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Goodbye, News of The World

Communication in our global and immediate XXIst century is an increasingly complex and fertile field where many paths cross at different points. This week has offered us a beautiful example of corporate communication crisis management (deemed by some as overreaction, and by others as a stroke of genius) in the journalistic arena: Rupert Murdoch’s decision to close his oldest tabloid, News of the World. The tycoon hasn’t been able to water down the growing outrage in Britain over allegations that the newspaper had illegally accessed (and even deleted!) voice  messages on the cell phone of a 13-year-old girl who was kidnapped and later found murdered. This shocking revelation led to the discovery of similar practices with hundreds of people.

The measure, announced in a blatantly theatrical manner (“Wrongdoers turned a good newsroom bad, and this was not fully understood or adequately pursued”) implies the layoff of 200 workers with no clear horizon, although many hope to be reabsorbed in Murdoch’s gigantic group, News Corp. Trustable sources attribute the measure to Murdoch’s son, James. And several hypotheses can be drawn:

– the tabloid’s decease is a response to the massive loss of advertisers and readers’ harsh critics.

– it is a way of preserving a new tabloid with a different name and stopping the hemorrhage. (NOTW enjoyed a very decent number of 2.7 readers per week).

– shutting the paper is a ploy to save Murdoch’s British media empire (a 40% of the total national coverage) and the job of Rebekah Brooks [1], chief executive of his British news operations.

– The genial strategic move could mean that, under British laws, Murdoch may not be obliged to retain documents that could be crucial to civil and criminal claims against the newspaper—even in cases that are already underway [2].

– News Corp. had already announced plans [3] to move to a seven-day-a-week publishing schedule across its four UK titles: the Sun, News of the World, the Times and the Sunday Times. And this pattern could eventually create internal competition across the different media, so reducing the number of newspapers is a healthy measure in corporate terms.

It may well be that more than one (or many) of these possibilities are true. The one thing we can be sure about is that journalism won’t suffer. News of the World had long passed the borders of the so-called ‘yellow journalism’ (inflated headlines and tempting rumours used as assets to increase sales) and entered a dangerous realm where the word ‘scruple’ is a hindrance from the past.