Over eight months of live Tweeting Peter Jukes covered every moment of the hacking trial. He has now gathered all the evidence he published, and much more that remained secret at the time because of reporting restrictions, to publish what may turn out to be the definitive account of one of the biggest criminal trials in British legal history. It is required reading for anyone who wants to undertstand the hacking scandal and to know why, after its first trial, three journalists were in prison and the other defendants (including former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks and managing editor Stuart Kuttner) walked free from the court.
Here Jukes explains how, a few weeks into the case, he invented a new way of a new way of funding court reporting and how – after the trial was over – he came under fire from journalists himself. Beyond Contempt is available to buy as an e-book and to pre-order as a paperback from this website.
BREAKING: I’ve been told we can live tweet from day to day now, depending on evidence. #hackingtrial
This may have been great news for transparency and open justice – but what was I going to do? I never thought any judge would allow live blogging of such a complex, contempt-fraught trial. And he left me in an invidious position. I’d gained almost 10,000 new followers on the basis I was live-tweeting the hacking trial. Many were looking forward to my continued coverage. Only hitch – I couldn’t afford to do it. As I went home I managed to squeeze the last of my credit card to buy food, I discovered some kind anonymous soul had donated ten quid to me, using my public email address found on my blog (yes it’s possible).
As I lay in bed that night, I realised I’d have to explain to my followers why I wouldn’t be live tweeting on the morrow. But that £10 donation sowed the germ of an idea. Perhaps someone might offer to pay me to stay at the trial? Highly unlikely: but I had to explain my absence, and perhaps hint at a way to prevent it. Unable to sleep, I got up again around 2am, and went back to an old blog I’d used to launch my book two years previously, to write a rather self-pitying explanation:
As a freelancer I have no retainer to cover my time there. I get paid per piece, and with a likely offer of one piece per week being published for the remaining months of the trial, £200 per week will not cover my living expenses in London. Actually, given the cost of living here, they barely cover a day…. Prior to the trial, without having to be in court all day, I’ve managed to cross-fund the time through other work and dip into my savings. But now I’m broke (mortgage defaulting faulting broke to be honest) and so will have to seek other work in the months ahead.
This is not a pity plea or pitch. There are others who survive on much less than I do. But it is worth noting for those who celebrate the ‘everything for free’ era of Google….
Some kind soul sent me some money through PayPal through my firstname.lastname@example.org account just so I would continue live reporting. I haven’t figured out how to return that, so I might just email back and offer to do a Q&A for that person, or attend a session of their choice. Some other tweeters have kindly offered to set up a crowd funding account. I’m neither a saint nor a martyr, and given the importance of this trial for ‘British justice’ as the presiding judge put it, I will not ignore further requests. If there’s a popular demand for more coverage, I will respond and carve out as much as time as possible to return to the court…”
By the time I woke up the next morning, there had been a phenomenal response. The Twitter link had been retweeted nearly 100 times, with dozens of sympathetic comments. The blog itself had been re-blogged elsewhere and had nearly 1,000 views. Meanwhile several commentators, taking up my less than subtle PayPal hint, suggested I crowdfund my coverage. Former tabloid hack turned comedian and documentary maker, Richard Peppiatt, was the most vocal.
I wasn’t entirely unfamiliar with crowdfunding. My book on Murdoch had been pre-sold on this basis by Unbound, and I’d looked at this model with Marcos D’Cruze, co-writer of my musical Mrs Gucci, who had crowdfunded some of the recordings. I logged on to Indiegogo and within 10 minutes had assembled a crowdfunding site.
The next stroke of luck was the video. Video pitches sell projects more effectively than text. I had the advantage of a newly-minted CNN interview which was already on Youtube. Thanks to the experience of crowdfunding my book, it didn’t take me long to think of ‘pledges’ – signed copies, extra briefings, launch parties, which could generate more money. I hated the idea of constantly pitching for support, so set a deadline of six days. With no pride left to swallow, I hit the publish button, tweeted out the links and ignored the internet for the next few hours. When I checked the site again, I’d raised half the money. Or rather others had.
One of the most inspiring things about crowdfunding is not the money, but the interaction with people interested in your work, and several complete strangers had become advocates, tweeting and retweeting links to the fundraising. Gabrielle NYC, Jon Lippitt and Claire Pollard – three people I’d never even heard of let alone met at this point – would become key figures supporting my work throughout the trial. As well as raising money, I had crowd-sourced three talented people.
Within an hour my campaign was half funded. I added a rider to my blog:
UPDATE; putting pride aside for public demand, I created a crowd funding page at IndieGogo in order to cover the trial till at least Christmas. An amazing response in the first hour or so
The BBC website covered the crowdfunding. Even TabloidTroll praised it as a possible new model for journalism. Within six hours I had hit the target and within 24 hours had overshot it by 50 per cent. I was exhausted, humbled, and most importantly – since some of the money came through immediately – I was able to pay my mortgage. There was only one downside: I’d have to get up the next morning, go back to the uncomfortable chairs in Court 19 and risk jeopardising the trial with a single ill-judged tweet.
The next morning I returned to court a little sheepish. All the other reporters, whether from broadsheets or redtops, welcomed me back, even though I was treading on their pitch with little of their training or expertise. There was some talk about whether crowdfunding represented a new model of subscription: Journalism 3.0. I certainly wasn’t the first. Over the past year, I’d been in regular contact with Eliot Higgins, whose crowdfunded Brown Moses blog has been acclaimed for its coverage of Syrian civil war weaponry. That’s the niche advantage of the blogosphere. It doesn’t have the time or space constraints of mainstream media outlets.
I was posting tweets so often the micro-blogging platform’s algorithms automatically assumed I was spamming, and sent me to ‘Twitter prison’ regularly, which meant all my court reporting got locked away in drafts for fifteen minutes or so, and I had to resend out of sequence later.
I tried to contact Twitter support to no avail, and eventually had to crowd-source my customer servicing. I asked my followers to re-tweet complaints about spam lock outs, and after several dozen, Twitter UK were in touch with me, and changed the settings on my account. I also sourced a new Logitech keyboard, to replace my battered one, on which I’d done two million keystrokes. The latter statistic came from database whiz Jon Lippitt, who was by now regularly compiling my tweets on my blog. Another tweet fol follower, Claire Pollard, who worked on 3-D printing, summarised my tweets in a twice a day ‘Storify’ movie. I offered to recompense them for their time, but they refused.
Much has been written about the problem of ‘free’ online content and how it has sucked revenues away from print journalism. Yet here was the other more benign side of free: the free association of ideas and individuals: the volunteered expertise of strangers who somehow thought my reporting served a public interest or a personal passion.
Jon’s compilation of my thousands of tweets was building up a massive database on the blog – and he had turned them into spreadsheets that could be tagged by dates, counts, locations, witnesses, charges. This was amounting to something else – an open-source information that could be used by anyone. As it was, I know my tweets have become a resource to other journalists, academics, and lawyers. Add to that the daily spelling corrections, comments, links and encouragement by the thousands of followers, the power of the crowd – or rather the kindness of the strangers within it – was probably the only thing that kept me going through the harder phases of the trial, as the stress of live tweeting wore me down.
'£100m wasted on one guilty verdict'
It’s very rare to have the three major newspaper groups agree on one headline. But The Times, Daily Mail, and Daily Telegraph (and to a certain extent the Financial Times) had one common take on the phone-hacking trial after the verdicts – £100 million had been wasted on one guilty verdict.
It was so loudly trumpeted and so ubiquitous that even the BBC promulgated this figure for days, with the presenters on the BBC Radio Four Today programme asking what all the money was for. The figure was plucked out of thin air.
Most newspapers had tossed in all the Metropolitan Police costs for its Operations Weeting, Tuleta and Elveden into phone-hacking, corruption and other illegal breaches of privacy respectively. Those operations were responsible for at least another ten forthcoming trials. Most of the £100 million figure accrued to News UK, in legal bills. When the CPS and the police tried to correct the figures, The Times’ headline was ‘Met Have to Explain Hacking Trial Costs’. I wasn’t surprised to see The Times bury Coulson’s conviction on page 36 the previous day. A line had been drawn – probably connected to the Leveson recommendations for stronger press regulation – and editorialising overwhelmed reporting.
Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog put the cost of the trial to the public purse at £25 million. Rupert Murdoch’s business has to shoulder some blame for that. Had it come clean about the true extent of phone-hacking in 2006, much of the expense would have been spared.
The issue of finances became, briefly, a personal issue for me the weekend after the verdict. The Indiegogo site published all the money supporters had donated to crowdfund my live tweeting. Louise Mensch had discovered that, in the initial wave of funding in November 2013, the phone-hacking victims’ group Hacked Off had donated £500. To Mensch, this was confirmation I must have been partisan. Of course, I didn’t have any control who contributed, and 95 per cent of the funds had come from members of the public. Besides, I could no more express my personal opinion live tweeting a criminal trial than a brain surgeon could ask about his patient’s politics.
TabloidTroll wrote: “If @PeterJukes writes any shit on me in his book the gloves will really come off. Newsnight ex wife, business failures.”
The fact the mother of my two children had been made a target was pretty disturbing. As for “business failures,” I crowdfunded my tweets because my earnings from freelance journalism were insupportably low, though I love the job.
A week or so later I received some anonymous texts mentioning vague legal threats and hoping I would “enjoy the weekend.” Some other Twitter accounts (which I didn’t see at the time) also wished me well for the weekend, and suggested some kind of “Daily Mail Tuesday".
On Monday morning I received a call from a Daily Mail reporter, asking to know about my mortgage payments. A little taken aback, I asked what business it was of his. He reminded me of my original crowdfunding blog, when I had said I was so broke I missed a mortgage payment. I told him this was entirely true and wondered why I should lie about such an embarrassing personal disclosure. He said I could have been raising money under “false pretences” and, having confirmed my address, asked me why I didn’t have a mortgage.
The reporter later told me that he’d been handed an anonymised email with personal financial details and a separate piece of paper with my email address and mobile phone number. I explained to him calmly that there was no mortgage on my property because I had sold it two weeks previously. I could easily prove I had quite a sizeable mortgage until then. He then started asking why I didn’t rent out the property to avoid being short of money.
Minutes later, when I tweeted the approach, Media Guido was on at me, confirming my apartment address and asking if I had a mortgage. He’d clearly been handed the same information. It was an embarrassing mistake for them: it was a false, non-story. Soon afterwards Tabloid Troll closed down and deleted his account.
My minor brush with press “investigations” has made me more attuned to the acute and systematic intrusions into personal privacy by the News of the World. The threat to me was minor and nothing was published. But thousands of people were targeted by Mulcaire’s hacking, and hundreds of relationships, friendships and marriages were badly damaged by the cruel publication of private secrets.
Yet there’s another element to this. Thanks to interactive media we’re no longer passive consumers of news, entertainment and opinion but can share countervailing information – and answer back. The press had tried to shape public opinion with its take on the hacking trial, but other forces are now in motion.
Press Gazette published the following correction on 22/8/2014:
Press Gazette yesterday published an extract from a book by Peter Jukes, Beyond Contempt, which referenced freelance journalist Dennis Rice.
It quoted a Tweet from Rice to Jukes which read: "So I am now going to write a blog about @peterjukes and his family – so he can enjoy a taste of his own medicine." The extract mistakenly gave the impression that this message was sent in June 2014, around the time of a dispute over the reporting of the cost of the hacking trial.
In fact Rice posted the Tweet in January. He said it was in response to a tweet from the author which read: "You were hacked over a story about someone else's private life Dennis. Yours was never outed."
Rice has pointed out that (as the Guardian revealed last year) his wife and sister were also hacked. He said he pointed this out to Jukes, who then wrote about this exchange in his blog (published on 11 January):
The Jukes blog post states: ”Twitter is not the ideal place to have a nuanced argument, and Rice has since revealed his family was targeted. This is a privacy violation of the first order.”
Jukes has told Press Gazette that it was his impression that the Rice tweet about his family was sent in June because it was retweeted from another user's account (via an MT) around that time.
Press Gazette has removed the reference to Dennis Rice from the article and would like to apologise to him for the mistake, and for not offering him right of reply in advance of publishing the extract.