Economics

Goodbye, Polythene Pam: News of the World Folds After 168 Years

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Milly Dowler

The News of the World hacking scandal has ended the celebrated British tabloid's more-than-150-year history. Deputy CEO James Murdoch informs staffers

You do not need to be told that The News of the World is 168 years old. That it is read by more people than any other English language newspaper. That it has enjoyed support from Britain's largest advertisers. And that it has a proud history of fighting crime, exposing wrong-doing and regularly setting the news agenda for the nation…

The good things the News of the World does, however, have been sullied by behaviour that was wrong. Indeed, if recent allegations are true, it was inhuman and has no place in our Company.

The News of the World is in the business of holding others to account. But it failed when it came to itself.

In 2006, the police focused their investigations on two men. Both went to jail. But the News of the World and News International failed to get to the bottom of repeated wrongdoing that occurred without conscience or legitimate purpose.

Wrongdoers turned a good newsroom bad and this was not fully understood or adequately pursued.

As a result, the News of the World and News International wrongly maintained that these issues were confined to one reporter. We now have voluntarily given evidence to the police that I believe will prove that this was untrue and those who acted wrongly will have to face the consequences.

This was not the only fault.

The paper made statements to Parliament without being in the full possession of the facts. This was wrong.

And so on. Whether the damage from the phone hacking scandal could ever have been contained to a few employees was never clear, but NOTW's position became untenable after coverage in the Guardian revealed that the paper had deleted voice mails of the kidnapped and murdered teenager Milly Dowler in 2002. In addition to destroying evidence in a criminal investigation (and leading Dowler's family to believe she might still be alive), the move was just, as they say in the U.K., beastly. 

Dominatrix Rupert Murdoch wants you.

The closing of Rupert Murdoch's highest-circulation newspaper is at least an inconvenience for the media mogul who has been striking fear into right-thinking people for years. 

In a 2004 Reason cover story, however, Ben Compaine discussed the fragility of media dominance in an environment where public opinion gets more fragmented with each new broadband Internet subscription. He also noted that the News Corp. empire, with its close family involvement and Murdoch's strong personal vision, was a pretty unusual animal in contemporary media. 

"Though the company is publicly owned," Compaine wrote, "working control and ownership have been retained by its chairman, Rupert Murdoch, and his family. The company has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into its groundbreaking efforts in creating the Fox Network, then a viable second all-news cable network, then creating direct broadcast satellite service covering parts of the Third World as well as developed countries that did not have the advantage of a multi-channel cable infrastructure. While in no way endorsing his apparent political ideology, one might even point to his bankrolling of the conservative Weekly Standard as another contribution Murdoch has made to the marketplace of ideas and cultural offerings."

Even before the NOTW debacle, however, Murdoch's vexed relationship to the free internet and the flop debut of his smartphone publication The Daily had made it clear how unstable even a 168-year-old media empire is. 

But Slate's Jack Shafer is the real Francis Parkman of Murdoch historians. In his reaction to today's news, he states that Murdoch is pulling the "reverse ferret" (it makes sense in context), and sacrificing the paper in order to scatter the incriminating paper trail.

In any event, the death of a newspaper is always cause for celebration. Though it may not have made too big a splash in the U.S.A., we do know that the kind of girl who makes the News of the World must be attractively built: