Review: Enquirer - Investigative Theatre About the Press
The last year has witnessed the national media making front page news itself, as the very nature of journalism was placed under the microscope, and most people didn’t like with they found.
With its latest production, ‘Enquirer’ The National Theatre of Scotland has chosen to examine the newspaper industry in its current state, but more than that, in examining what appears to be the death of the industry by interviewing 43 journalists and using those interviews to form the script, it has highlighted the eroding confidence that journalists now have in their own profession.
Set on one floor within The Hub office building at Central Quay in Glasgow, the presence of neighboring building BBC Scotland looms large through the office windows that overlook the city. The office is set-up as a newsroom, with BBC News 24, Sky News and Al Jazeera playing on screens, and the actors working at their desks and interacting with one another as the audience enters and is allowed to wander the expansive space to their leisure ahead of ‘curtain up’.
When the actors kick into gear, the audience follows them from one area to another, listening to them discuss different aspects of newspaper journalism. This includes the differing reasons why people get into the profession, their views on the differing moral and ethical aspects of it, as well as their views on the stories of the day. All this is staged in the Newspaper’s morning meeting, known as the Backstabbers Meeting’.
The play continues, pulling no punches and offering no rose tinted view of a profession searching to reclaim some dignity as further damaging revelations emerge. Various interviews with renowned editors and journalists are included, and each offers priceless insight on the trade from the anecdotes they have to tell.
One interview with former Scottish Sun editor Jack Irvine hears him describe how he landed the job at News International Scotland from the Daily Record, before becoming its managing director in Scotland. It is also incredible to hear his candor in revealing that it is no shock that police officers took money for stories, in fact a (now destroyed) black book full of names was kept, details the people who took ‘pay offs’. He is also hear to discuss his involvement in the breaking of the MP’s expenses scandal, a deal he offered to former Rebecca Brooks at The Sun, who passed, only for him to be present when Rupert Murdoch all but shrugged off missing the story of a lifetime. It is some really fascinating insight into the confidence of News International just a couple of years ago.
As the production continues, it will be updated to reference developments in the Leveson Inquiry, and so any media related news story that breaks is likely to be mentioned in time. Murdoch, both Rupert and his son James, featured prominently in discussion in the opening shows, following their headline generating turns at Leveson in recent days.
Murdoch Senior is described at one stage as ‘a man with no moral centre.’ Soon after another character says; ‘His soul is as black as the economy of Russia,’ before another, slightly more wiley reporter, seems to offer respect to Murdoch’s way of working. Indeed, Murdoch does still command a great deal of respect with many who have worked with him, while others follow what they hear and see. He is still a man who divides opinion among journalists.
Murdoch’s relationship with politicians, including Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond is not glossed over either.
An interview with executive editor of The Times, Roger Alton, former editor of The Observer and The Independent, touches upon the unwritten rule that newspapers don’t write about each other’s dirty linen. ‘As far as I am aware no newspaper editor has ever had an affair’ he proclaims, when challenged as to why newspapers choose to ignore one another when reporting potential scandal, but chase the public and celebrities for committing similar personal indiscretions.
The recent death of revered war correspondent Marie Colvin is touched upon twice, and the respect that she commands within the profession is clear. Another interview, with war correspondent, Ros Wynn Jones offers one tale that demonstrates that celebrity culture has truly overtaken pure journalism within editorial precedence - and that war atrocities clearly don’t sell papers as well as Royal weddings.
Elsewhere, the online success of the Daily Mail, alongside what its printed edition stands for, the role of bloggers, the growing presence of PRs and so many other elements are given their due as placing further pressures on a profession in dire straits.
The role of a newspaper in reporting the truth and exposing injustice has taken a side step when it comes to offering a quick piece of gossip and ensuring that each reader declares ‘fuck me’ each morning while eating their cornflakes in the morning.
Enquirer is not a piece of light entertainment, nor is it a soap box for journalists to complain about their ills. It is a piece which offers real insight into the current behind-the-scenes workings of national newspapers. Here is the chance to hear real testimony from decision makers and those who carry out the decisions of those in management, aiming to reverse declining revenues. It also offers insight into the psychology of the everyday journalist who hasn’t hacked phones or placed a note inside a child’s schoolbag while hoping to interview their famous mother. And to cover so much ground in 80 minutes is an impressive feat.
Potential students should see this when applying for journalism or media courses, if only to see what they could be letting themselves in for. They won’t get a better education outside of the newsroom, that’s for certain.
Cast: Maureen Beattie, John Bett, Billy Boyd, James Anthony Pearson, Gabriel Quigley and Billy Riddoch.
Enquirer is edited and directed by Vicky Featherstone and John Tiffany and co-edited by Andrew O’Hagan
Interviews by Paul Flynn, Deborah Orr and Ruth Wishart