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Time for an industry clean up

Prospective journalists might be put off by phone-hacking but there's never been a better time to cl

It has been a few weeks since the phone-hacking saga sent reverberations across the journalism industry but the uproar that ensued has yet to die down. With allegations of computer hacking and mass deletion of emails at News International, the scandal is continually growing.

The thought of what is happening to the industry we aspire to break into has sent shivers down the spines of burgeoning young journalists such as ourselves. What will this fiasco do to journalism? And has it tainted the name of journalism for good? However, it seems the tumultuous events have actually had a profoundly positive effect: instead of damaging the industry, it has forced it to change the illicit practices endemic within many newspapers. We caught up with some of the leading names in the industry in our research.

Steve Richards, Chief Political Commentator at the Independent said:

Regulation of the media will be more robust after this. No editor will ever again risk being associated with law breaking -- and already one newspaper has closed as a result of hacking. However, young journalists will need to be more alert to responding to the changing economic demands on the media than to any of the consequences of the hacking affair. There will always be paid journalism in Britain but finding the route towards it is more challenging now than in any of the last few decades.

According to a report entitled "The Future of the News and Internet" by The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (June 2010), the UK saw a 25 per cent reduction in newspaper consumption during 2007-2010. Furthermore, the latest statistics from the National Readership Survey covering the period April 2010 to March 2011 saw a marked decrease in newspaper sales. It is with this in mind that aspiring journalists have been weary about potential jobs in the industry. It has become clear that without possessing great talent and acquiring a plethora of work experience, there are no jobs in journalism industry.

Anna Mckane, former chief sub-editor at Reuters and undergraduate director for journalism at City University, said:

Journalism is in the throes of the biggest revolution since Caxton invented the printing press. This is not to do with phone-hacking scandals, it is to do with the vast amount of content which is available free online.

In an age of unmediated blogging and micro-blogging, where everybody seems to be an "expert" on current affairs, we have seen traditional media come under threat. Many young people these days ascertain the latest news through social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

An increasingly digital youth has been emerging for some time, shunning the conventional print/broadcasting form of journalism, and has backed a copious web culture. With the sales of newspapers constantly declining, the question of whether such an industry will still exist in years to come looms upon us aspiring journalists. The idea of doing work experience at a print newspaper is slowly losing its appeal as the future of the industry remains in doubt. The closure of the News of the World and subsequent speculation about the future of other newspapers has only added to our concerns.

The ubiquity of the cyber world amongst young people has become so ingrained within the subconscious that four out of five students have been shown to suffer from mental and physical distress if deprived of it. A study published by the International Centre for Media & the Public Agenda (ICMPA) and the Salzburg Academy on Media & Global Change concluded: "most students [...] failed to go the full 24 hours without media".

In the words of journalist Will Self, there seems to be a "tectonic shift" taking place within our culture. The full ramifications of this tectonic shift - although yet to be completely established - will mean that the journalism industry we aspiring journalists end up in will have a completely new face.

So what can be done to prevent such illicit practices from taking place again? Many readers will doubtless be hoping that now that all this information is out in the open, it will encourage parliament to pass ever more draconian legislation limiting the ability of the press to do and print what it likes.

Almost against our better judgment, we must state our opposition to any such new rules and regulations. A free press is one of Britain's finest traditions and indeed one envied by the citizens of countless authoritarian dictatorships around the world. However, the issues raised by the current fiasco are more a matter of journalists failing to abide by laws already on the statute book than of a need to make new ones.

The press should be allowed to write whatever it likes about issues currently in the public domain: while this can obviously lead to hurtful lies and smears being printed, victims of such misrepresentation have recourse to the law, and should have all legal fees paid by the state, up to the point where they can be proved right or wrong.

The most important issue here is less to do with the hacking scandal itself and more to do with the world that most journalists move in. It is well known that most prominent journalists live in prosperous London suburbs, mix only with fellow members of their trade and seek to cultivate links and contacts with the rich and powerful rather than the "great unwashed" (ie their readership). This has a distorting effect on their worldview and leads inexorably to a situation in which they parrot the opinions of the powerful rather than standing up for the rights and interests of the majority.

George Brock, head of journalism at City University said:

However dispirited some journalists might feel about phone-hacking and the conspiracy to cover it up, those revelations don't destroy the value and importance of journalism. Aspiring journalists should take heart from the fact that the scandal wouldn't have been dragged into the light at all if it wasn't for one very determined reporter.

The best way to remedy this problem, it seems, is for the press to seek to cultivate and recruit new talent from a less restricted social and geographical spectrum. And principled, ethical newspaper proprietors and editors (although probably a small minority) should bunch together and launch a Britain-wide recruitment drive to pick out the best up-and-coming journalists from less conventional backgrounds. This, surely, would go a long way towards severing the links between the interests of the powerful and the journalistic instincts of those of us theoretically committed to exposing their abuses. In fact, I can think of two young journalists in particular who would be obvious beneficiaries of such a scheme...

Without doubt, journalism is entering a new paradigm, one which is more innocuous, cleaner and hopefully more prosperous. And this is the industry us aspiring journalists should be looking forward to.

Rahul Verma, freelance journalist and senior youth mentor at Live Magazine, said:

Personally I feel the phone-hacking scandal will be good for journalism as the industry must clean up its act and practices, otherwise public mistrust will translate into plummeting sales, which will be the nail in the coffin of the British newspaper industry. Hopefully it will also be the catalyst in ending the age of celebrity -- who really cares who Siena Miller is dating or who Hugh Grant hangs out with? This is not news and how it has become news over the last ten years is a tragedy for newspapers and journalists. I'd hope hackgate has focused the mind of newspaper proprietors in terms of what their newspapers write about, what is news, the lengths that you go to get 'news' and what is in the 'public interest'.

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The French millennials marching behind Marine Le Pen

A Front National rally attracts former socialists with manicured beards, and a lesbian couple. 

“In 85 days, Marine will be President of the French Republic!” The 150-strong crowd cheered at the sound of the words. On stage, the speaker, the vice-president of the far-right Front National (FN), Florian Philippot, continued: “We will be told that it’s the apocalypse, by the same banks, media, politicians, who were telling the British that Brexit would be an immediate catastrophe.

"Well, they voted, and it’s not! The British are much better off than we are!” The applause grew louder and louder. 

I was in the medieval city of Metz, in a municipal hall near the banks of the Moselle River, a tributary of the Rhine from which the region takes its name. The German border lies 49km east; Luxembourg City is less than an hour’s drive away. This is the "Country of the Three Borders", equidistant from Strasbourg and Frankfurt, and French, German and French again after various wars. Yet for all that local history is deeply rooted in the wider European history, votes for the Front National rank among the highest nationally, and continue to rise at every poll. 

In rural Moselle, “Marine”, as the Front National leader Marine Le Pen is known, has an envoy. In 2014, the well-spoken, elite-educated Philippot, 35, ran for mayor in Forbach, a former miner’s town near the border. He lost to the Socialist candidate but has visited regularly since. Enough for the locals to call him “Florian".

I grew up in a small town, Saint-Avold, halfway between Metz and Forbach. When my grandfather was working in the then-prosperous coal mines, the Moselle region attracted many foreign workers. Many of my fellow schoolmates bore Italian and Polish surnames. But the last mine closed in 2004, and now, some of the immigrants’ grandchildren are voting for the National Front.

Returning, I can't help but wonder: How did my generation, born with the Maastricht treaty, end up turning to the Eurosceptic, hard right FN?

“We’ve seen what the other political parties do – it’s always the same. We must try something else," said Candice Bertrand, 23, She might not be part of the group asking Philippot for selfies, but she had voted FN at every election, and her family agreed. “My mum was a Communist, then voted for [Nicolas] Sarkozy, and now she votes FN. She’s come a long way.”  The way, it seemed, was political distrust.

Minutes earlier, Philippot had pleaded with the audience to talk to their relatives and neighbours. Bertrand had brought her girlfriend, Lola, whom she was trying to convince to vote FN.  Lola wouldn’t give her surname – her strongly left-wing family would “certainly not” like to know she was there. She herself had never voted.

This infuriated Bertrand. “Women have fought for the right to vote!” she declared. Daily chats with Bertrand and her family had warmed up Lola to voting Le Pen in the first round, although not yet in the second. “I’m scared of a major change,” she confided, looking lost. “It’s a bit too extreme.” Both were too young to remember 2002, when a presidential victory for the then-Front National leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, was only a few percentage points away.

Since then, under the leadership of his daughter, Marine, the FN has broken every record. But in this region, the FN’s success isn’t new. In 2002, when liberal France was shocked to see Le Pen reach the second round of the presidential election, the FN was already sailing in Moselle. Le Pen grabbed 23.7 per cent of the Moselle vote in the first round and 21.9 per cent in the second, compared to 16.9 per cent and 17.8 per cent nationally. 

The far-right vote in Moselle remained higher than the national average before skyrocketing in 2012. By then, the younger, softer-looking Marine had taken over the party. In that year, the FN won an astonishing 24.7 per cent of the Moselle vote, and 17.8 per cent nationwide.

For some people of my generation, the FN has already provided opportunities. With his manicured beard and chic suit, Emilien Noé still looks like the Young Socialist he was between 16 and 18 years old. But looks can be deceiving. “I have been disgusted by the internal politics at the Socialist Party, the lack of respect for the low-ranked campaigners," he told me. So instead, he stood as the FN’s youngest national candidate to become mayor in his village, Gosselming, in 2014. “I entered directly into action," he said. (He lost). Now, at just 21, Noé is the FN’s youth coordinator for Eastern France.

Metz, Creative Commons licence credit Morgaine

Next to him stood Kevin Pfeiffer, 27. He told me he used to believe in the Socialist ideal, too - in 2007, as a 17-year-old, he backed Ségolène Royal against Sarkozy. But he is now a FN local councillor and acts as the party's general co-ordinator in the region. Both Noé and Pfeiffer radiated a quiet self-confidence, the sort that such swift rises induces. They shared a deep respect for the young-achiever-in-chief: Philippot. “We’re young and we know we can have perspectives in this party without being a graduate of l’ENA,” said another activist, Olivier Musci, 24. (The elite school Ecole Nationale d’Administration, or ENA, is considered something of a mandatory finishing school for politicians. It counts Francois Hollande and Jacques Chirac among its alumni. Ironically, Philippot is one, too.)

“Florian” likes to say that the FN scores the highest among the young. “Today’s youth have not grown up in a left-right divide”, he told me when I asked why. “The big topics, for them, were Maastricht, 9/11, the Chinese competition, and now Brexit. They have grown up in a political world structured around two poles: globalism versus patriotism.” Notably, half his speech was dedicated to ridiculing the FN's most probably rival, the maverick centrist Emmanuel Macron. “It is a time of the nations. Macron is the opposite of that," Philippot declared. 

At the rally, the blue, red and white flame, the FN’s historic logo, was nowhere to be seen. Even the words “Front National” had deserted the posters, which were instead plastered with “in the name of the people” slogans beneath Marine’s name and large smile. But everyone wears a blue rose at the buttonhole. “It’s the synthesis between the left’s rose and the right’s blue colour”, Pfeiffer said. “The symbol of the impossible becoming possible.” So, neither left nor right? I ask, echoing Macron’s campaign appeal. “Or both left and right”, Pfeiffer answered with a grin.

This nationwide rebranding follows years of efforts to polish the party’s jackass image, forged by decades of xenophobic, racist and anti-Semitic declarations by Le Pen Sr. His daughter evicted him from the party in 2015.

Still, Le Pen’s main pledges revolve around the same issue her father obsessed over - immigration. The resources spent on "dealing with migrants" will, Le Pen promises, be redirected to address the concerns of "the French people". Unemployment, which has been hovering at 10 per cent for years, is very much one of them. Moselle's damaged job market is a booster for the FN - between 10 and 12 per cent of young people are unemployed.

Yet the two phenomena cannot always rationally be linked. The female FN supporters I met candidly admitted they drove from France to Luxembourg every day for work and, like many locals, often went shopping in Germany. Yet they hoped to see the candidate of “Frexit” enter the Elysee palace in May. “We've never had problems to work in Luxembourg. Why would that change?” asked Bertrand. (Le Pen's “144 campaign pledges” promise frontier workers “special measures” to cross the border once out of the Schengen area, which sounds very much like the concept of the Schengen area itself.)

Grégoire Laloux, 21, studied history at the University of Metz. He didn't believe in the European Union. “Countries have their own interests. There are people, but no European people,” he said. “Marine is different because she defends patriotism, sovereignty, French greatness and French history.” He compared Le Pen to Richelieu, the cardinal who made Louis XIV's absolute monarchy possible:  “She, too, wants to build a modern state.”

French populists are quick to link the country's current problems to immigration, and these FN supporters were no exception. “With 7m poor and unemployed, we can't accept all the world's misery,” Olivier Musci, 24, a grandchild of Polish and Italian immigrants, told me. “Those we welcome must serve the country and be proud to be here.”

Lola echoed this call for more assimilation. “At our shopping centre, everyone speaks Arabic now," she said. "People have spat on us, thrown pebbles at us because we're lesbians. But I'm in my country and I have the right to do what I want.” When I asked if the people who attacked them were migrants, she was not so sure. “Let's say, they weren't white.”

Trump promised to “Make America Great Again”. To where would Le Pen's France return? Would it be sovereign again? White again? French again? Ruled by absolutism again? She has blurred enough lines to seduce voters her father never could – the young, the gay, the left-wingers. At the end of his speech, under the rebranded banners, Philippot invited the audience to sing La Marseillaise with him. And in one voice they did: “To arms citizens! Form your battalions! March, march, let impure blood, water our furrows...” The song is the same as the one I knew growing up. But it seemed to me, this time, a more sinister tune.