07-09-2011 by Linda S. Carbonell
Rupert Murdoch is not a newspaperman. Never has been, never will be. To him, newspapers, radio stations, television networks are means of making money. If he thought he could make The Wall Street Journal more profitable by running nude photos of bank employees, he would. He has a long history of turning marginal newspapers into best sellers by turning them into tabloids.
The term tabloid didn’t always mean the dregs of news. It’s actually a description of size. The New York Times is a “broadsheet” – a paper whose size was dignified, one that a man could read while sitting in a leather armchair in this club, one he could hide behind while breakfasting with his wife. It covered “gentlemen’s” news stories, business, politics, business, the world, business, the arts, the theater, concerts, the doings of the most socially important people. A tabloid was a paper a man could read on the trolley on his way to his factory job. It told the stories The New York Times didn’t think were “fit to print” – crime and corruption, society’s exploitation of the poor, the things that effected the lives of the poor and working class.
Eventually, as more Americans got their news from radio and television, as the broadsheets started reporting more news from the streets, there arose a variation on the tabloid. People forgot that “tabloid” meant size and started associating the term with gossip sheets and papers that headlined aliens in the White House and speculated on the sexual activities of celebrities. Murdoch took real newspapers like The New York Post and The News of the World and turned them from “tabloid by size” to “tabloid by style.”
The News of the World was first published on October 1, 1843, in London by John Browne Bell. It cost a whole three pennies. A Sunday-only paper, it specialized in crime stories, with a certain emphasis on vice crimes. It was a rarity among working class newspapers because it was published in the broadsheet format. As the cheapest paper in England, it quickly became a best seller. Though the paper lost market share as the whole newspaper industry exploded in the mid-19th century, by the 1890′s it was a more-or-less respected paper, whose circulation topped two million by 1912 and four million by 1939. In 1950, it became the biggest selling paper in the world, with a circulation of over 8.4 million copies per week, with some editions topping 9 million.
Beginning in 1903, the paper started sponsoring sporting events that bore its name, such as The News of the World Darts Championship, and many of those events are still being held.
In 1969, Rupert Murdoch bought both The News of the World and The Sun, a daily paper, then, he took both of them down the toilet. He had promised, while arranging the purchase, that he would publish a “straight-forward, honest newspaper.” Instead, he made it infamous. The Sun is best-known for its “page three girls” – Playboy-style spreads on the third page of the paper. Even the appointment of Rebekah Wade Brooks as editor did not put an end to the sexploitation nature of the paper. The News of the World came to be known as “News of the Screws” and “Screws of the World.” Both papers concentrated on muckracking, smearing and even libeling celebrities and politicians. Both were involved in multiple scandals stemming from their lack of journalistic ethics or factual basis.
Rupert Murdoch has decided to kill The News of the World in the midst of investigations into phone hacking by members of the staff. The last edition, with a run of five million copies, will hit the newsstands on Sunday, July 10. The paper went to press late Saturday evening. The 200 employees have been laid off.
In a page 3 editorial, Editor Colin Myler wrote, “We praised high standards, we demanded high standards, but, as we are now only too painfully aware, for a period of a few years up to 2006 some who worked for us, or in our name, fell shamefully short of those standards. Quite simply, we lost our way. Phones were hacked, and for that this newspaper is truly sorry. There is no justification for this appalling wrongdoing. No justification for the pain caused to victims, nor for the deep stain it has left on a great history. The presses began to roll on the final edition at about 21:50 BST (9:50 local time) on Saturday. Yet, when this outrage has been atoned, we hope history will eventually judge us on all our years.”
Myler led the staff from the building, saying “This is not where we want to be and not where we deserve to be.” He held up a copy of the paper’s 8,674th edition and said “As a final tribute to seven-and-a-half million readers, this is foryou – and for the staff, thank you. Now, in the best traditions of Fleet Street, we are going to the pub.” Money from the sale of the final edition will be donated to four charities.
As journalism, the loss of The News of the World is no big deal. It had stopped being a serious, ethical newspaper four decades ago. It had gone back to its origins in sex crimes, and gone beyond them It had, along with The Sun, sunk to racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, vicious name-calling and personal attacks. But once upon a time, it was a good newspaper. Rupert Murdoch destroyed the paper’s integrity, and by creating a climate in which anything was allowed and any method was acceptable, he damaged the reputation of the entire industry.
The history of The Sun and the News of the World should have been a warning to the world of what Murdoch could and would do to sell a newspaper or get viewers for his television networks. It was a lesson no one chose to see or hear.
For 167 years, 10 months and nine days, 8,674 issues, The News of the World was a newspaper, and there are too few of them left in the world.