WHEN I joined the late, lamented News of the World as a sub-editor in 1977 I could prove to the world that I was “a journalist” because I belonged to a well-resourced network of experts that had pronounced me so after I provided it with evidence of my skills and means of income.
This network presented me with a strict ethical code of conduct which it enforced, thus giving me the confidence to adhere to it.
I soon learned that this entity was a valuable counterbalance to the powerful global company for whom I worked and the strong personalities to whom I reported.
Management made it clear to me that my membership of this network wasn’t optional: I had to belong to it before I could work at the News of the World, or at any other newspaper in Fleet Street.
Before I was awarded my job, I did a few “audition” shifts; within minutes of me sitting down at my first, a senior journalist walked up to me and asked to see my “card”, evidence that I was a paid-up member of the network and thus an ethical journalist not in the pocket any employer.
I proudly showed it to him; I’d had it since becoming an indentured reporter on the Sidcup Times in south-east London in 1970.
And, as a life member of the National Union of Journalists, I still have it.
It’s ironic that post-Leveson advocates of “licensed” journalists are usually the kind of people who celebrated the deregulation of the NUJ in Fleet Street, and cheered the press plurality it would engender.
Well it didn’t. All it did was strip decent journalists of their collective protection against coercive middle managers and sabotage their incomes and pensions.