This is not a great time to be a tabloid journalist. It is an even worse time to be an out-of-work tabloid journalist. Few tears are shed when red-top hacks lose their jobs and they are consigned to a discard pile that includes unemployed bankers and politicians.
This is why the case of Matt Nixson is so unusual. When the phone hacking scandal broke, Nixson had just moved from the News of the World, where he was features editor, to take the same job on the Sun. He was given the push last July amid a flurry of allegations about alleged payments to police and prison officers (Nixson was alleged to have authorised a £750 payment to a prison officer for a story about the Soham murderer Ian Huntley, although he wasn’t told this until five months later). It is now a year since he left his post at the Sun and the police have said they will not be pursuing a case against him.
I don’t know Matt well. I met him once at a local newspaper reunion in north London (he worked at the Hendon Times with my wife in the 1990s). But I was struck by how much he clearly enjoyed his job, by his loyalty to his employer and his conviction that journalism, even tabloid journalism, could be a force for good. Unprompted, he offered to help with my youth employment charity and we were in discussions about how the Sun could get involved in New Deal of the Mind when he lost his job. Despite the shock (he was sacked just after he had just had his first child) he immediately offered to volunteer for us, something I intend to take him up on at some point.
My experience of Matt’s generosity is echoed by Liz Carnell, the founder of the children’s charity Bullying UK, which he and others at the News of the World supported. She told Press Gazette Matt is a “lovely man with a big heart”. In a separate tribute Colin O’Toole, who was Matt’s news editor on local papers, told Press Gazette: “I have never met a more hard-working, talented and breathtakingly honest individual”. His colleague on the Hendon Times, Ian Lloyd added: “To be left in the lurch by employers you have given so much to, and be deprived of the career you love for the benefit of a PR exercise must be soul destroying.”
Roy Greenslade has also written about the extraordinary way fellow hacks have rallied to support Matt Nixson. Such is his loyalty to News International that Nixson himself still hopes to negotiate an amicable return to his old paper. But his story is a sobering one. The reverberations of the moral collapse of the News of the World are still being felt across the profession. If the UK tabloid press is ever going to rebuild its reputation it will need people like Matt to do so.