Every hack wants a piece of the breaking news action

Posted on July 7, 2011


At quarter past five this afternoon a statement was released by James Murdoch that Sunday would be the last issue of the tabloid paper News of the World. Killed off after a hundred and sixty-eight years, potentially costing News International many millions of pounds and leaving hundreds of hacks jobless – today’s decision was the final nail in the coffin.

The end of an era

Seminal moments that shape history are what most journalists thrive on. The whole atmosphere in the newsroom changed as soon as the story broke, like a sudden burst of adrenalin. Everyone, myself included, wants to be a part of that moment, it’s what makes journalists tick. The drive to deliver the best report is something that I think, is in-built in our ‘breed’.

Today all the big hitters came out of their glass offices to dish out advice and suggestions on how to treat and structure the flagship programme. Each senior member of staff (women included) trying to trump each other. But where does this macho behaviour stem from, is it hard-wired and what causes it? Our ape relatives the chimpanzees have their roots steeped in aggressive instinct. But scientists say our macho/aggressive origin is not to do with testosterone, like most people assume, it is in fact to do with oestrogen.

Aggressive behaviour is common in chimpanzees

Oestrogen regulates the menstrual cycle in women and causes the change in female body shape at puberty. Testosterone causes hair growth and the deepening of the voice in boys.

But men and women produce small quantities of both hormones which scientists think are “sides of the same coin” in regulating many body functions. A study published a few years ago by Dr Nirao Shah, of California University suggests it is early oestrogen exposure that “masculinises” boys to be boys and is pivotal in shaping male territorial behaviour.

Dr Shah said: “It’s been known for decades oestrogen may play a role in making males behave like males. What we do here is to provide insight into the logic of how oestrogen regulates that behaviour.”

Tests on male mice found female sex hormones boosts aggression and those with a lot of them are more likely to pick fights and mark their territories with urine.

Dr Shah and colleagues say the conversion of testosterone in the brain to oestrogen by the enzyme aromatise is critical to developing and activating brain circuits that control male territorial behaviour.

They found more aromatise-positive cells in the males in two regions of the brain known to regulate sexual and aggressive behaviours.

When newborn female mice were given oestrogen supplements, they developed brain patterns of aromatise that were indistinguishable from males. These females then showed male territorial behaviour and showed aggression toward male intruders. Interestingly untreated female mice rarely attacked males.

Other scientists argue that the difference in how much macho behaviour is displayed could be explained by a combination of social experience along with early developmental events that wire the brain differently.

Science aside one thing is clear, when big news breaks there’s only one way that journalists know how to respond.