British Journalism Review    
HomeCurrent EditionArchiveBlogSubscription & Back IssuesAbout the BJRLinksContact the BJR


Peter Jukes

Hackgate in 140 characters

British Journalism Review
Vol. 25, No. 1, 2014, pages 5-7

Peter Jukes is an English author, screenwriter, playwright, literary critic and blogger.

Contents - Vol 25, No 1, 2014

Editorial - Constant revolution 3

Not finally... Subjective views on matters journalistic 5
Peter Jukes, Peter Oborne, Ivor Gaber, Alison Bethel McKenzie, Paul Donovan, Duncan Campbell

Nicholas Jones - Where BBC bosses went wrong 21

Don Berry - A model for good court reporting 29

Bénédicte Paviot and Andrew Gimson - No sex, please. We’re French 37

Kim Fletcher - Editors face their final edition 43

Jeremy Dear - A country where the truth kills 50

Tim Luckhurst and Lesley Phippen - Let’s teach journalists to be good 56

Roy Greenslade and Steven Barnett - How to fund local news 62

Alan Rusbridger on press freedom 69
Bill Hagerty reads red top memoirs 71
Jonathan Fenby examines serious news 73
Ivor Gaber explores data journalism 76
Michael Leapman revisits Jon Swain 78
Twitter Watch - 20
Quotes of the Quarter - 49
Ten years ago - The way we were - 68
News - The Paul Foot Award 80


They say evolution is just a series of successful accidents, and the way I ended up crowdfunding my live twitter coverage of the hacking trial was a mixture of necessity and chance.

Although I wanted to be a journalist in my teens, I have spent most my career as a dramatist for stage, radio and television but, as commissioning editors and directors would complain, they became ever more heavily researched based. I loved going out undercover and flying in air ambulances, and reality was always more interesting to me than fiction. I wrote non-fiction on the side, with regular articles in the New Statesman in the 1990s on new technology, social media and the internet. But though I had many friends who were journalists (including the mother of my two children) I never thought I would become one. I feel awkward calling myself one, but after two years, I may be becoming one.

This phase really began when I started blogging about US politics during the Obama campaign in 2008. I wrote up my experiences of online activism for Prospect magazine in a piece (“Flaming for Obama”) that was promoted by Danny Finkelstein at The Times. Then, in what must be the longest career suicide note in history, I followed up with a piece on deficiencies of British TV drama in “Why Britain can’t write The Wire” which went a bit viral and prompted a piece in The Guardian. I think that this background of exploring the dangers of potential monopoly in drama gave me the tools to look at the role of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp and News International when the hacking scandal broke two years later.

I began blogging about the scandal on the popular US Blog, Daily Kos. That was noticed by a publisher, Unbound, who asked me to pitch a book. The blog and the potential book were noticed by Tina Brown at (what was then) Newsweek/The Daily Beast. I spoke to the foreign affairs editor, and Sir Harold Evans (already a hero in the preface of the book) asked to see the manuscript. I wrote one piece for them. Then another. And then about a hundred. Through trial and error, I began to learn on the job the essentials of the craft: the simplicity of story telling, the imperatives of fact checking, contemporaneous notes, accurate quotes and calling the right people to allow all sides of a story.

When all this began to happen one of my old journalist friends said to me: “Peter, I’ve always thought this. You’re a gossip. You’re opinionated. You’ve wasted your life. You would have always had a better career as a tabloid hack.” He genuinely meant this as a compliment.

Getting access to the Old Bailey trial was a fluke though. Newsweek was sold last year and Brown left The Daily Beast, and I thought my brief flirtation with journalism was over. But I still attended some of the pre-trial hearings in the summer, at first in the public gallery. The Old Bailey can be an intimidating place for a newbie, but other journalists were helpful guides. I’d got my NUJ card, and Nick Davies kindly told me who to email in order to get a ticket: I think I got the last place in the annex. I expected to come in and out sporadically, for a weekly freelance piece for The Daily Beast. I had no idea you could live-tweet the whole trial.

That’s how the crowdfunding happened. I explained to the new people following me on Twitter that I couldn’t afford to spend every day at Court 12 on a freelance piece a week. Someone suggested crowdfunding. Reluctantly, I put a pitch page together on Indiegogo in about 10 minutes. I put it online and closed my eyes, and was both shocked and moved to find myself funded in a day.

By accident, by a mixture of time and circumstance, I had found an audience who wanted more of my coverage and were willing to support me to make it available to everyone else.

Since then I have begun to grasp the fiendishly complex reporting restrictions around this case, mainly due to the high media profile, the number of defendants and potential contempt issues around other possible trials. More than anything, court reporting teaches you the profound difference between fact and comment. In reporting a criminal trial you risk the wrath of the judiciary (and possible imprisonment) if you take sides or if you spin a statement one side or the other and risk prejudicing a jury. I am beginning to think that every journalist should do some court reporting for this reason. There’s nothing more sobering than the threat of being reported to the attorney general.

So there we have it: I am here (for the next three months) through a mix of lucky mistake and hinterland. As for tweeting itself – I’m a fairly fast typist, but I think it’s my ear for dialogue which is more important when trying to compress a statement into 140 characters. I use an iPad with its own mobile phone chip (there is no wireless connection at the Old Bailey) and a Logitech keyboard which still has a broken U key. Sometimes, especially when the jury is taken for a third time through some financial statements or call data, it can be quite dry and undramatic, and then I try to make sure I commit as much information to record. It is all stored on my blog and the 200,000 words or so already compiled will be made available as a public database.

But on other days – as with the evidence of the former News of the World journalist, Dan Evans, recently – court can be unbearably dramatic. Your fingers tremble when typing a tweet. You have to think: did I hear that right? Have I redacted a name according to the reporting restrictions? And is this new? Have we heard this before? Is this worthy of a “Breaking” tag. If you hold out too long you miss the drama and ebb and flow. I can’t deny that I take pride in being the first. But so much is at stake with so many high-profile defendants.

It’s almost as if the British media are on trial. No wonder then, the tensions of the trial sometimes percolate into my dreams. I find myself waking in the middle of the night, still going over the evidence, questioning and cross-examining myself.

(All the defendants deny all the charges – the trial continues.)