As News International licks its wounds and withdraws its hugely popular News of the World from the history of British journalism, a quick anecdote involving its sister paper, The Sun, and its reputation in my home town, Liverpool.
Back in 1996, I was waiting in the departure lounge of Tashkent International airport (yes, gentle reader, the glamour of global journalism). I had been living there for 12 months heading up a media project for the EU. In front of me in the queue was a group of Scousers. They weren’t the usual Western visitors to Tashkent – businessmen, diplomats, charity workers, academics – but ordinary blokes in their thirties. I was “made up” to find some fellow Scousers so far from home so got chatting with them. What were they doing in Central Asia? “We’ve been working in the gold mines,” they replied. (There must have been some pretty eccentric careers advisers knocking around Liverpool schools back in the eighties.) “What’s it like working in a gold mine the middle of the Uzbek desert, miles from anywhere?” “Yeah, it’s OK. We live in trailers and of an evening there’s beer and some nice ladies.”
They asked me what I was doing in Tashkent. “I’m a journalist, ” I said. Their friendly smiles suddenly froze and there was silence. “You don’t work for the Sun, do you?” one of them eventually asked. “No, BBC World Service.” Palpable relief all round.
(Actually, I don’t think the Sun ever carries many Central Asian stories)