‘You’ll never guess what I’ve just heard!! Apparently [insert name of well-known footballer/popstar/actor here] has been kicked out of the house by [insert name of well-known footballer/popstar/actor’s wife or girlfriend here]. It’s because he was caught in bed with [insert name of friend or relative of other vaguely famous person here]. He was seen creeping out of her flat at two o’clock in the morning by the milkman’s mate.
And it’s all 100 per cent true!!!!”
The internet revolution means that e-mails such as this are pinging into inboxes around the country with increasing frequency. Usually forwarded by someone who has sent it to a dozen or so other friends at the same time.
There are, of course, those tell-tale signs. The unnecessary number of randomly sprinkled exclamation marks. The fact that the source is usually the sister of someone’s mate whose brother sometimes does casual subbing shifts on the Daily Express.
And, the clincher, the fact that it’s “definitely going to be in the News of the World next Sunday”. Since when was Rebekah Wade quite so sloppy with the security of her news list?
Last week it was the turn of David and Victoria Beckham to be at the eye of an e-mail storm that raged more turbulently than most. Apparently originated by a mischievous FA employee, and given momentum by its brief appearance on one of those gossip websites that already provides too much material for the celebrity columnists, the fabricated story flashed around the country faster than Posh Spice on a promotional tour to sell her singles.
But who did those same punters who read the e-mails turn to for affirmation – or not, in this case – of the story? Their regional and national newspapers, which gleefully seized the chance to decry the scurrilous websites for publishing “unfounded rumour peddled as truth”.
There’s a lesson here.
Such trust that newspapers have earned over decades – centuries in some cases – needs to be guarded as never before. Protected as jealously as the Beckhams now watch their own security.
That means remaining wary of the internet’s wicked whispers, however entertaining they may be, and ensuring that proper journalism is still applied – as it was in the Beckham case. Call and check rather than cut and paste.