It is a newspaper known for its scoops, scandals and celebrity gossip. Nicknamed News of the Screws (as in ‘who’s been screwing who?’), it has been something of an institution in the UK, albeit one that is looked down on by the snobbier elements of the press. In the last few days it has been deserted by its advertisers and by its own readers. The announcement that the weekly tabloid the News of the World will print its last issue on Sunday has sent a shock-wave through Britain’s media landscape. And the repercussions may be even more significant.
After 168 years of existence, and despite remaining profitable and popular, Rupert Murdoch’s News International has decided that the phone hacking scandal surrounding the NOTW has made the tabloid too toxic for it to handle. Scores of journalists with no connection to the phone hacking affair may lose their jobs.
But there is no room in Murdoch’s world for such sentimentality. Sky News, another of Murdoch’s UK media outlets, reported that the NOTW’s editor was told of his paper’s closure just 20 minutes before it was announced publicly. Business is business. Profitable or not, the newspaper that launched Murdoch internationally in 1969 is still, after all, just a small outpost in his media empire. No big loss to him.
In fact, it’s an opportunity.
The News of the World is not likely to be missed for long. Yes, it has left a void of around 2.5 million Sunday readers, but the speed of its downfall has taken the British media by surprise. No-one saw it coming, meaning no-one is ready to fill the gap in the market – apart, of course, from Murdoch himself. The Sun, a Monday-to-Saturday tabloid, sister paper to the NOTW and another of Murdoch’s flock, is now widely tipped to step into the breach. The Sun on Sunday. Sun every day of the week.
This presents Murdoch with an opportunity to streamline his UK tabloid activities, make some savings and refine his UK media strategy. If the Sun on Sunday does emerge – and the domain name sunonsunday.com was registered on Tuesday – it can take the baton from its sacrificed sister almost seamlessly. Despite being run by the same people as the NOTW, The Sun’s reputation is not likely to suffer from the scandal. Murdoch will have simply re-branded the NOTW, something many observers believe he wanted to do anyway.
News Corporation Fact Box
News Corp. is the second-largest media conglomorate in the world (behind the Walt Disney Company). It owns media all over the world including:
- The Australian newspaper
- GQ Australia magazine
- Vogue Australia magazine
- Fox Studios Australia
- Fox media corporation available to over 96% of Americans.
- Fox News
- New York Post
- Wall Street Journal
- 20th Centrury Fox
- The Times newspaper
- The Sunday Times newspaper
- The Sun newspaper
- News of the World newspaper
- It also owns 39.1% of TV group BSkyB, the UK’s biggest pay-TV broadcaster. It is currently attempting to buy the remaining 60.1%
- Sky News and Sky News international
- Sky Sports
Then there is the bigger picture. Before claims emerged that the News of the World had hacked the phones of missing schoolgirls and the families of dead soldiers, Murdoch’s News Corporation was set to be given the government’s green light to buy out BSkyB, the UK’s biggest pay-TV broadcaster. There was very vocal opposition but no compelling legal obstacle to the take-over.
Then the scandal broke and things changed. Suddenly the opponents of the deal had a chance to scupper it; their argument became more convincing. News Corp shares started falling. So Murdoch simply cut the NOTW loose. He washed his hands of the problem.
The take-over is still likely to go ahead, although perhaps not as soon as Murdoch had hoped. If it does, he will have more control over what the UK public reads and watches than any other person in the country’s history. It is a thought the non-Murdoch press dreads but one it believes it now has a fighting chance of stopping.
The fight of the front pages seems about to intensify.