Friday, July 8, 2011
2000: Tell the sun not to shine
It's topical, so let's go with it. This song by Madonna was all over the radio the week I started at The Sun in December 2002. That's right, I worked at News International! Don't hate me; I was only too thrilled to be there.
I had come from a contract publisher and done under two years of being features editor, attending launches, interviewing US stars and cramming four weeks work into one. It was a hoot but it wasn't going anywhere. A friend had gone to be features editor on The Sun's TV Mag and needed a deputy. So I got the job.
It was daunting. The News Corp building, Fortress Wapping was vast. It took 20 minutes to walk from the front door to our office, and that's without the 10-minute walk from the Tube.
It was quite intimidating. The Sun newsroom was plastered with giant sized famous front pages, like Gotcha! and Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster. Our office was through there at the back, separate, with no windows, off a tiny corridor which connected The Sun with The News Of The World. We were never bothered by anyone. Phone hacking may well have been going on all around us, but we beavered away on a good-natured TV magazine given away free with the Saturday paper. We ploughed our own furrow. R.I.P. the TV Mag.
It was an interesting place to be. Everyone's heard of the publication you work on and you did get a lot of special treatment. It was a fantastic name to drop if you were having trouble with deliveries or had a faulty fridge - just say you work for The Sun and your problem is solved almost at once. I had to be smart too - no more jeans!
It was great experience and we were a tight-knit team. But two years later, having spent all of 2001 and 2002 in a windowless office, having done hundreds and hundreds of interviews and written about three features a day during all that time, and having seen an election, 9/11 (the newsroom went wild), the rise and rise of Big Brother and countless other moments in history, it was time to move on. No regrets.
People could be odd about it though. Access was generally brilliant, but as many people who'd bend over backwards for you would also refuse to have anything to do with you, especially celebs from Liverpool. Understandably so. Feelings run high even now.
But it wasn't just stars. I went to a wedding soon after I started and a person on my table told he he'd have asked to have been moved if he'd met me a few years earlier - and possibly would have punched me. Why? Becuase I was a journalist working for The Sun. He told me he was a doctor. So all doctors are like Harold Shipman then?
I heard it all the time: What was I doing working for that scum, etc, etc. It was very waring having to justify your job all the time.
That's why I feel sorry for those on the News of The World today. Most of them weren't even there in 2002 - don't punish them. It's a hard enough existence as it is being at News International, and I can see how the pressure was on for exclusives all the time. It was have been exhausting to be on those papers. But the tone is set from the top.
That said, it was great for the CV. Not so sure about that now though.