It was a question to which I hadn’t given much (if any) thought since the paper closed until WM called to set up the interview. That lack of consideration might immediately suggest the NoW’s passing had left me unmoved but on reflection – go on, ask yourself the same question – I was left with the inescapable feeling that without it around something important was missing.
I don’t mean there was a gap next to the Sunday morning marmalade pot, largely because I can’t remember the last time I bought the News of the World (no, not even ‘just for the football’) but on two levels the hole left by its demise has not been filled. First there’s the matter of sales. The Mail on Sunday may have just reported an increase in circulation and the other tabloids – Sunday Mirror, People, and Daily Star on Sunday – may also have seen some benefit in the short term but overall there are fewer people reading Sunday papers. For the missing million – for that’s about what the number is – nothing has replaced the ‘Screws’.
More importantly, I think, is the investigative reporting deficit. I know much of it was tacky – I don’t much care in what language Max Mosley likes his bottom spanked – but it did have a track record of exposing wrongdoing that needed to be exposed. You need look no further than the case of the Pakistani cricketers fixing case to see that. None of this excuses what seems to have been a culture of overstepping the bounds of acceptable behaviour but it does raise an important issue as Lord Leveson sets out on his inquiry into the role of the police and the press in ‘hackgate’.
What he finds and whatever shape the regulation of the press takes in the future it is imperative that nothing is done to further hamper journalists’ legitimate pursuit of stories that are genuinely in the public interest. Maybe there’s nothing to worry about but in The Times today Lord Neuberger, the Master of the Rolls, reflects on the decrease in cases in which someone is seeking a privacy order to prevent publication of a story. “Possibly it is because newspapers, post phone hacking, have been rather careful in not engaging in controversial stories,” he says. Of course there are other reasons but we don’t need an over-cautions press. We especially don’t need it when elsewhere today Lord Patten is reported in the Guardian as saying’ the BBC is unable to conduct investigations into some of the most important stories of the day – including phone hacking – if they could be construed as having a political bias.’
I think I might be missing the NoW just a little more today.