Confessions of a 'News of the World' Reporter!
In 2006, this U.S.-based author spent four months working at the Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid. She answered to then-editor in chief Andy Coulson, who would resign in 2007 over the phone-hacking scandal that has engulfed News Corp. and led to the closing of the 168-year-old newspaper. In her own words, she describes her experience.
My first assignment was cake. I tagged along with a features reporter to interview Baywatch actress Traci Bingham because she was on the U.K.'s Celebrity Big Brother (or Big Bruv, as they call it) that season. Nothing unusual. I was then told to attempt a friendship with Guy Pelley, a British bar owner who is best friends with Princes Harry and William. I was sent to his bar to hang out and look pretty. No luck, as he never dishes on his royal boys.
Early on, the job entailed transcribing audiotapes that sleazy women made of footballers with whom they had sex. The girls would set up famous players, then sell them out to the paper in order to get some cash and fame. The recordings usually consisted of extended, loud orgasms; I would swear they were faking it as I transcribed the grunts and groans for my editors.
I was soon switched over to harder reporting, and my next assignment took me to Brighton, where I was instructed very specifically to catch Mike Tyson in a cocaine orgy. Editors sent me to a grungy video shop above a pub in East London, where I collected a tiny "pen cam," signing it out on an account the paper maintained there. Back at the NOTW offices, staffers stitched it onto the lining of a hideous pine-green windbreaker four sizes too big for me. They aimed the camera out of a front button.
Sick over the task but afraid I'd be shipped home if I didn't come through, I managed to locate Tyson at a hotel, befriend him and his posse and take some photos of him with strippers with the pen cam. I passed the info on to a fellow reporter and cried when it hit the paper the next day. The editors' embellishments detailed three-way sex and other activities I had not witnessed. They made it look as if Tyson was in the midst of an orgy in the lobby.
In the newsroom I was congratulated, though I was normally met with walls of silence. I could never put my finger on how some people were privy to the most private facts about public figures. Most reporters had two cell phones, and nobody ever said where they were going or coming from.
I remember asking a reporter how he knew such intimate info as how Paul McCartney and Heather Mills had a blowup at home. I was met with a look of surprise. It was the paper's big scoop that week, how Mills had moved out after a fight. It actually crossed my mind that McCartney might be this person's source, maybe to get revenge on his despised ex.
I now can guess how the reporter gained such private information.
The place was always shrouded in secrecy. Reporters never talked to one another, much less discussed where they were getting stories. Most front-page bombshells came via the "fake sheik," a reporter so skilled at blending in that I never knew when he visited the newsroom. He once busted Sarah Ferguson taking a bribe for access to her ex-husband, Prince Andrew.
It's not as if I suspect that all NOTW employees were ethically challenged. In fact, some were top-of-the-line employees who remain close friends of mine.
With the sudden closing of one of the oddest newsrooms I have ever entered, a current employee described the vibe to me like this: "They are in a weird state. Some happy, some gutted. Most confused."