7 million readers who don’t give a toss?

The public’s view of newspaper journalists has traditionally ranked them way down at the end of the list of least admired occupations, alongside estate agents and politicians.

Is there any defence against the widely held view that you can’t get any lower than a journalist?

You have to wonder after today’s allegations that a  News of the World investigator hacked Milly Dowler’s phone, deleted voicemail messages and hampered police enquiries.

The tabloid fringe has always had a dubious approach to morality. Who can forget Kelvin MacKenzie’s boast that in his days as editor of The Sun some of the best stories were “too good to check”?

Admittedly this is not in the same league as illegal phone hacking, but it’s another example of the dishonest journalism that drags down the reputation of reporters and editors everywhere.

It doesn’t take much thought to work out the unfairness of this. In my long experience the overwhelming majority of journalists are honest. They’re not all competent, of course, and there have been many poor judgment calls. But I have never known any journalist bent enough to do business with a man like NoW private investigator Glenn Mulcaire.

A few ­- a substantial minority, I would say – come under the category of “the dearest and the best”. These are the journalists who are infused with the notion that the truth shall set you free and seem genuinely committed to making the world a better place.

These are The Guardian journalists who exposed the News of the World phone hacking scandal. They are The Daily Telegraph writers who revealed the vast scale of MPs’ fiddled expenses and The Times journalists still doggedly campaigning to make it easier for children to be adopted.

People like this still exist in the regions, like the Daily Echo journalists who, with the support of 178,000 people, are campaigning to save a local children’s cardiac care unit.

But can a newspaper occupy the moral high ground and stay in business? You would hope so, but which titles sell the most copies in Britain? Ah yes, The Sun and the News of the World, ahead of the others by a mile.

So who really cares about the reputation of journalists? Who cares how they get their stories? And who cares whether they are true or not? There are at least two million people who apparently don’t give a toss.

GARETH WEEKES, Deep South Media Ltd.