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UK tabloid paid spies for scoops

RAPHAEL G. SATTER Yahoo! News 09/30/2011 23:10
UK tabloid paid spies for scoops - Business - UK - media - News of the World

No one suspected the secretary. Efficient, well-dressed and well-liked, Sue Harris was at the heart of the Sunday People, the smallest of Britain's weekly tabloids. She booked flights, reserved accommodation, and tallied expenses for the populist paper's dozen or so full-time reporters. These journalists implicitly trusted the petite, 40-something south Londoner who'd spent most if not all of her working life at the tabloid. Maybe they shouldn't have.

In 1995 Harris was dismissed over an allegation that she'd been feeding her paper's juiciest scoops to the Piers Morgan-edited News of the World, betraying her co-workers for a weekly payoff of 250 pounds — then worth about $375. Although People journalists had long believed there was a traitor in their midst, they were shocked when Harris was exposed.

"Everybody knew there was a mole," said a former senior journalist with the People. "We never thought the person we were looking for was her."

The journalist, who was there when Harris was fired, was among three former colleagues who recounted her story to The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because they still work in the media industry.

Harris' alleged spying on behalf of the News of the World wasn't unique, an AP investigation has found. Interviews with three more former journalists and published accounts suggest that Rupert Murdoch's flagship Sunday tabloid engaged in a pattern of payoffs aimed at rival newspaper employees.

(...) The corporate espionage campaign also calls into question the ethics of Morgan, who edited the News of the World between 1994 and 1995 and who once boasted that having rivals on his payroll meant that he and his colleagues "always know exactly what our competitors are doing."