The Final Days at News of the World

A writer says goodbye to his Fleet Street dream job.

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The News of the World phone hacking scandal has dominated the news cycle in July, second only to the debt ceiling negotiations. Behind the news of the privacy invasions, firings, arrests, and parliamentary hearings is the story of a staff of people who committed no crimes and got fired anyway. Paul McNamara, the former News of the World defense editor, delivers the story of the British tabloid's last week in the July 31st issue of The New York Times Magazine.

McNamara grew up reading News of the World. He recognized old covers around the office from the floor around his childhood home on Sundays. The newspaper was 168 years old. His experience could not be an exclusive one. It hurt McNamara when the paper become an amateur Twitter comedian's favorite punch line, "but I grew up with it, and I loved it."

His story begins not in the World newsroom, but on the deck of a British Naval ship where he was stationed off the coast of Libya when the stories first started to break. He called his boss from the ship. "It couldn’t be much worse, son. Get home."

A hotel room in Italy was where McNamara first learned that his paper was going to shut down. He recalls dealing with the "rage at the unthinkable acts of abhorrent former reporters, editors and private investigators to despair for the families that were their targets," before realizing that of the 286 people about to be out of work, most "(or the vast majority, at least) were either not there when the crimes occurred or not involved."

He describes his eventual return from his trip to the newsroom--"usually one of the best parts of my job"--as a somber affair. Usually he feels like a returning war hero, "the closest a journalist gets to being Tom Cruise at the end of “Top Gun.” Instead, the first person he saw, an assistant from the sports desk, started crying.

After the paper shut down, McNamara was tasked with donating the profits of the final edition to charities  because he "had developed close ties with many charities, especially those dealing with the armed forces." He was tasked with giving away around $4.5 million. It wasn't easy.

"I had to beg." Most charities turned down the paper's charity money. He was used to dealing with charities that had family members of dead soldiers. After fifty phone calls, only three agreed to accept the money. Each received more than $1.5 million dollars.

The whole staff went to the newsroom to work on the final issue, "even those who rarely came to the office." After the paper was done, the editor, Colin Myler, gave a speech to his staff and banged everyone out, a Fleet Street tradition. McNamars has watched video of the speech, below, "a dozen times. And every time, I’ve welled up."

Each staff member filed out of the newsroom, saying goodbye to their newspaper and their job. "And then, finally, we went to the pub."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.