News of the World: What was it like on the inside?

  • Published
Final edition of News of the World
Image caption,
The News of the World newspaper lasted for 168 years and 8,674 editions

The News of the World has published its last edition after 168 years. It marks the end of a newspaper where the journalists would get the stories at any cost, writes Dan Arnold, an investigative reporter at the paper from 1994 to 1996.

"We want exclusives, not excuses," one of the many mantras at the News of the World.

Journalism is notoriously a high-pressure business, but the NoW was its own special pressure cooker of fear and rivalry.

"Get the story at any cost, we pay more than anyone else," that was the basic premise at the start of any story.

I was authorised to offer a binman £25,000 in cash, a new car and a holiday for his story.

But as I sat outside a south London terraced house, people back in the office simply would not believe that a refuse collector didn't want to talk to me.

Saying "no" to the NoW simply wasn't an option.

'Feared and loathed'

I joined the NoW at 23, one of the youngest reporters in Fleet Street at the time. I had three years' experience under my belt of covering the general news in London - murders, suicides, court trials and tribunals: the usual humdrum stream of interviews and note-taking.

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The News of the World's circulation dwarfed that of its competitors

But the NoW was different. Journalists were both feared and loathed. People would rarely talk, so we had to get the story by other means.

Was I asked to do anything illegal? No, but at the same time we were expected to cover our own backs. "Any cost" means what it says.

And remember, the NoW printed only what it could prove. You could collect all the hearsay "evidence" you liked, but without an admission or rock-solid proof the story would get binned or left until you came up with the goods.

I was once called into Piers Morgan's office (the editor at the time) to hear an influential "fat cat" businessman explain his relationship with a senior politician's female adviser.

I knew that they had been meeting and communicating but could not definitively prove they had an affair. But bingo, he spilled the beans.

'Fair game'

At the time, the NoW was selling 4.7 million copies per week, far outstripping its nearest rivals, the Sunday Mirror and the People. Having your byline read by so many readers was no mean feat.

Those working at the NoW knew they had "made it" - it was the biggest selling paper in the English-speaking world.

Moral qualms? Rarely. Celebrities, politicians and common-or-garden scumbags were the stock-in-trade and absolutely fair game.

Who would care about the ethics if you exposed a dodgy politician or a paedophile? Certainly not me.

You could put the fear of God into an MP just by phoning and saying: "Hi, I'm a reporter from the News of the World."

Kind of "ignore me at your peril". Definitely a thrill.

And to be honest, we were onto the next thing so quickly that we didn't have time to reflect on the stories and those involved.

All investigative reporters from any paper or TV channel have to cross boundaries to get the story. The end often justified the means.

And the resources? At 10am on a Tuesday (the start of the working week for us), it was: "Dan, go to Heathrow Airport. Pick up five grand in cash from the Amex desk. Get to Sardinia. Now." Boring? No.

But you were only as good as your last story, and I've heard other former journos describe how your bylines were counted up over the year, to see who would get the sack.

And remember, this was 1995. You might have the spiciest MP story of your career and be looking forward to a huge splash (front page story), but if Princess Di had bought a new dress then you were lucky to get a page-lead.

'Suspicion and paranoia'

It was absolutely dog-eat-dog in the office. Stories were compartmentalised. None of us knew what the other was doing unless we were specifically teamed-up.

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The decision to close the 168-year-old paper was sudden and unexpected

This was not just journalistic rivalry, we were told not to mention what we were doing to anyone, especially our colleagues.

Suspicion and paranoia were how you survived. And it was so competitive.

There simply wasn't room for all the stories produced to appear in the paper, so only the best ones made it. And there were even a couple of "byline bandits" in the office, who would remove your name from a jointly written story.

It was a bubble too. Most journos were so focused on their stories and not getting fired that the "real" world did not exist. We were on call 24 hours a day with our pagers, and often worked evenings and weekends.

Not so strange in the world of news admittedly, but you had to add to that the atmosphere that the paper was all that mattered. The stress was visible on colleagues' faces and often led to huge drinking binges and troubles at home.

The end

Ironically enough I lost my job when the Today newspaper was closed down, another News International title. They had to find 150 jobs in the building, and I was last-in, first-out.

I worked in Fleet Street for a short while afterwards but it was in the middle of the 90s recession and papers were firing.

I tried out local TV news for a while, but it was amateurish in comparison and badly run. And there was hardly any competitive atmosphere, which made it seem incredibly tame.

I still write now, but specialise in wine and music stories (much closer to my heart) and of course feel lucky that I got the boot when I did.

I don't think that I would have hacked into Milly Dowler's phone, but people with stressful careers and huge mortgages can be driven to the maddest of choices. I left with my principles intact.