Special Report: Inside Rebekah Brooks' News of the World

Sat Jul 16, 2011 7:01am EDT
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By Georgina Prodhan and Kate Holton

LONDON (Reuters) - "It was the kind of place you get out of and you never want to go back again." That's how one former reporter describes the News of the World newsroom under editor Rebekah Brooks, the ferociously ambitious titian-haired executive who ran Britain's top-selling Sunday tabloid from 2000 to 2003.

Journalists who worked there in that period describe an industrialized operation of dubious information-gathering, reporters under intense pressure attempting to land exclusive stories by whatever means necessary, and a culture of fear, cynicism, gallows humor and fierce internal competition.

"We used to talk to career criminals all the time. They were our sources," says another former reporter from the paper who also worked for Murdoch's daily tabloid, the Sun. "It was a macho thing: 'My contact is scummier than your contact.' It was a case of: 'Mine's a murderer!' On the plus side, we always had a resident pet nutter around in case anything went wrong."

The 168-year-old paper published for the last time last Sunday after exposure of its widespread use of phone-hacking triggered a scandal that has engulfed Rupert Murdoch's UK newspaper group News International, its New York-based parent company News Corp, and Britain's political classes and police.

Brooks, one of two top Murdoch executives who resigned on Friday, has maintained she neither sanctioned nor knew about the phone hacking. The Guardian newspaper reported the paper's targets went beyond celebrities to include murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler and the bereaved relatives of dead soldiers. Murdoch has apologized personally to the Dowler family.

Four former employees of Britain's best-selling Sunday tabloid have told Reuters that Brooks' denials are simply not credible. They say people on the paper's newsdesk, the hub that directs news coverage, were regularly grilled about the top stories by Brooks and later by her successor Andy Coulson, who resigned over the phone-hacking scandal in 2007 and went on to become Prime Minister David Cameron's spokesman.

"They went in and they were cross-examined for two hours every day. And it was all about the genesis of all the stories," the first ex-reporter, who worked at the paper for seven years, told Reuters.

The News of the World's reporting methods were first questioned when it published a story about an injury to Prince William's knee in 2005, prompting fears his aides' voicemail messages were being intercepted. The royal family complained to police. More than a year later the paper's royal editor Clive Goodman and private detective Glenn Mulcaire were jailed for six months for conspiracy to access phone messages.   Continued...

<p>The last edition of News of the World newspaper goes on sale alongside other British Sunday newspapers in London in this July 9, 2011 file photo. REUTERS/Paul Hackett/Files</p>