So farewell, then, News of the World. You were the UK’s biggest selling newspaper – and arguably the most entertaining, too (in the style of E. J. Thribb).
It’s the story that’s sending shock waves across the worldwide media industry. That most venerable of UK newspapers, the News of the World, more-or-less affectionately known by many as the “News of the Screws” for its specialism in “kiss and tell” stories, is closing down this Sunday.
It is sudden death for the UK’s biggest selling newspaper, brought about by the ongoing and escalating revelations about phone hacking. Somehow, the NotW’s demise is appropriate – just fading away wouldn’t have been the right way to go.
Clearly, the NotW massively overstepped the line with its illegal activities. This is a clear proof point of a fact that’s been clear for years: that there is an arms race in the UK’s red top Sunday market that ultimately would claim a high-profile casualty. But the Screws? I’d long suspected The People (sorry Deano) as the most vulnerable.
This all changed as the phone hacking story spiraled out of control. News International, one of the world’s largest media firms, ultimately had no option but to pull the plug. Shocking as it may seem, we think this was the only remaining option: having avoided taking public responsibility for such a long time, it finally became clear that this would be the storm that simply would not blow over.
It’s unprecedented. I can’t think of a single prior incident where a profitable, successful newspaper has gone out of business in such a way.
As a former UK tabloid hack, this topic is very close to my heart – I worked on The Sun, and on the Sunday Mirror – and even, occasionally, mostly to make ends meet, on the Sunday Sport. Since mobile phones hardly existed in those days, this wasn’t a factor – although hearsay always circulated about reporters going through the contents of celebrities’ rubbish, looking for stories.
After moving over the fence to PR, I’ve sporadically been involved with “news” that my clients would rather keep out of the newspapers. I’ve also picked up a 5pm Friday afternoon phone call to find a NotW reporter on the line – with the story sewn up and watertight by the time they finally go to the PR for comment. You’re on the hook by then and all you can do is wiggle – and action the crisis plan you’ve put together in advance (you have, haven’t you?).
It’s with mixed emotions that I bid goodbye to the NotW. I’ve already ordered a copy of Sunday’s final edition. However, although I’m shocked by the news, I’m not upset – because the phone hacking stepped so far over the line that eventually you paid the ultimate price – and I’m pretty sure that there will be some aftershocks across the Murdoch empire.