It is both amusing and inevitable that the closing of the News of the World has provked outrage from so many quarters. To hear some of the comments being made on TV and radio in the last 36 hours you would have thought that this was the pinnacle of British Journalism being shut down – not a gossip-filled rag, piled high with accusation, salacious tidbits and blurry photos of pop stars knickers as they scramble from car to club. Personally I can’t see the problem with shutting it down.
I took part in a discussion on this topic yesterday afternoon on BBC World Service. I was thoroughly amused to here old tired hacks and media luvvies berating Murdoch for the closing of the paper. As far as they were concerned, looking down from their whiter than white ivory towers, all those working at the NOTW today were not involved in the original crimes so why should they be punished? The NOTW was a fine upstanding newspaper with a proud tradition that had been cast aside by the evil media baron. 200 jobs had been sacrificed to save the jobs of a few. One poor NOTW journalist we were told had only just had a baby and had a mortgage to pay – it was all soooo unfair.
What utter rot. The truth is that following the recent revelations regarding the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone and the phones of 7/7 victims and families etc there was a huge outcry from all quarters. The media went on an anti NOTW spree – they could not write enough, or talk about more, or dedicate sufficient phone-in time to the multiple despicable outrages of the NOTW. Politicians were typically and universally appalled and outraged at the whole affair, demanding public inquiries that could not come soon enough or as far as they were concerned. Advertisers were falling over themselves to be the next one to say – we are out – to disassociate themselves from such a toxic brand. And most importantly came the “public outcry”. Caller after caller and tweet after tweet cried out for a boycott of the paper, demanded that it be shut, pleaded with the nation to “send Murdoch a message”. Well Rupert Murdoch got the message.
No matter what the intentions of those on social media and elsewhere – their actions made NOTW brand toxic. To hear some of the very same tweeters then pop up on radio this morning saying the closure was not what they wanted was utterly priceless. Beware of unintended consequences my friends.
So was the closing of NOTW right or wrong? Right. Of course. Had Rupert Murdoch taken no action he risked the toxicity extending to other parts of his business. It still might. He may very well have been facing future job cuts and closures of 2000 jobs not just the current 200, had this been allowed to fester and grow. He still might. I have heard his actions described as cynical. But those cries are from luvvies in their towers who have never run an organisation of any scale. This was an act of necessity. Murdoch’s genius was to do it so quickly and so effectively. Too many leaders would have left it a while, to “see what happened”. That is simply ceding control of the situation- to become the victim of unfolding circumstances. That is no way for a leader (be it of a business or a political party for that matter) to behave. What we have seen is a masterclass in Management Crisis – pure and simple.
It is also with amusement I see that those same politicos and tired old hacks - having criticised Murdoch so profoundly about the closure of the NOTW - are now rounding on him for the expected extension of the Sun newspaper to 7 days a week. And what I ask is wrong with that? A business man may have found a way of softening the blows of a deeply damaging crisis with some minor positive outcomes. Give that man another gold star.
Of course , if some of the NOTW staff are subsequently employed by “The Sun on Sunday” we will hear further outcry. If they aren’t employed – and others are – that too will provoke outcry. The luvvies actually want the NOTW staff to be martyrs to the luvvies cause of Murdoch destruction and to hell with anyone caught up in the middle.
It is clear to me that Murdoch was not only right to shut the NOTW, in truth he had no option but to close it. Given the choice he would obviously much rather none of this had happened (the idea that he somehow orchestrated the inquiry in order to find an excuse to close the paper is up there with the Royal family murdering Diana). He will still find the whole affair permanently damaging. Bskyb shares dropped again today. His friend and allay Rebekah Brooks will almost certainly have to be cut loose one way or another, his son may well face criminal charges, News International prized relationship with UK politicians has been checked if not permanently halted and his quest to take over BSKYB has taken a considerable step backwards if not been totally scuppered.
What is clear, and of interest to the freemarketers, is that Market mechanisms did in just a few days what no Government or inquiry could have achieved in months or years, if ever. It shut down an immoral and illegal miserable newspaper. Murdoch may have wielded the knife, but NOTW was already dead.