In an inquiry Room at the Royal Courts of justice, a tortuous inquisition plays out the last moves of a decades long confrontation. Sagacious commentators suggest we’re watching the inexorable death throes of a once proud profession. Journalism puts up a brave fight, but the lustreless altercations at the feet of Lord Leveson project an inevitable futility.
As editors faced the muzak, a genuine tabloid legend’s coffin was making its way past a sea of solemn faces inside a dimly lit church in SW15. Mournful voices drowned out by the perpetual clang of a tolling bell heard moving tributes celebrating the life of ‘Smoking’ Sue Carroll.
When I first met Sue in my early 20’s she scared me to death. She was overwhelmingly glamorous, gritty and tough. Gradually, however, my trepidation and the fear subsided. The more we did business, the more I learnt about the idiosyncrasies and the methods of popular journalism.
I treasured Sue’s friendship and confidence. Standing in the church fighting back the tears I found it difficult to believe a constant presence in my professional life would no longer be at the end of the phone or available for an old fashioned lunch. Cancer corroded and finally consumed this vital human. Sue’s passing is significant, a metaphor, perhaps, for a type of journalism the like of which we will never see again.
Most importantly, Sue taught me to trust whilst correctively ensuring my words matched my message. Off the record gossip- no matter how compelling- remained firmly off the record. She never betrayed a confidence and remained true to her word. On three occasions she delivered some very bad news about errant clients. Thankfully she provided me with the time and space to gather my professional wits before the deafening clamour descended from on high. It was never an easy ride with Sue, but it was always an honest ride.
The funeral and subsequent wake were portentous. Whether the gathered throng shared my observation or not I don’t know, but it felt to me like we were mourning the death of a whole profession. When I looked around that room at a collection of legends and old warhorses, I was brought shockingly down to earth. Many were unable to work, others were stripped of all their power. In short, the question was begged as to who was left to bring experience, temperance and morality to the popular press.
Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. Society is clearly angry about the dark art which trades as modern popular journalism. Alas a hunger for stories at any cost was overwhelmed by the malady of an ugly lycanthropy. It is pointless to posit a dewy eyed eulogy for newspapers and journalists, but it is a time to declare the game has changed.
It’s a fact that old media is in fast decline, that I will see the death of print. Hopefully the legend of Sue Carrol will be preserved and cherished and not lost in the sea of detritus and the sins of a generation of lazy hacks
The values enshrined in the ethics of Sue should not be forgotten. It’s not an artifice to suggest that responsible journalism could be confident in a two way relationship between parties on different sides of the line. Any PRs rubbing their hands at the prospect of a neutered press are gravely mistaken- great content is about managing relationships with the mavericks and the enthusiasts. It is they who will produce copy to truly capture and excite the crowd.Sue and I United on BBC Breakfast