Fear and (Self) Loathing In the Newsroom
Our secret tabloid insider working shifts at the Daily Mail shares his take on what life is really like working in Northcliffe House.
When my Google Home Mini told me that Caroline Flack had died, I knew I was in for a week of questions – although none which would be coming from inside the bullpen.
When the media gets attacked, it’s only ever the tabloids, never the broadsheets. What follows are the loaded texts from friends and parents telling me “I heard the news today”. That’s not a statement, it’s a dig, and I know they’ll want ‘my take’ in the form of an admission of guilt.
It’s Sunday today and The Mail on Sunday (TMOS) has covered Flack’s death. For the daily, we’ll spend the day ripping or tweaking its stories for Monday’s edition.
I’d grabbed a copy of TMOS from a foyer table along with the other papers we own and a few others we don’t yet. I rarely open any of them but entering the Daily Mail newsroom without brandishing one of our publications is like attending seminary school without a Bible.
Unless you’re one of the more senior members of the team, you don’t have a desk of your own. The newsroom works on a hot-desking system and it’s pot luck whether the office toddler or hygiene freak inhabited your desk the previous shift.
Today, the desk I’ve got has Sophie Kinsella’s Can You Keep A Secret? unfolded next to the keyboard. The spine is held down by a desk phone. There are print-out tickets for a ‘Pancakes and Prosecco Bottomless Brunch’ event and at least five red biros in various states of chewiness. I keep the tickets, bin the pens and throw the book in a random drawer.
I sit down and sign in to the Daily Mail’s page planner system. There’s the option to see what the paper’s versions are going to look like – Ireland and Scotland. But nothing exists outside of the capital and I choose to view only the London edition and any pages in standby.
For tomorrow’s paper, we’re giving Caroline Flack two spreads or four pages. One sub shouts to another: “Jesus Christ. Who cares? Half the guys in here won’t have a f*cking clue who she is.” He’s drowned out by a reporter from the newsdesk who shouts: “Anyone working on this BBC TV licence story? Someone has f*cked up one of the stats and we need to get it sorted. Hold on… I’m coming over there.” He strides across to the subs, but then turns back when his phone starts to ring.
Microsoft Outlook pings and a yellow NEW EMAIL envelope symbol flashes. It’s an internal legal warning – one of many that will arrive in staff inboxes throughout the day. This one is from Flack’s boyfriend Lewis Burton’s solicitors via the regulator, IPSO. “Their client has asked for privacy at this difficult time. He has requested that he is not approached or photographed upon his arrival to the UK and that no approach is made to him in the coming days.”
Let’s see how that pans out.
The next day, Lewis Burton is not on the page planner so we’ve honoured this privacy request.
Vape, Tie, Fever
There’s intense chatter of the former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger’s comment piece for us, which is seen in the newsroom as tantamount to Jeremy Corbyn guest-editing Hello! magazine.
“He doesn’t even like us. He’s never liked us,” a reporter says. “What are you, 14 years old? What do you reckon he got for that?” I ask.
“Very funny. Anything between £5,000 and £15,000,” he says. “Could you be any more precise?” I say.
“No,” he replies. “Well, Mr Rusbridger has spelled the word ‘certainty’ wrong. You would have thought he’d done a spell check,” I say.
“I thought he was dead,” says a sub-editor. “I’m going for a vape.”
During a lull mid-shift, I spend 10 minutes copying a business editor flicking his tie perfectly onto his shoulder. It was such a strong, confident manoeuvre that I almost feel impressed. When I try, the tie keeps slipping off my right shoulder. I undo and retie it so the front is now much longer. It’s almost down to my knees. I try the flick again but throw the tip directly into my left eye and recoil in shock.
Before I reset to try again I’m distracted by the internal BREAKING NEWS on the Daily Mail internal system. It’s headed CORONAVIRUS GUIDELINES and reads: “In light of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, DMG Media is issuing the following guidance. Please read…”
The information runs thus: “When coughing and sneezing cover mouth with a tissue or flexed elbow – throw tissue away immediately and wash your hands… Avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever or a cough”.
I look around the newsroom. Slumped behind a console, a reporter is eating sashimi with one hand, the other he’s dragging across his face to wipe his nose. He smears the snot and raw fish on his chair fabric. He’s also exploding in huffs and puffs at his screen like the Big Bad Wolf. I’d be safer sampling bat soup in a Wuhan wet market.
Complaints, Copyright, Forget
Towards the end of the week, coverage eases off over Caroline Flack’s death.
IPSO has received 29 complaints about the MailOnline’s coverage of her suicide and my grandmother wants to know if I think I’m “making the situation worse”. An uncle has tagged me in a viral Facebook video of a man berating ‘TheScum’ Sun for its ethics.
The only legal warning we’ve been issued is from real estate company London Lofts. It isn’t happy about images we’ve used in a MailOnline article titled Inside Caroline Flack’s Flat: Photos Reveal Interior of Tragic Love Island Star’s…’ London Lofts says that it owns the copyright for the images and that we didn’t have permission to use them. The link gets taken down.
Instead, we print spin-offs for content. Flack’s ex Danny Cipriani reveals his mental health history, we lay into the ‘CRUEL CIRCUS’ of Love Island and NHS psychiatrist Dr Max Pemberton offers his two cents on social media.
By next week, the news cycle begins anew and Caroline Flack’s death will be even less important to us.