By now, most news junkies will have heard about the journalistic disaster that is Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation and the pitiful end to widely popular British tabloid, The News of the World. On Sunday, The News of the World printed its last edition after James Murdoch, Rupert’s son, announced July 7 the newspaper would close. The newspaper, according to Murdoch’s son, had been sullied by allegations of misconduct in reporting. James Murdoch explained, according to The New York Times blog, The Lede:
The good things The News of the World does, however, have been sullied by behavior that was wrong. Indeed, if recent allegations are true, it was inhuman and has no place in our company.
The News of the World Wikipedia page provides an extensive (embarrassingly so) list of some of the tabloids controversies. The allegations to which James Murdoch referred to include the newspaper’s use of private investigators to hack mobile phone messages of celebrities and public figures. In 2006, the tabloid’s royal editor (so weird they have that) Clive Goodman and some of his associates were arrested based on allegations of phone hacking by the British monarchy. They were later charged and punished.
But then, in 2009 and 2010, more allegations emerged. More employees, the public found, may have known about the phone hacking and may have been aware of these practices. By March of last year, the paper spent over £2 million (roughly $4 million) on settling court cases with alleged phone hacking victims.
Fast forward to 2011. The Guardian reported that journalists from News of the World allegedly paid more than $150,000 in bribes to five officers for information. The Guardian also reported that the Scotland Yard found evidence that journalists with News of the World hired private investigators to hack into the voicemail box of missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler after she disappeared in 2002. Allegedly, journalists deleted messages from the voicemail to give hope to the missing girl’s family (which, ultimately makes for an Elizabeth Smart-type sensationalized story, don’t you think?). They (allegedly) destroyed evidence about her abduction by Levi Bellfield, who was convicted of murdering the girl in June 2011.
The girl’s parents began preparing a claim against News of the World at the beginning of July and, lo-and-behold, advertisers started pulling out and, last Thursday, James Murdoch made the announcement that the paper would be cooperating with police and, ultimately, News of the World closed.
Several journalism scholars have suggested the closure came at the perfect time for Murdoch’s News Corporation, which may takeover Sky News. From The New York Times:
“They are sacrificing News of the World in order to get the BSkyB deal through,” said George Brock, the head of the journalism department at City University in London. “It’s, in a way, symbolic of the demise of newspapers in print.”
Yesterday, News Corp managed to delay government action on the $12 billion BSkyB deal takeover through “avoiding an emergency vote called by the opposition Labour Party for Wednesday,” according to the Times.
While the phone hacking may or may not affect the future of News Corporation, in “Hacking Scandal: Why student journalists should be the most worried,” Nicole Froio of The Indypendent suggested that journalism’s ability to expose truth will be hindered by the scandal. She writes:
Journalism students are told they will be mistrusted, disliked and belittled in the first week of studying the trade. The public will always hate you, they are told, and you have to be fierce enough to go after the story they will read the next day despite this. Persistence and harassment are taught as means to get the truth and the byline.
Journalists get their fair share of rejection and closed doors, but the phone hacking scandal has brought about a new kind of distrust.
Because of the hacking scandal, the public is beginning to scrutinize all journalists, according to Froio. Though I do consider myself a student journalist, I’m not so much worried in terms of my career aspirations, as Froio suggested, but more worried as a citizen of a democratic nation with a free press. Yes, it will become more difficult for me to “get the scoop” in a legal way. But, as Froio said:
Breaking the rules in the name of holding someone accountable for their actions is what drives journalism – the public interest is always the winner. If a politician is corrupt and the only way to expose him is with leaked files or by using information given by someone who was told to be quiet about it, there will hardly be consequences for the journalist writing the story.
Whenever something unethical happens to me, my solution is to tell someone from the press. The press have the unique responsibility to inform and, in their own way, protect. If the public doesn’t trust the press anymore, then, if a politician does something unethical, the focus won’t be getting that person to resign, but whether or not the journalist who exposed unethical behavior is correct in their reporting.
While I’m disgusted that anyone would pay money (though I’ve read its common practice in tabloid journalism) or hack phones for a story, I’m more appalled that journalists would put the entire industry’s integrity in jeopardy. In a democratic society, the press needs to look out for the public’s interest. Though the public may have wanted more information about celebrities that could be obtained through phone hacking, those News of the World journalists should have stepped back from their career-climbing for the public’s interest so that, in the event another Watergate happens, we won’t be scrutinized.