At around 5pm on Thursday, Twitter was alive with seemingly unbelievable statements: `News of the World to close – News International statement to follow’, swiftly followed by online media and the news channels.
This story has been brewing for many years in the wake of the News of the World hacking scandal, which has gathered pace this year with further revelations. Most recently, news that not only had MPs and celebrities had their voicemail hacked, (which is unlikely to bring much sympathy from the public) but so had a number of high profile murder and abduction cases, as well as families of soldiers killed in action and victims of the 7/7 bombings.
This rightly brought a massive response from the public and on Monday afternoon, a huge social campaign targeted advertisers of the News of the World, which ultimately meant Ford pulled out and a number of other high profile advertisers felt the need to confirm they were reviewing their position.
I think many people watching this issue unfold were quite happy with the beginnings of a boycott and hoped to keep up the pressure via social, traditional and broadcast media. However, on Thursday evening the majority were taken by surprise by what was quite a stunning move by News International.
The full facts behind this move, which has resulted in the redundancy of many of the team on the News of the World (who were not linked to the hacking allegations) most likely has a number of reasons. I agree that morally this was the right decision, but I suspect there is much more to it than that.
Yes, the amount of negative public opinion certainly played its part, but the News of the World has never been afraid of upsetting people in the past. The reaction from advertisers no doubt made News International consider its position, as a paper is nothing without its advertisers. Although as the most popular Sunday paper in the UK, it could have probably weathered the storm.
However, news of imminent arrests of senior News of the World employees and ex-employees in relation to the hacking issue and Police payments were more likely to play a part. As well as the 4,000 potential victims of phone hacking by the paper. We are also likely to find out further problems over the coming weeks and months as part of the Government inquiry which will be public and messy. Furthermore the much discussed deal to acquire BSkyB, which is going through a high-profile Government review, now put back to September, was probably the biggest reason. Sacrifice old media for new (or at least media with more potential in the digital age) – it makes sense.
In reality, although Sunday’s edition of the News of the World will be the last, is this really the end of the country’s biggest tabloid Sunday paper? Or will we simply see it re-born, potentially under the name of its equally questionable sister weekly paper, The Sun, which is the most popular daily.
News quickly got out last night that The Sun on Sunday .co.uk and .com were registered two days ago, which seems to be a large coincidence, further proof that the News of the World will live on in spirit if not name, or a smart person grabbing a valuable domain on a hunch.
Furthermore, Roy Greenslade at The Guardian wrote a piece on News International’s move `towards a form of integration of daily and Sunday’ so was this always the plan and the backlash just offered a neat package to deliver it with more than a hint of crisis communications behind it?
So what does this episode teach us? Does it mean public opinion triumphed over the disgusting tactics of a media monster? Well, considering the hacking has been ongoing for at least 10 years, and public knowledge for 4-5 years, that seems unlikely. Does it mean that the social campaign started on Monday killed the News of the World? Again, this was a factor rather than a reason.
Does it mean that the extremely high pressure working style of tabloid national newspapers will change and journalists will no longer be forced to make a decision between their ethics and their job? Again, it seems not.
The likely reality is that those responsible for this problem, or at least most responsible in terms of their title and dealing with the issue throughout its history, are likely to be untouched (unless the legal process and Government review uncovers any hard evidence). It’s likely that the BSkyB deal will go through, and it’s likely that News International will launch a new title to replace the News of the World and regain market share.
So if this battle killed the News of the World, who and what escaped to fight another day will become apparent over the coming months.
For further information, The BBC has a good overview