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Although the website is still offering a four-week free trial, today’s announcement that News Corporation will shutter its long-running Sunday tabloid News of the World because of a now officially out of control phone hacking scandal reverberated through the media news sphere for hours today, and will therefore dominate Press Clips, our daily — back from a break! — media column. After the initial shock of the announcement, in which international mogul Rupert Murdoch chose to eviscerate a whole brand rather than face the economic fallout of shady reporting on missing children and war veterans, came the speculation. Amid the swirl, questions about the leadership capabilities of Murdoch’s likely successor, son James, and top executive Rebekah Brooks, editor of the tabloid at the time of the evildoing. Plus, which News Corp. publication will fill the gap, where will the (almost entirely) innocent staff go and what will become of Murdoch’s pending business deals? Let’s find out together.
Till the World Ends: A public statement on the News of the World saga has been plastered across the top of their website for much of the day, American time. In it, current editor Colin Mylers concludes, “I will do everything in my power to restore the News of the World’s reputation for fair, accurate and, most importantly, responsible journalism.”
That was not to be.
James Murdoch wrote in his statement that Sunday’s edition will be the last for the 168-year-old paper, despite sales of 2.6 million per week, which make it the best-selling Sunday paper in the world.
The full statement is full of remorse:
We have welcomed broad public inquiries into press standards and police practices and will cooperate with them fully.
So, just as I acknowledge we have made mistakes, I hope you and everyone inside and outside the Company will acknowledge that we are doing our utmost to fix them, atone for them, and make sure they never happen again.
In addition, I have decided that all of the News of the World’s revenue this weekend will go to good causes.
While we may never be able to make up for distress that has been caused, the right thing to do is for every penny of the circulation revenue we receive this weekend to go to organisations – many of whom are long-term friends and partners – that improve life in Britain and are devoted to treating others with dignity.
But at New York, Gabriel Sherman wonders if James Murdoch’s central role in the scandal could be his undoing in the News Corp. empire. Specifically, Murdoch’s admission that he approved settlements relating to the hacks, which have been known about in some regard for at least 5 years.
“I now know that I did not have a complete picture when I did so,” Murdoch wrote today. “This was wrong and is a matter of serious regret.” Sherman writes that James “has made himself the point person for managing a volatile and politically charged scandal: a very dangerous place to be,” and floats his brother Lachlan as a possible usurper.
Elsewhere, the Journal ponders the fate of the News‘ editor when the alleged crimes occurred, Rebekah Brooks, and how long she’ll be able to hold on despite James Murdoch’s assertion that she “has a good standard of ethics and her leadership is the right thing for the company.”
The Times, though, reports that “when the News Corporation executive Rebekah Brooks walked on to the floor of the News of the World newsroom and began speaking, many at the paper thought she would be announcing her own resignation following scrutiny of her role in the phone hacking scandal that has rocked Britain in recent weeks.” That, of course, was not the case and the result is that her employees, now unemployed, are pissed. Though many were not even working at the paper when the hackings occurred, they were told “they might apply for other positions within the media conglomerate.”
“If she had gone at the start of the week, we’d all still be employed,” said one of Brooks. “I hope she’s worth it for Rupert.” (One New York Times reporter says that Brooks offered her resignation twice, but it was not accepted.) Then the suddenly jobless went to the pub.
In trouble no matter the level Rupert’s loyalty is Andy Coulson, another ex-News editor, who will be arrested Friday morning for his role in the scandal. A second arrest of a “senior journalist at the paper” is also expected in the coming days.
But it wouldn’t be a News Corp. story without an extra dash of dastardly savvy. That comes in the form of some speculation by Alison Frankel at Reuters, who notes that if the News of the World is liquidated, they could destroy any potentially incriminating documents, thwarting any investigations meant to further understand the extent of the hackings or remunerate the victims.
“Why would the liquidator want to keep [the records]?” a media law expert said. “Minimizing liability is the liquidator’s job.” He called it “a stroke of genius–perhaps evil genius.”
And of course the genius comes down to dollars and cents — as it usually does for Murdoch and co. — with the News Corp. acquisition of British Sky Broadcasting Group still pending based on the whims of British lawmakers. “It does take time to deal with those sorts of things, but that timetable is in the hands of the Secretary of State,” James Murdoch said.
Fair to say he’s crossing his fingers that the bottom line doesn’t get hurt too much. And, as Sherman noted, it’s film and TV that James cares about anyway for his father’s empire.
But that doesn’t mean the newspaper game is over already. The Guardian reports that URLs related to The Sun, another News Corp. tabloid that currently runs only six days a week, including TheSunOnSunday.co.uk, TheSunOnSunday.com and SunOnSunday.co.uk, were registered two days ago.
The empire tends to strike back.