Written by News, Politics

The News of the World

I’ve been following this week’s events with dropped jaw horror, as finally, after two years of solid reporting from Nick Davies and The Guardian, it all came home to roost for News International and the News of the World.
I hate to see people lose their jobs. We keep hearing about how 200 fine men and women are being layed off (give or take a few who will find employment elsewhere in the News International stable). But they’re not the only ones going this week.
Bombardier – the last train manufacturer in the UK – is laying off 443 staff and 983 contractors following the government’s awarding of a contract to Siemens in Germany since they didn’t take account of the social cost of failing to award to a British company (something that German and French rail groups absolutely do do).
Administrators have laid off 557 from Homeform, the group that owns Moben, Dolphin and Kitchens Direct following the collapse of the business.
And they’re just a couple of the groups that have seen significant loss of staff. The difference is that they – for one reason or another – were “failing” businesses or businesses that were unable to fill their order books. In every case, I’ve no doubt that there are going to be people struggling to make mortgage payments or pay the bills (and those gas and electricity prices are only going in one direction seemingly).
In the News of the World’s case, it was still a highly profitable newspaper selling more copies and having more readers than any other paper in the country. Whether it or The Times of India was the largest English language newspaper in the world, I’ll leave for others to determine (not having easy access to India’s ABC figures). But we do know that the paper was selling an extraordinarily large 8m papers in the fifties when that must have represented close to one in five adults in the country.
I’ve got a whole collection of first and last newspapers that have been launched or died during my life. I have The Independent no. 1. I have Robert Maxwell’s London Daily News; The Sunday Correspondent; first and last issues of Today. But I don’t think I’ll be buying today’s News of the World. It was never a paper I liked especially. And that was before I learnt what has slowly become clearer and clearer over the last two years.
An unscientific sample of two local newsagents to me revealed one with stacks of unsold News of the Worlds at 4pm, while another was sold out, yet I could buy any other title there.
Looking at the front page, it’s noticeable that the stories seem to all be from its recent tabloid era – the paper “only” turned tabloid in 1984, yet the paper itself goes far further back. Are our memories that short? I notice from the Andrew Marr programme that the paper includes a reproduction of the title’s first edition with its values at the top of the front page. While it was always a paper that targeted the working man, I’m not completely convinced that the News of the World in 2011 would have been recognised by those men who first created it. Apart from anything else, it’s title was the ultimate misnomer – it’s been a long time since we learnt anything from around the world, at least unless it involved celebrities in other countries.
I’m always somewhat unconvinced that a twenty-something journalist working at the title today really worries about what a title’s founders said about the paper nearly two hundred years ago. What we’ve learnt from this case is that journalists at the paper were under enormous pressure to get stories into the paper, and if you didn’t get a high enough byline count, you were out. Of course Fleet Street is and always has been competitive. But it’s now pretty obvious that out the window went any kind of ethics or morals. So get those stories however you can…
I’ve no doubt that, at times, there were some incredibly significant undercover stories that came out from the paper, including use of the infamous “fake sheikh.” But even some of them turned out to be not quite as good as they might, as trials collapsed, or things actually not quite being as they were first presented. The paper’s sports coverage was strong too. I know some who bought the title purely for its football coverage, with good writers who knew their stuff and had the inside track on what was going on; without the use of mobile phone messages, I trust.
In the end, the public also has to have a say in this. If you were buying the paper, you were also responsible for the kinds of stories it was digging out. Papers shift very quickly to meet the needs of their readers. And they delivered what the readers seemingly wanted. Of course those readers didn’t know how the paper got it stories, but they happily devoured them nonetheless, and the paper has been a cash cow for many years. And that’s not something that many papers from any area of the market can say.
What’s going to happen to all those News of the World readers? Who knows. I suspect that many bought the paper alongside another – perhaps the Mail or a broadsheet. Some will switch to the Sunday Mirror or the Mail on Sunday – the real play for new readers will begin in earnest next weekend and I suspect that already the big guns in the marketing departments of Mirror Group and Associated are putting together strong offers for next week’s paper. What’s the best DVD or biggest value voucher they can afford to give away?
Undoubtedly the Sun will go seven days a week – not before the autumn I’d have said. I would look towards some serious offers being made to get current Sun readers to move to be seven day purchasers. While somebody might have been buying up relevant URLs, I suspect that in reality sun.co.uk will be the single place for readers to go, although the title may well be called The Sun on Sunday (The Sunday Sun being a 100 year old paper in the northeast of England).
As for the PCC. Well its patently a shambles. As things stands, it’s hopeless with ridiculous limits on who’s even allowed to complain – if I’m not the focus of a story, then it’s nothing to do with me? It’s been thoroughly useless all the way through this scandal. And it doesn’t even monitor the whole press – Express Newspapers isn’t a part of it at all.
The big question now is political. Is Rupert Murdoch going to take full control of Sky? And that means what Jeremy Hunt, David Cameron and Ofcom do over the next few weeks will… let’s just say be fascinating. That’s if a proposed Commons rebellion doesn’t take place in the meantime. Murdoch’s flown in now to try to sort everything out. But what’s really encouraging is that the political parties now seem to have developed some balls, and don’t have to worry about how a corporation may react to what they’re saying. For too many years, too many politicians have worried far too much about getting on the right side of Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch is entitled to behave as he wishes in the best interests of his companies. But that does mean that UK politicians have to be in thrall to him.
I suspect that one way or another now, the BSkyB deal is going to get bogged down. Cameron’s on enough shaky ground already. And we’ve probably seen one too many politically feeble performance recently; to wit Philip Hammond, Secretary of State for Transport’s pathetic performance on Newsnight earlier this week attempting to defend the loss of the rail contract I mentioned earlier. Compare that with Steve Coogan’s withering put down of Paul McMullan, the man with most airtime minutes this week as he appeared on every show known to man defending the practices of the News of the World. Whether he really is wanted by the police as he asserted on live television this morning? Who knows.
I don’t think that James Murdoch is guilty of much more than being foolish when he authorised some large cheques in an attempt to buy off problems earlier in the case. But Rebekah Brooks? Well that’s an interesting question.
Murdoch is standing by her for the time being. But you’ve got to think that there are a lot of people losing their jobs that might hold a bit of a grudge as far as she’s concerned. Look no further than today’s News of the World crossword for proof of that. Of course, if she knows nothing, then there won’t be anything to reveal.
But this story now has real legs. And we’ve certainly not reached the end of it yet, with at least two inquiries and who knows what more still to go.
Apologies if you were expecting something a little less political from me – perhaps about radio or the media. But this is something I’ve been following for years and feel strongly about. Clearly these are my own views and blah blah blah. I’d also strongly recommend that you read Guardian reporter Nick Davies’ book that came out a few years ago. I trust that Davies is writing a definitive book about this scandal.