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21 March 2013updated 26 Sep 2015 6:46am

Talking yourself into jail, the “sidebar of shame” and the lonely Falklands Three

Also: how many journalists does it take to watch some smoke change colour?

By Helen Lewis

It’s no wonder the trial of Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce has received such extensive coverage. Its characters are irresistible, its twists are labyrinthine and, like all great tragedies, the “inciting incident” (three penalty points) was so petty that you can’t believe it caused everything that followed.

Hours before he was sentenced to eight months in jail, Huhne, a former journalist, emerged from hiding to apologise, finally, for years of deception. Meanwhile, Pryce has kept silent. In the emails she exchanged with the Sunday Times’s Isabel Oakeshott, she wrote repeatedly about “nailing” her ex-husband and ending his career. What she apparently could not see – and what neither Oake shott nor the Mail on Sunday, to which she subsequently took the story, drummed into her – was that bringing Huhne down would inevitably implicate her. Given this omission, and that News International later handed the emails to the Crown Prosecution Service, she might now be wishing she had shut up sooner.

Let’s hope that some good will come out of the case. First, the realisation that handing out prison sentences for motoring and other non-violent offences is absurdly punitive and a ludicrous waste of resources. Second, that the defence of “marital coercion”, which can only be used by wives pressured by their husbands, is an anachronistic relic that should be scrapped immediately.

Holy smoke

There’s been a lot of chatter about the Atlantic’s request to the writer Nate Thayer that he let the magazine reprint an extract from a long article about North Korea in return for “exposure” (ie, for no money).

The incident led to a full week of dire, hand-wringing prognostications about the future of the media which left me feeling downcast – until I saw that 5,600 hacks had descended on Vatican City to cover the conclave to elect the new pope.

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It made me think there should be a new joke: how many journalists does it take to watch some smoke change colour?

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Up for the crack

My favourite moment at the Press Awards, newspapers’ annual beano, was the speech by Martin “Jurassic” Clarke, the Mail Online supremo, after his website won the Digital Award. First he told the host, the BBC’s Susanna Reid, that she always looked lovely when she appeared on the “sidebar of shame” (cue sharp intake of breath from the audience) and then he tried to rouse the assembled well-oiled hacks to revolution by insisting that Lord Justice Leveson wanted to legislate them out of existence.

The speech received what the theatre world euphemistically calls “mixed reviews” – but Clarke need not care. Mail Online now has 50 million unique monthly visitors and is expanding aggressively in the US. “People are addicted to it,” Clarke told the Financial Times. “It’s like journalism crack.”

Shock doctrine

I headed to Bafta on 11 March to hear Ken Levine, the creative director of Irrational Games, speak about BioShock Infinite, the game I’m most looking forward to playing this year. It’s an indirect sequel of BioShock (2007), which was set in an underwater city built as a Randian objectivist utopia (yes, really).

This time, the city is in the sky and the themes explored include racism and American exceptionalism. Levine firmly believes that games can address difficult and sensitive topics: in other words, they’re growing up.

Game changer

Just as video games are getting better, so is the writing about them. For the past six months, I’ve been a judge on the Games Journalism Prize, winnowing down 1,300 entries to a shortlist of 20. That list includes an article by a serving US soldier writing about first-person shooters and a memoir by Jenn Frank that interweaves recollections of a 1990s game called Creatures with reflections on her adoption and her fears of having children of her own. Before the Levine event, I ran into a veteran journalist who told me that his five favourite games writers were all women. Truly, the times they are a-changin’.

Back and forth

The New Statesman’s centenary is fast approaching and, as well as looking back by reprinting great pieces from the archive (which you can see more of on our new blog, the Old Statesman), we’re looking forward.

The NS website is going from strength to strength, with well over a million readers a month. One of my proudest boasts is that half of our bloggers are women. (I hear rumours that they’re also half of the population. Surely not?) On 4 April, you can see eight of us discuss the future of feminism at an NS centenary event at Conway Hall in London for the princely sum of £5.

All together now

Who will dare own up to being one of the Falklands Three? In the islands’ referendum, 99.8 per cent of the population voted to stay British, with just 0.2 per cent – three people – dissenting. North Korea’s Kim Jong-il and Soviet leaders regularly used to get 100 per cent and certain US districts voted entirely for Obama or Romney last year but our Returning Officer, Stephen Brasher, believes the Falklands might have had the most unanimous genuine election result ever recorded.