I decided to call it a day as a journalist when, years ago, the new young features editor of a large-circulation monthly women’s magazine to which I contributed didn’t know what Watergate was. (What was worse, she had no interest in finding out: why go into journalism if you lack curiosity?) So, glued recently to the Twitter-stream about NewsCorp, it has been as if the good old days are come again.
I went into journalism inspired as a teenager by the Washington Post, by TV coverage of Vietnam or Kent State, and by Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72.
As a freelance journalist in the late 1970s and ‘80s, I wrote regularly for two Murdoch papers, The Times and the now defunct Today (stalking horse for the battle with the print unions over computer typesetting), both before and after he acquired them.
It was difficult then to pinpoint the sea-change on both papers, but it was there: a shift in priorities, a coarsening, a sense of internal competition and fear, a culture of bullying that labelled you a wimp if you talked about ethical standards.
It is easy now to show where, thirty years later, it has led. To the arrest of two former newspaper editors who intimidated political leaders with impunity; a total distortion of the balance of power between politics and the old concept of the Fourth Estate; and a bizarre new twist in the ages-old relationship between reporters and corrupt cops.
What has also changed is that I followed it all on the new Gonzo journalism that is Twitter.