultural impact of reality TV. Soaps and reality shows projected ordinary people into our living rooms, and we couldn't get enough information about these new heroes. We've turned into needy couch potatoes who require a constant supply of trivia. It seems to have been a short step from hacking into the phones of celebrities, to picking on public figures and politicians, and then the victims of crime, a descent into madness that we funded all the way.

It's all to do with "sexing up" copy, embellishing it with details that can hook in readers and make a version of a big news story distinctive. We are repulsed to discover that non-celebrities thrust into the spotlight – the families of the girls murdered in Soham, servicemen killed on duty and the victims of the 7/7 bombings – all seem to have been the subject of illegal activity that sought to obtain material to be used in this way.

To News of the World journalists, a story had to "deliver" and there was no difference whether it starred Kerry Katona, John Prescott or Milly Dowler. Why did we not realise when we read such intimate accounts of private events that the nuggets of information they contained might have been obtained through deception and illegal hacking? The truth is, a lot of us enjoy our news presented just like a spicy telly soap. Even the BBC is guilty of crass news presentation that takes unfolding events and showcases them as popular drama – during the last hours of Raoul Moat, the murderer on the run in Northumberland last year, reporters were positioned around Rothbury flapping their hands trying to appear well-informed while Moat was under police siege. This press overkill turned him into a sick folk hero in the hour of his death.

I'm not shedding a tear for the death of the best-selling newspaper in the UK, far from it. Others are more sentimental – the columnist Carole Malone said "it's been in our lives and on our doormats for decades". Bought by rich and poor, the size of the readership meant that the paper attracted more AB readers than any of its upmarket rivals. But the News of the World, like its rivals, had radically changed its agenda over the past decade. News was gradually sidelined by a toxic mix of gossip and speculation – a mix we all bought into.

For years, parliament, the PCC and our prime ministers all decided to do nothing as the darker side of tabloid news gathering grew to feed changing public taste. Police investigations were botched, reports from the Information Commissioner and select committee ignored. Now, we're promised a big clean-up – but the only way to end this culture is not to fund it, and that means not buying whatever replaces the News of the World. Are we grown-up enough?

Just walk away, Hugh... L'Oréal isn't worth it

Hugh Laurie seems a quintessential Brit – the kind of chap who would never spend hours worrying about whether his jacket matched his jeans. I can't imagine him clutching a man bag or attending a men's fashion show, so I was mystified by his new gig as "brand ambassador" for L'Oréal's cosmetics for men.

As the wonderfully dissolute Dr Gregory House, Laurie is the highest paid television actor in the United States, earning more than £250,000 an episode. The series is shown in over 70 countries and has won him numerous awards, so he can't need the money.

Hugh admits he sees a therapist, and has suffered from depression in the past. He's always extremely self-effacing in interviews, but for a man plagued by self-doubt, surprisingly open to risk-taking. For his debut blues album this year, he played the piano, guitar, and sang, accompanied by top musicians. He's been giving concerts and recently appeared on Later with Jools Holland.

So why appear in ads for L'Oréal, the company that pays Cheryl Cole to pretend that mane of hair is all her own? Hugh, with your unkempt beard and baggy eyes, you are super-cool – but flogging make-up is rather naff.

Gove must follow Jamie's lead

Jamie Oliver was passionately committed to raising the standard of school meals, and achieved impressive results. He got the last government to introduce strict nutritional guidelines and £500m was set aside over six years to train staff, and improve kitchens and dining rooms.

The average price of school meals has gone up to £1.93, a rise of 5p over the last year, but the number of children taking meals has gone up too. Now, 44.1 per cent of pupils at primary schools and 37.6 per cent of those at secondary schools eat these nutritious lunches.

It's essential that school meals be subsidised and made compulsory. Kids should be helping to cook them, and choice shouldn't be on the agenda. Michael Gove, please note.

BBC managers will cash in again

Hats off to Chris Patten, the new Chairman of the BBC Trust, tasked with imposing realism on this baffling organisation. He plans to slash the number of managers from about 550 to 200 and refuses to use a chauffeur-driven car, travelling to work by train using his pensioner's Freedom Pass.

Patten has promised an end to "waste, self-indulgence and inefficiency", and says he's phasing out perks such as private health insurance for top bosses. Managers are the least productive part of a creative company, squatting between those at the cutting edge of productivity and the bean counters in the boardroom.

The BBC has more of these ineffectual employees than any place I've worked. Sadly, the generous terms in these people's contracts probably mean that nothing will be saved for programming.





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