As career suicide notes go, Richard Peppiatt’s ,a former reporter on the Daily Star to his proprietor Richard Desmond was very literate as befits a Warwick University English Graduate. Littered with literary allusions about his work on the tabloid ’ I didn’t write tittle-tattle dreaming of Pulitzers, I never knew I’d fear a Booker Prize nomination instead’ he bemoaned and about this about his completely confected story on Kelly Brook and a hypnotist ‘I made it up. Not that it was my choice; I was told to. At 6pm and staring at a blank page I simply plucked it from my arse. Not that it was all bad. I pocketed a £150 bonus!!’ Tabloid tales indeed!
Writes John Mair…
Peppiatt came back to Coventry last week to enlighten a Coventry Conversations audience on life ‘in the belly of the beast’ on the tabloid front line . Frightening it was too. He’d worked for the Star as a daily reporter for two years. Paid £118 basic .In their rubbishing exercise on him, masterminded by a PR outfit The Outside Organisation, they say he was a mere ‘casual’.He points to 850 story bylines and showed some of them to the audience. ‘Rich’ has run the gamut of tabloid tales -jetting to Hollywood for a film premiere,tracking down ‘Subo’-Susan Boyle in Scotland to dressing up in a burka to gain public reaction.That stuent resulted in calls to the police as it was obvious from the socks and sandals that this was a man in disguise!!Show business and celebrity was chased and show business created. But veracity was too often the first casualty .’reporting the truth far down the priority list ‘ in his words.
That does have some perils. Press Complaints Commission negative judgements were regarded as a mere professional nuisance(No more since Desmond has pulled his papers out of the PCC) and one large libel settlement (£250,000)to comedian Matt Lucas for a totally false story by him based on one phone in source whom the Star newsdesk told Peppiatt that he did not have time to meet face to face.
Daily Star journalism all seems a bit topsy turvy.The execs met in morning ,decided the ‘stories’ then tell the hacks(there might be as few as three of them on any day) to stand them up or die. Several in a day .This was no place for wimp journos. Complain and you were shown the pile of cvs of wannabe Star journos. Newsrooms really are the modern shipyards?
The straw that finally broke the willing Peppiatt camel’s back was the manufactured Islamphobia in the paper. As he put it,again with some eloquence, to Desmond’ You may have heard the phrase, “The flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil sets off a tornado in Texas.” Well, try this: “The lies of a newspaper in London can get a bloke’s head caved in down an alley in Bradford.”More prolix writing. Througout February 2011 they ran a Muslim hate story a day. Some based on information which had simply not been stood up. Some based on their own specious phone in lines with value laden questions. Peppiatt revealed that these might get as few as ten calls a day. 80% of that is still just 8 calls. This Islamophobia may have pandered to the racist feelings of the largely white working class readership of the Star but it pushed Peppiatt over the edge and forced him to give up the £35,000 per year plus generous expenses that was his reward for selling his soul.His parting shot to the owner minced no words ‘If you can’t see that words matter, you should go back to running porn magazines. But if you do, yet still allow your editors to use inciteful over insightful language, then far from standing up for Britain, you’re a menace against all things that make it great..’
Tabloids have their place and their audience. They do inform,educate and entertain.The Star seems to have gone for the last of the triptych at the expense of the other twp. Peppiatt is a rarity. Traihson des clercs is very rare in the red tops. Omerta usually rules. He will never work in that part of what passes for the modern Fleet Street again.
What next? Well, having lived the drama and comedy (and he says fiction) of the Daily Star newsroom what better than to turn it into the sit com it was probably always destined to be. Peppiatt and his co –writer Chris Atkins-who himself pulled many a tabloid tail in his 2009 ‘Starsuckers’ feature documentary are working up a script for a Channel Four pilot. ’Drop the Dead Muslim’ anyone?
Art imitating life or is that too prosaic for the Daily Star readership?
John Mair invented and produces the Coventry Conversations at Coventry University.
The 2010-2011 academic year run has just ended after 75 speakers.You can listen to them all at http://www.coventry.ac.uk/itunesU
Thanks to bbc.co.uk/journalism