Every British newspaper, and presumably many American ones, will be plastered with this tomorrow. A story that was once, with a couple of honorable exceptions, dismissed across our press for reasons primarily rooted in self-preservation—a phenomenon I wrote about for CJR’s May/June issue—has by common consent become the most fascinating and dramatic on the British domestic landscape this year.
When the dust has settled, attention will turn to the cold logic that must lie at the heart of the Murdoch plan. It isn’t that hard to figure out, really. Already there have been moves toward integrating the conglomerate’s Sunday and daily titles, and while the loss of the News of the World brand is a body blow, it also made room for what the National Union of Journalists called “an act of utter cynical opportunism” in the sudden cull of so many staff members at once. The assumption is that a Sunday Sun, produced as part of a rolling seven day operation that absorbs a few of those beleaguered hacks, will pick up most of the News of the World’s floating readers, and serve advertisers at a much smaller cost.
Will this work? I guess I hope so, because I don’t want to see even more journalists out of a job. Still, there would be a certain moral satisfaction in seeing the scheme flounder, and I suspect that this is what will ultimately happen.
The great irony of the News of The World’s fate is that the shortcut of phone hacking was so attractive precisely because the paper thrived on the most expensive kind of journalism: the getting of significant scoops, often involving the cultivation of sources over many months, high-tech equipment, wild goose chases to the other side of the world, and of course (and rather less impressively) the payment of considerable sums of money to helpful people. That kind of work requires a dedicated staff, not one seventh of a wider operation more interested in the overall bottom line.
Since the News of the World never had a real heart, people only really bought it for its exclusives, stories that made people feel like they had to know what was going on. Without these scoops, its successor will surely fail. If it does, and if she is still at News International, perhaps Rebekah Brooks will finally get her comeuppance.
In a way, it would be fitting if her fall were to come for base commercial reasons, and not for the outrageous ethical breaches that occurred on her watch. That way, at least the News of the World would have a legacy befitting its life.