Skirting the Issue - No killer instinct? That’s fine by me

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I decided I wanted to be a journalist when I was about 15 years-old. It wasn’t my first career choice. Originally - after my childhood ambitions of being Princess Leia’s best friend were found to be unrealistic, I had wanted to be a teacher but a meeting with a disillusioned teacher/ careers advisor put me right off that notion so it was time to rethink my career options.

At the time I loved writing, as I do now. And I loved the to and fro of the political world. I also had the biggest crush on Dean Cain who played Clark Kent/Superman in the ‘Lois and Clark’ TV series and I coveted the shoes worn by Teri Hatcher as Lois Lane in the same programme. Those may not have been the finest tenets on which to base the rest of my life but I was 15 and thought I knew it all.

When I was sixteen, I had my first work experience in the offices of the Sentinel where I mostly spent the week typing up press releases and trying to act the sophisticate. I also hid in the loos when a bombscare was phoned in convinced this would be the end of a possibly glittering journalistic career before it had even started.

I survived that scare and a subsequent week on work in experience in the Journal during the school holidays where I was sent on a number of stories all by myself like a proper reporter. I left that work experience with a fire in my belly and a determination to make journalism my career.

Of course I was kind of naive. I thought all you needed to be a journalist was a GCSE in English and perhaps a nice pair of shoes, such as those worn by Teri Hatcher as Lois Lane. It was a shock to my system to find that I needed to go and get proper journalistic qualifications - but determined nonetheless I set out on my path towards my chosen career.

I didn’t always get a great response when I told people I wanted to be a journalist. Needless to say mostly journalists are portrayed as not very nice people who would do anything for a story but no, I, would tell people, most journalists are really quite ethical, moral and will judge each story on its merits.

I remember vividly attending an interview for one of 16 places on my chosen journalism course and waxing lyrical to the panel about how ethics had to be the cornerstone of journalism and that you were more likely to get a good story if you proved yourself to be trustworthy.

Even then I didn’t have much time for gutter journalism. Of course there were those who said I would never amount to much without the killer instinct to nose in someone’s bins and rifle through their underwear drawer.

People’s stories

But that’s not what journalism was about to me. Journalism about telling people’s stories and above all telling the truth. That might sound laughable in the modern sleazy world but essentially that’s where I’ve always come from. I’ve always tried to do my best and tell the story the best way I can. On occasions I have got it wrong. On occasions I have felt like the gutter press as I doorstepped a recently bereaved family or asked an awkward question or attended a funeral in the interest of a story.

There are times when my journalistic radar has pinged into life at an overheard conversation or chat among friends and I suppose there are times when I have followed those leads to get a story. But that’s about as sneaky as things have got.

I’ve never hacked into someone’s private messages, or rummaged through their medical files or tried to access their bank accounts. The News of the World scandal has rocked the journalistic world - for many people it has solidified the notion that all journalists are heartless hacks who would sell their granny for a story.

I have been horrified, even as a journalist who likes to get a good story, to see the revelations spill forth. The tapping of the phone of murdered teenager Milly Dowler made me feel physically sick - to think of some journalist listening to the private pleas of her parents begging for her safe return.

What has followed has shown that people of all levels have been hacked. Their private lives have been delved into and turned upside down and more often than not this has been in the interest only of a salacious headline rather than the public interest.

Anyone who has dared to suggest otherwise has been shot down, rightly do, in flames because everyone knows they were simply chasing a story - any story and they clearly didn’t care how they got it or who they hurt in the process.

Those at the higher end of the food chain have thought themselves untouchable. In many ways they believed their own hype and somehow celebrities and politicians fell in line behind them afraid to lose the favour of the media.

Needless to say I would never have made it working as a journalist at such a level, but I have always maintained my integrity. I’m proud to say that, at least in some part, I have maintained those ethical standpoints I had when I was 16 and spending my first days in a newsroom. If that makes me an inferior journalist, I’m happy to wear that badge. At least I’m still able to sleep at night.