These last weeks in UK politics and media could have come out of a Robert Harris novel. And a couple of the more colorful characters have been people claiming to be ex-reporters for the News of the World who took to Twitter when their scandal-ridden publication was closed down by News Corp (NSDQ: NWS). UK subsidiary News International. One of them — “Marie X” — has a Twitter profile description that pretty much says it all about her position: “Journalist @ NOTW for last 5 years. Axed to save skin of Rebekah Brooks! Enough Is Enough Of This Horse Sh#t !”
Over the past few days, using the Twitter handle exNOTWJourno2, she has been writing a steady stream of vitriol against her former employer, implicating a list of people that extend beyond the walls of its Wapping HQ. Included are such high-profile people as ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair and Piers Morgan, now a U.S. TV personality but once a leading tabloid editor in the UK (including a stint at NOTW).
It is easy to discredit someone who doesn’t give a full name, or other proof of identity, but at least some of her claims have, bit by bit, come to pass — for example, in the case of the revelations of ex-Prime Minister Gordon Brown getting named and involved in this business. (He has claimed News International papers hacking, blagging and doing other illegal things, which NI at least partly denies.)
She herself mentions that one of her jobs was working on the crossword, discovered after printing and distribution to be a hidden series of barbs against management by people parsing the last issue of the newspaper.
I finally put two and two together today, and realized that crossword clue-writing expertise would explain her cryptic, slightly infuriating tweets. These may contain more news than meets the tweet-scanning eye. It will be worth watching what else will be proven or not.
“Marie X” is not the only person claiming to be an ex-NOTW journalist on Twitter. One tweeted a mobile number he claimed to belong to News Interantional CEO Rebakah Brooks (number dead; tweet deleted).
And another who perhaps most captured the spirit of the moment, ExNOTWJourno (without the 2), rapidly picked up more than 20,000 followers in a matter of days as she promised to reveal damaging information about the company. In email exchanges, she told me that the plan was for a multi-platform release on the net, as a PDF and really whatever electronic format people wanted.
But as her own deadlines approached, she missed them (like so many journalists; maybe she was real after all), until suddenly she, her followers and her tweets disappeared altogether. At the time of writing, her account was still there. Now that might be gone, too.
“Hacked” was her explanation to me by email. “Paid off” was Marie X’s response to me when I asked her if she knew what had happened. I can’t say with any certainty what really went down, or if she was even real.
But today she sent me another email, out of the blue, in which she told me that many of her collaborators had dropped off after getting job offers, from NI of all places, and that NI had figured out who she was. “We took on more than we can chew, a bully that always wins,” she wrote.
There is a question mark over not just the authenticity of these Tweeters, but if they are authentic, whether they have any other agenda themselves to self-promote or pick a bone.
“My contract was of a type where I can be asked to leave with little notice and it was made clear to me that I won’t be receiving redundancy money,” ExNOTWJourno wrote to me. “However, I have known this since the beginning when I signed my contract.” Meanwhile, Marie X mentions, usually in a sardonic way, that she is looking for gainful employment. When asked, a spokesperson for News International did not provide any details about what kinds of contracts and terms NOTW employees had.
One thing is certain: there are a number of ex-NOTW people out there (some of them not covered by redundancy payments) who know information, and inevitably some will be getting it out one way or the other. One expose today in the Hollywood Reporter written as a “confession” came from an ex-staffer who now appears to be in the U.S.
At a moment where the whole story seems to be widening, these extra details are coloring in the picture for the rest of us, and doing another kind of longer-term damage to the company and its many brands.