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When the News of the World (closure of) is the news

I’ve just discovered what many must have known for years, that the true test of a real news story is when you just don’t believe it.

When I read just now, at Guido‘s, the news that the News of the World has been closed, I thought, you’re ‘avin’ a laugh, and I was merely puzzled as to why. What, I thought to myself, is the point of concocting this bizarre joke (in the form of a fake press release), and at such bizarre length? Newspapers that are making tons of money and which have lots of readers don’t just close, merely because they’ve done something wrong. Newspapers die, but that’s entirely different.

Yet, it appears to be so. The News of the World is indeed to shut.

The only serious attention that I have ever given to the News of the World was when it broke this story about Pakistan cricket corruption. I was grateful for that sting operation then, and am accordingly a bit regretful now. Although I do agree that if you want to make your newspaper hated by everyone, then it is hard to think of a better way of doing it than to get caught busting into the phones of a murder victim and her family.

The NotW is being shut, I presume, to enable Rupert Murdoch‘s various television plans to proceed profitably. Will this dramatic step do the trick? Might it not make Murdoch look even worse, by drawing yet more attention to the skullduggery that he presided over and surely knew all about, and to the fact that he only closed the NotW when the skullduggery became public knowledge?

David Cameron, because of his close connection to the NotW gang, is also looking very bad. The line here at Samizdata on that will presumably be: oh dear, how tragic.

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19 comments to When the News of the World (closure of) is the news

  • I think the real issue is not so much that the News of the World has done the phone hacking, but the related news that the News of the World has paid a six figure sum in bribes to the police. Lots of people are going to be arrested, both from the paper and from the police, and in the worst case scenario for him, some of these people are going to turn out to know David Cameron well. Rupert Murdoch is in severe damage control mode to minimise the number of his people who are going to be arrested. I am intrigued about who specifically he is trying to prevent being arrested, given that I wouldn’t have thought that there were many people he was not prepared to throw to the wolves.

    On the other hand, we have the quaint British custom (totally unlike America) where regular newspapers do not publish on Sunday, and newspaper owners publish a related but separate Sunday paper with a separate newsroom and staff. If Murdoch was able to abolish the News of the World and a few months later announce that the Sun was to henceforth publish seven days a week, and he was to get the staff of the Sun to do seven days work when they had previously only done six, and he was able to retain most of the News of the World’s circulation, that would actually be impressive.

  • Yes, Michael, that sounds right. I put this posting up, not because I have been following this and have a mass of opinions about it, but simply because I was astonished.

    Michael Portillo, on This Week, has just said that this is, or should be, as big a crisis for the Police as for the NotW, because the Police had a mass of evidence of this stuff, and sat on it, and denied that they even had it. That also sounds right.

    As you said, Michael (Jennings), and as the TW discussion (particularly Max Clifford) made very clear, they have all been at it. It’s not just the NotW.

  • Portillo also made much of how, at last, the big newspapers are reporting on each other’s behaviour. But he didn’t explain this big change.

    It’s the internet, particularly blogs. If the likes of Guido had not been all over this kind of stuff, would the big newspapers still not be running a cartel on this?

  • I think that the police corruption & the phone hacking are important issues. It goes to point that the parent organisation likes to think that it can influence elections, and that UK politicians cosy up to said company in a similar belief.
    If the management didn’t know what was going on they are incompetant. If they did, then they at leat turned a blind eye to phone hacking and police corruption. Are these fit and proper people to run a news and media company?

    See this for more details: http://deadmanchatting.blogspot.com/2011/07/news-of-screws-we-made-our-excuses-and.html(Link)

  • I think it is more that the parent company likes politicians to think that it can influence elections, so that politicians will generally be compliant with respect to regulation of said parent company. The Sun and the News of the World have a history of changing their political allegiances to whoever they think is likely to win the next election, so that they can claim the credit later. How much influence they actually have (or had) remains to be seen.

    Murdoch owns papers in many places, and in truth only the ones in London behave quite like this. Also, it is certainly not the case that this sort of behaviour is exclusive to Murdoch’s papers. It may be that they are the worst offenders, and it may be that Murdoch and Fleet Street have turned out to be a match made in heaven. However, this is at least as much Fleet Street culture as Murdoch specifically. (And Fleet Street culture has its good parts. That Pakistani cricket sting of the NotW that Brian alludes to in the post. That was good journalism, pure and simple).

  • Paul Marks

    A life time of work as a security guard and (now) a gate keeper means that I know the News of the World quite well (it is often left around on sites).

    It is (was) not quite as it is presented – for example Fraser Nelson (the editor of the Spectator) wrote for it – every week.

    How else would ordinary people know that the “massive cuts” by the Cameron led government do not, in fact, exist?

    So, in a way, it is possible that Cameron will not be totally upset that the News of the World is going – inspite of the harm that his links with it may do him.

    The hard left (the BBC/Guardian) are, of course, torn – they are happy to see the destruction of the News of the World, but they fear it will distract attention from their true objective…..

    The destrcution of News International – at least the Rupert M. News International (if R.M. was deposed by internal betrayal, as Conrad Black was, the hard left would be overjoyed – especially if R.M. was sent to prison over some trumped up charge or charges).

    What is at stake here is actually more than a left – right thing (after all the News International press backed New Labour in 1997 and all through the Blair years).

    What is at stake here is the nature of what “journalism” is.

    Is journalism seeking out stories – things that people do not want you to know?

    American mainstream newspapers (and television stations) pride themselves on not using “dirty” tactics like hacking people’s telephone, recording private meetings, or paying people for information.

    But the American msm could not give a toss about getting stories – it does not see this as its role.

    The role of the “New Journalism” (actually about a century old now) is to “educate the public” by faithfully copying out the words of the great and the good (their press releases and there off their briefings) and also using ones education and training to explain the establishment point of view to “the masses” so that most ordinary people support (or at least do not actively oppose) the Progressive cause.

    Finding out negative things about people is not part of this – unless the people concerned are reactionaries (Sarah Palin or whoever) and even then one does not need to hack telephones or pay for stories – as negative stories about reactionaries can be simply MADE UP (agitprop does not need any hard work – one can simply make up “quotes” by taking words out of context, or just inventing them, and one can also make up events such as the burning of library books or whatever).

    Remember a story against the left has to be PROVED (someone like Andrew Britbart must have hard evidence) – but a story against a reactionary does not need to be proved (if one comes under attack for it – one can always do a Jon Stewart and say the lie was a “joke”, even the evening news people have played this trick) so one does not need to do any of the dirty things that old style journalists/private investigators did.

    Even the Wall Street Journal is not a newspaper in the old sense – it has a conservative editorial team, but the newspaper itself is made up of educated “new journalism” people.

    It is not really in the business of finding out stuff – true it will from time to time, but this is not what most of its staff really concentrate on.

    The old style journalist/private investigator – i.e. the man in the dirty raincoat who had never seen the inside of a university (unless he was investigating a story at one) and who went through rubbish bins, looked through letter boxes, planted bugs at conferences (lo and behold – all these nice “liberal” people love Chairman Mao….) and, yes, paid for information….. is no longer a part of American mainstream journalism (outside the National Enquirer).

    And the objective of the left is to make sure that he is no longer part of British journalism either (the transformation of British journalism into a bunch of people who copy and paste press releases and write stuff on the basis of what they were taught in college – has been going on already, for years).

    “But Paul one needs a formal education in order to be able to write out opinion stuff”.

    Henry Hazlitt did not have one (one of the last real writers at the New York Times – real, in the sense, that he wrote things worth reading). And Frank Johnson (of the British Daily Telegraph) did not have one either.

    But, I agree, a formal education (so that someone really understood economics and political philosophy) would be nice. Although where would one get such an education in Britain or the United States? Not many places.

    “But Paul – the News of the World was not interested in what you are interested in. It was interested in sex stories – and it even went after the familes of the victims of murder, hopeing to find some smut to publish….”.

    Quite so – and have never said that its output was not (often) vile. I have never bought the News of the World – never bought it because of this very reason.

    However, the sex stories were how it became and stayed the biggest selling newspaper – and how so many people knew that (for example) Mr Cameron’s “cutting of government spending” is a lie. The (subsidized) Spectator magazine will continue to exist – but I do not expect to find in the hut when I take over from another gate keeper (and, make no mistake, people who buy things like the News of the World for the sex stories DO read the rest of the paper – they really do, I know that by 30 years of talking to such people).

    How are ordinary people going to know things now? At least things the left do not want them to know.

  • Johathan Pearce

    Another issue that spins off this is our libertarian concern about the Database State. Given the corruption of public officials, can there be any lingering doubt that aggregating vast amounts of public data is a very bad idea?

    This story should be used by groups such as No2ID to ram home the dangers of the Database State and the risks attending it.

  • ego

    Whether this is enough. Is not believe it. Dramatic change in the British spy scandal: the Murdoch empire is the tabloid “News of the World” one. Reporters had intercepted phone calls from celebrities and ordinary citizens. But the liberation of the media company will not succeed. Although almost everyone in England is for sale. Let’s see, the billionaire bo can redeem himself again. It then also picture of English society, whether that is really depraved been like that.

  • Rob

    Great opportunity to cut staffing costs and still have a sunday paper, while keeping all the advertisers.

    How would Murdoch have sacked all those people without a sqeal from the left without this convenient problem?

    Not to mention the opportunity it provides govt. to limit the investigative powers of the media. New offence relating to media reporting on the cards anyone?

  • Ben

    I suspect Paul Marks is right on the money.

  • Stephen Willmer

    I still have not worked out the precise gravamen of the mischief done by phone hacking. It may be more than one thing. Does anyone have any views?

  • Well Ed Milliband was on the News this morning wittering on about something to do with press regulation. His general theme (I do find him excruciating to listen to) seemed to be that the press had been the people’s friend and now it has turned and politicians must be the people’s friends to but it on the right track. Something like that. Part way through my Sky box crashed for no apparent reason. It was OK on other channels. 100% true story. But then at lunchtime it refused to show “Dogfights” but was clear as a bell for “Last of the Summer Wine”. The big joke there seeming to be a man wearing two tank-tops. Laugh? I almost had an embolism.

    Paul makes a good point as to how tabloids are read. People don’t just look at the tits on Page 3 then skip to the sports results. As to Paul’s other points… I thought (I was not alone) it disgraceful when the BBC sacked Moira Stewart because she was their only frontline newsreader with about a journalism qualification. The fact she was very popular and had done the job for years didn’t matter. I don’t believe for an instance there is a need for a guild of scribblers. Quite the reverse. Yes, Paul is right, for much news a sound knowledge of politics and economics is a damn good start but what about reporting military matters or science or cricket or showbiz? Specific knowledge of the issue at hand and an ability to communicate are all what’s needed. I read a lot of tech blogs and such. I couldn’t give a toss if these aren’t written by journos. I do care they are written by people who could take a mainframe apart with a ladies manicure set and tell you everything did.

  • llamas

    There’s a reason the News of the Screws has been in successful operation for a hundred-and-whatever years. They print what a large number of people want to read. To paraphrase John Mortimer, “who’s b*nking who – and who pays.”

    Anyone who thinks that the Digger is going to strangle that particular goose, for such a petty and transient cause – hasn’t been paying attention. The NOTW will be back, maybe under a different masthead, but same output, smae reporters, and same methods.

    The hypocrisy is breathless – but not surprising. Hack Sarah Palin’s e-mail? Not a peep of outrage. Dump a mass of US military secrets, unlawfully obtained? Commendable! But all of a sudden, this particular bit of lawbreaking is too horrible to contemplate, and Heads Must Roll. A more-cynical person than I would be looking for other reasons for this sudden outbreak of moral rectitude. Oh, look, over there – he’s trying to buy a TV network that we think would be better not bought by him. Just a coincidence, I’m sure.



  • This isn’t the first newspaper Murdoch has shut down, in most surprising circumstances. He shut the Times down for a year, during the 80s, when it was moved to Wapping, as I recall it.

  • I am hearing from and reading in various places that Murdoch shut the NotW to protect his son James.

    I’m sure there’s a simple explanation, but how does shutting down the NotW protect James Murdoch? Surely he has done what he has done, whatever later happens to the newspaper.

  • RAB

    I thought they fired Moira Stewart for being old and in the way, not because she didn’t have a journalism qualification. They wanted the screen full of new hot totty, journalism degree or not. Pure agism and sexism, and shock horror, from the BBC too!

    Most British Journalists have never been anywhere near a school of Journalism, they either learn on the job (Today’s John Humphrys started on the Penarth Times then the Western Mail etc etc) or they have a degree in something, like the Hereditary Dimbleby’s, then get the job on the back of their old man’s reputation, or, like me, they are experts and enthusiasts in something and can write a bit too.

    American Journalists on the other hand, pretty much all have a Journalism Degree, and I have always maintained that that is why their writing is generally dull as ditchwater.

    But they are schooled in ethics and how to write pyramid leads and stuff. American papers have fact checking depts that are ludicrously rigorous.

    I have dealt with people wringing me up querying damn near every line…

    No that’s a joke… so is that… that’s conjecture and the last one is straight opinion…

    So what I am saying is that this phone hacking stuff wouldn’t make it to print over there because someone is questioning it at every turn. But yes it does lead to a very turgid read. And that’s what we will be in for if iDave has his way (with the Opposition quietly cheering him on of course).

    If subdefuge, going undercover with a wire and a hidden camera and paying for information and stories is outlawed (I’m sure that is the aim) then it’s all over for the truth and investigative journalism, and like Brian M said in a thread above, linking to Anna Raccoon, they will be coming for us bloggers next.

    It will not be “All the news that’s fit to print” but “All the news that’s approved to print”

  • Paul Marks

    RAB – yes.

    And BBC Radio Four (right now) is busy using the words of David Cameron (yesterday’s words) to justify it campaign for a de facto monopoly on news.

    Not that they use those words of course – no they say the public need to be protected from the “power” of media organizations owned by big business and private individuals.

    Of course the only actual “power” is with the BBC – which is funded by the threat of violence.

    The objective is to eliminate (or rather COOPT) private competition to the BBC.

    After all ABC, CBS and NBC are all privately owned – as are the New York Times, Time magazine, CNN (and on and on).

    They are all privately owned – but they support the official (Progressive) line, so the left have no problem (at least not for now – there may be long term plans) with these examples of “big business”.

    The message is simple.

    “We do not want to destroy you – not as long as you play ball”.

  • John B

    It is a war.
    The power group that includes News of the World is on the ropes, being bludgeoned by the other lot.
    The main thing it indicates is radical changes in structure in the body social/politic.
    Sure, what the News of the World has done is tacky but is it so unremittingly evil and destructive as to warrant all the coverage?
    This is a cooked-up war manoeuvre.
    The kings and queens are re-arranging each others’ furniture.
    Expect waves.
    None of them good.

  • RAB,
    Yes, probs but the excuse they used was that all their newsreaders now had to have a journalism qualification.

    I think they called that the “third way” not long since. Recall the D-notice on Mandy? Oh, it was to ban any discussion of his sexual orientation (not that that really need discussing because everyone knew he was a chutney ferret). But that is not what it was really about. What it was really about was that whilst Labour were pretending to be tough on immigration Mandy’s boyf had a seemingly ever-lasting student visa.

    Speaking as someone who has known quite a few foreign post-grads with job offers who have been told to eff off by the Home Orifice this annoyed me.

    And I mean proper jobs – not just biting Lord Voldemort’s pillow and thinking of Brazil.