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Alumni Focus

Class of ‘94: James Robinson

Each month Impact profiles a former Nottingham student. This month, we bring you James Robinson.

Journalist and author James Robinson is best known for his coverage of the phone hacking scandal during his time as media correspondent at The Guardian. He graduated from Nottingham in 1994 with a degree in Politics and became a reporter at The Birmingham Post and Sunday Business. He was also deputy Business Editor at the Sunday Express. He married Labour MP Gloria De Piero earlier this year, and has just released his first novella, ‘Hacked to Death’.

I wasn’t a great example of someone who takes advantage of all the things offered at university. I didn’t really get involved in student media or any other societies. I could have done a lot more but I just wasn’t like that – I studied and I played hard.

I started at the bottom of the ladder. My first job in journalism was as a research assistant at a property magazine. I then went freelance in London and I wrote for lots of trade magazines, lifestyle magazines and national newspapers. In about 1978 I worked for the Birmingham Post as a reporter.

I sound like a dinosaur. When I started my first job in journalism we didn’t have the Internet, there was only a very basic system of email, and the fax machine was the central point in the office that churned out hundreds of thousands of pages every day. Everything was slower, and a lot more was done face to face. You had to speak to people, get to know people – because the more you know people, the more they trusted you – and you trust them – and the more high quality information you get.

Journalism was a lot more boozy back then. There was a lot more drinking, and sometimes that was fine, but sometimes it was tragic. There were editors who were basically just alcoholics. Now the industry is a lot more professional.

I did break some significant stories on phone hacking. It’s the most interesting thing I’ve done, but I don’t want to overplay my own role in it – I was a supporting actor in it all. It is the pinnacle of every journalist’s career to be involved in a story of that magnitude. Looking back on it now, I do think that pulling back the covers on Rupert Murdoch was extremely courageous, and I do think our country’s better for it because Murdoch’s power has absolutely been curtailed in this country. I thought it would never happen – I thought no one would stand up to Murdoch, but standing up to bullies is one of the things journalists can do. Standing up to them by exposing their behavior, shining a light on what they do.

Time is the greatest asset a journalist has. All that distinguishes a journalist from anyone else in society, in any job, is that they are paid professionally to go out and be nosy. That’s all we do. Everyone else has a nine to five job to do, they don’t have the time to go and find stuff out. That is the essence of journalism.

There is clearly no substitute for getting out and reporting in the traditional style. I think there’s an awful lot bad about technology nowadays. In the news industry Twitter, Facebook and social media have become a place of contacts. I think it’s just cheap for news organisations to employ junior reporters who rely to greater extent on social media to make their contacts and get their stories. It’s such a shame.

I want to be a writer. I want to continue writing, whether I make a great thing out of it, or whether I don’t get anything out of it, that’s what I’m going to be concentrating on for a while. Plans could obviously change.

‘Hacked to Death’ is available as an eBook on Amazon now.

Interview by Antonia Paget

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