For anyone who earns their living, such as it is, from journalism (such as that now is), the rapidly unfolding events in Hackgate have raised hackles all around. It has also put the hack into hacks, a term nearly as derisive as calling actors luvvie but is now fully deserved, in every sense. And while, as I’ve already reported here before, it has put at least one theatre critic so far out of a job — yes, the News of the World had one — it has also given the rest of us pause: with the kind of lack of integrity from newspapers to police and politicians that is being uncovered daily, are we finally seeing the beginning of the end of newspapers?
For years some of us — or at least me — have been anticipating the death of print journalism as we know and love it, as readers remorselessly migrate online, but perhaps it’s not the internet that’s going to kill it, after all, but itself.
Yet who do we turn to in an effort to make sense of it all? I’m addicted to the newspapers to keep me posted on the ongoing developments and offer a detailed commentary on it. But as well as the hard copies I religiously buy every morning, I’m also addicted to their online incarnations, too, and particularly the Guardian’s real-time blog. (By contrast, the Independent — which offers some of the most thoughtful commentary — is hopeless on the breaking news front, relying instead on feeds from the Press Association).
And it is even starting to affect our theatregoing. Ben Brantley, theatre critic for the New York Times who is in town at the moment for his annual extended summer catch up while all is quiet on the Broadway front, reported in a blog this week, “And so the sorry story continues, as people from the corridors of power confess their crimes and await their judgments. The glamorous favorite of the tyrant has fallen from her high perch, and it is rumored that further depths of corruption are waiting to be plumbed. Reputations everywhere are in tatters. Such was the view on Saturday night - no, not from my couch of the television screen - but from a seat at the Donmar Warehouse toward the end of its production of Luise Miller.”
Drawing the comparison between the play and what’s happening in the news, he goes on to admit, “I had been reluctant to tear myself away from the ever-evolving news of the phone-hacking scandal, which could be relied upon to produce a fresh resignation or arrest at regular intervals. But leave it to Friedrich Schiller, the 18th-century German chronicler of the evil that politicians do, to provide a soap opera that’s nearly as juicy as that surrounding Rupert Murdoch’s News International organisation (and Parliament and Scotland Yard).”
So theatre doesn’t so much provide us with a distraction from the real world, but once again helps to hold up a mirror to it, whether fictional as here, or tomorrow at Hampstead, for instance, where art and real life will collide when journalist turned playwright Sarah Helm premieres her debut play, Loyalty, based on her own private experiences of being close to public ones, since her husband Jonathan Powell was Tony Blair’s chief of staff at the time the decision to go to war on Iraq was taken.
But the news has been moving so fast this week that, as Michael Coveney noted on his blog yesterday, “Every time you go inside a theatre these days you wonder what new dramatic twist awaits you on the other side.”
So much so that last night I didn’t tear myself away from the computer at all, and had a rare night at home. And what happened? A bag, containing a computer, paperwork and phone, is found in a bin near Rebekah Brooks’s home. You couldn’t make this stuff up. As Jeremy Herrin, the Royal Court’s deputy artistic director, so astutely put it in a tweet last night, “If this was submitted as a draft, I would send it back for rewrites.”
More upsetting was the news earlier in the day of the death of former News of the World journo Sean Hoare, and whistleblower on Andy Coulson’s knowledge of the culture of hacking. In a piece by The Guardian’s Nick Davies, Hoare was quoted on the pressures of being a showbusiness reporter on getting the story: “I was paid to go out and take drugs with rock stars - get drunk with them, take pills with them, take cocaine with them. It was so competitive. You are going to go beyond the call of duty. You are going to do things that no sane man would do. You’re in a machine.”
As I tweeted in response, “Funny, you never read about theatre journos being paid to go out and take drugs with theatre stars, but maybe I mix in wrong circles!” An industry insider duly replied, “You should try coming to an after party…”
But of course we don’t. And that’s another difference: we don’t have to get embedded — let alone in bed — to get the story. But it’s a striking fact, of course, that all of the now former NI staff now under investigation, from Rebekhah Brooks and Andy Coulson to Neil Wallis, had served time on showbusiness pages, and indeed Wallis was, until recently, the Managing Director for PR agency the Outside Organisation — a PR outfit, who, as I’ve previously pointed out here, have not been above making up their own quotes for a client’s show to help promote it!