Lament for The End of the World

“The overwhelming fact remains that some people at NotW at some points did things which no newspaper should ever do.”

Charlie Brooke Inviestgative Journalism News Corp Phone Hacking Rebekah Brooks Rupert Murdoch Scandal The News of the World Wall St

“The Sun remains a glorious birth;
But yet I know, where’er I go,
That there hath pass’d away a glory from the earth.”

William Wordsworth (almost) said that – and he could conceivably have picked up the first edition of The News of the World in 1843, and read avidly for seven years until becoming one with the earth, or whatever it is Romantic poets do after they die.

In amongst the scandal and opportunistically manufactured outrage at the state of everybody’s voicemail five years ago, it’s important to remember that Europe’s most-read and most lucrative newspaper is no more.

And there’s nothing to fill the gap.

NotW more than outsold its two closest tabloid competitors put together, and shifted more papers each Sunday than the entire broadsheet press. Economically, even if not ethically, NotW was healthy and strong where so much else is decrepit and fading. For anybody who likes print journalism, be that making it or reading it; this is a great loss.

The End of the World

And it wasn’t a necessary loss – at least from some perspectives. The paper’s closure was an act of ruthless businessmanship by Murdoch and the gang to save the rest of their media goodies. Although admittedly it’s not completely working so far.

The end of NotW has been compared to cutting off a gangrenous arm, but for the octopus News Corp it’s realistically more like half a tentacle. Despite being a bigshot in UK newsagents, NotW represented something like 1% of the company’s total revenue – no loss at all to Wall Street fatcats. It’s an awful reminder that the whims and priorities of a small set of people far away can have such a huge impact on whole industries at once.

I’m aware that I am, thus far, giving our fellow red-top a pretty lenient time of it. But, the overwhelming fact remains that some people at NotW at some points did things which no newspaper should do ever. And, as every professional journalist I know confirms, the idea that an editor wouldn’t know about something like phone hacking informing their big stories is bullshit.

Nobody’s trying to defend phone hacking (except this twit on Newsnight). But, what is worth defending is what went around it – the campaigns, the sense of humour, the serious investigations (even the last issue had a serious one on sex trafficking), and the unashamed populism – whatever form that took.

Did Murdoch ditch the wrong red top?

Pointing out corruption and double-standards and reminding everyone that the rich, the powerful, and the famous are just as fallible as everyone else is where NotW did best. And any judgement of the paper essentially comes down to whether that can outweigh the dishonest, illegal things the paper did. Sunday’s last issue was desperately keen to make the case that it does.

But, anyone who agrees is being left in an increasingly difficult position as more dirt arises on a daily basis, making ever-clearer the awful irony that, for a time, the paper was in no position at all to point out corruption or double-standards in anybody.

But that’s not the worst thing about The News of the World being proved royally wrong – the worst thing is The Guardian gets to be right. The Guardian, having admittedly done a competent job in exposing this mess, stands by with scarcely-concealed glee as its older brother gets dragged through the dirt, aiming the occasional kick to its nethers once it’s sure no one will mind.

Even Charlie Brooker admitted that NotW, on occasion, had the power to get through the otherwise-impenetrable haze of smuggery which surrounds him at all times. Who will do that now?

Now that the biggest, boldest and brashest paper has been cut down for overstepping the mark, who else do we expect to push the boundaries? Even without the threat of some kind of big brother for the PCC being thrown about, journalism without NotW will be a quieter and a safer thing.

And even if you don’t care about Cheryl Cole’s antics, that’s certainly a legitimate reason to be sad.