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News of the World: Ethics scandal takes down most-read English newspaper world-wide

News has broken that News International is to shut down the controversial Sunday newspaper the News of the World this weekend.

The paper, a cash-cow with 2.6 million in cover sales each Sunday, has been embroiled in various journalistic ethics scandals for years.

Over the last five years, a widespread, systemic hacking scandal focused around one private investigator, senior editors and executives has now come to a head.

The Guardian has covered it step by step, and heroically, has broken much of the story.

The News of the World is to be shut down this weekend. A bold move by Rupert Murdoch (his son James pushed hardest, says the Times today) as he attempts to reclaim some initiative, having dithered, attempted avoidance and now, finally accepted the inevitable.

The advertisers were baling out left right and centre, and the entire country is up in arms about the appalling hacking behaviour of the newspaper. No-one believes the senior people didn’t know. The closure is an attempt to deflect attention and blame away from them, which probably will not work. But News International has its back to the wall.

Everyone in journalism has been sitting around in pubs for as long as I have known some of them, about 12 years, talking about the ‘dark arts’ of tabloid journalism and shaking their heads.

The fact that many newspapers in the UK have regularly employed what they call “blagging” techniques is now coming to light.

These include: phone hacking, email hacking, spying, stealing and photocopying rubbish from bins, paying police for tip-offs, and rewarding anyone with a decent story financially if they can help them create headlines for a day or two.

And it may not stop at the News of the World. Other papers may be found out, and fall by the wayside. The conspiracy of silence in the British media has now been broken.

It is always sad news when people lose their jobs. Up to 200 may do so here, if not re-deployed.

But overall the lesson that no matter how big and powerful a company is, firms are increasingly vulnerable, is a salient one.

The news of the papers closure helps re-enforce the importance of basic business case for ethics (not that there should need to be one!).

It demonstrates that reputation is everything today. And how quickly customers will walk away if you get caught behaving badly or illegally.

Who would have thought one the most powerful newspapers in the UK could go from tabloid, politician-scaring, agenda-setting institution, to closure in such a short space of time?

NB: The story is not all that it seeems, as usual. Rumour has it the Sun newspaper, also owned by Murdoch, will simply replace the News of the World on sundays.

Some (or all?) staff may be redeployed there and the company will continue to make money from a scandal-mongering sunday newspaper, just under another name.

To some degree: Plus ça change (plus c’est la même chose)

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