Founded in 1843, the News of the World has long dominated Sunday afternoon pub conversations. Printing headlines like “F1 Boss Has Sick Orgy with 5 Hookers,” “Fergie ‘Sells’ Andy for £500k” and “Ding Dong Immorally on High,” this was a paper that profited from naming and shaming.
The ongoing firestorm about the phone hacking scandal has finally culled a scalp. After major advertisers such as O2, Vauxhall, Boots and the government called time on their advertising contracts with the paper, the commercial future for the News of the World looked bleak but not many would have anticipated that Rupert Murdoch would kill off his golden goose.
The revelations about phone hacking were bad. When it was about celebrities like Sienna Miller and Lord Prescott, they were scandalous but not mortally damaging to the paper’s future. When it became about the families of bereaved servicemen, it became far more damning. The discovery that the phone of murder victim Millie Dowler had been hacked and messages from her parents deleted after her death dealt a killer blow. This was a newsroom that was shown to be one where rot reigned.
At 4.30pm today, the staff of the paper were called to a meeting where, accompanied by security, James Murdoch, Chairman and Chief Executive of News Corporation, and Rebekah Brooks, News International CEO and a former editor of the News of the World, announced that the last edition of the 168 year old paper would be printed this Sunday. The assembled were said to have been in tears and the paper’s editor, Colin Myler, it is claimed, was furious to have been given only 10 minutes notice of the decision.
Immediately news channels throughout the land cancelled all coverage of anything but this “breaking news.” Immediately the prey the paper had trounced came on air to get their revenge. Max Moseley announced he was “rejoicing” whilst Lord Prescott added “This is a gimmick… There’s no doubt it will become the Sunday Sun.” Zac Goldsmith MP, whose own emails were hacked, stated “It’s sad and traumatic for a lot of people… But it’s a good day for Britain. The country after Sunday will be a better place.” I’m not so sure. Though they had bad apples, the News of the World was good at investigative journalism. Their approach got results even if their style was coarse. Who is in a position to take up that mantle?
Many will ask is it a case of “we made our excuses and left.” Will more heads role yet? Rebekah Brooks is the main one in the firing line. Respected for having fought for ten years for “Sarah’s Law,” she now stands accused of taking an approach of “I’m staying but I’m shutting you down” but defends herself by stating it was “inconceivable” that she had known about what was happening over Milly Dowler’s voicemail. Brooks adds “I am aware of the speculation about my position. Therefore it is important you all know that as chief executive, I am determined to lead the company to ensure we do the right thing and resolve these serious issues.”
Tom Watson MP, a leading critic, of both Brooks and the paper responded “There are only two people left on the planet who want Rebekah Brooks to stay in her position and that’s David Cameron and Rupert Murdoch.” He is wrong. Brooks, I’d argue, is not the culprit here. Rogue journalists and a public hungry for sensationalised stories are the real problem. Blaming one woman is just too easy and frankly it is a disgraceful smokescreen that many so easily leap to.
Rupert Murdoch, Chairman and CEO of News Corporation
Michael Wolff, author of The Man Who Owns the News, focuses instead on Rupert Murdoch himself commenting “He must be scared out of his wits” before pointedly adding: “Rupert Murdoch, a man who has never been vulnerable before, is now vulnerable and quite naked.” Like Citizen Kane, he suggests this is a man on the edge of losing not only his BSkyB bid but it all.
The News of the World was in the business of holding others to account. It sadly, though, as James Murdoch concluded, didn’t hold itself to account and now this once great institution has revealed its last screw.
The last edition of the News of the World will be published this Sunday. All proceeds will go to “deserving causes.”
For the full statements from Rupert Murdoch, Rebekah Brooks and Colin Myler see http://www.newsoftheworld.co.uk/notw/public/home