The outrage from all quarters at the latest phone-hacking allegations levelled at the News of the World is as predictable as it is understandable.
People simply can’t fathom how anyone could stoop so low as to intrude into the privacy of families dealing with tragic loss.
Phone-hacking by journalists is indefensible and, if these allegations prove to be true – and I think they will – then I hope that those responsible are prosecuted.
This sort of thing has, however, been going on for years and so I’m a little surprised that anyone is surprised.
Do you remember the infamous Charles and Camilla tape scandal of 1992? Or the the “Squidgygate” tapes involving the late Princess Diana and James Gilbey?
The fact is that some red-top tabloids have, for decades, been involved in some pretty nefarious activities in order to get the big story – usually involving celebrities or ordinary members of the public thrust into the public eye by tragedy.
People who buy these newspapers are deluding themselves if they think otherwise.
Don’t be surprised if, over the coming weeks, more skeletons are revealed. Perhaps members of the royal family had their phones hacked, or more celebrities. Nothing would surprise me.
It is fair to say that, in recent years, the pressure on national newsrooms has ratched up – in part due to the celebrity-obsessed culture we live in and in part due to the challenges posed by 24-hour broadcast media.
However, while this watershed moment should certainly be used to clean up the practices of a small number of journalists, there is a danger here that we throw the baby out with the bath water.
Like it or not, the free British Press is feared – and for good reason.
It is also true that some national newspapers do quality investigative journalism – such as the Daily Telegraph’s expose of the MPs’ expenses scandal.
Indeed, it is little wonder that so many MPs are falling over themselves to abuse the national press and calling for it to be reformed, given that a great body of them were embarrassed as a result of a cracking, relentless campaign to highlight their greed.
Journalists sometimes have to step outside their comfort zone to get a story – that is the nature of the beast.
Sometimes they deal with tip-offs and leaked information and our country is all the better for it.
God forbid we ever see the day when every newspaper is full of press releases and propaganda.
If you want some reassurance then look no further than the regional press.
There is a very clear distinction between the way in which some of the more sensationalist national newspapers operate and the activities of the regional press.
Despite years of cutbacks, the challenges posed by the digital age and very little in the way of forward-planning by industry chiefs, regional newspapers continue to provide an invaluable public service.
We don’t pay for stories, we don’t hack people’s phones and, crucially, we care about our ‘patch’.
Campaigning, challenging local organisations, championing its readers and highlighting great human interest stories is the bread and butter of a good regional newspaper and I’m proud to work for one of the best.
We shouldn’t let a few rotten apples spoil the barrel because the vast majority of trained journalists do a decent job because they see it as a true vocation.