Rupert Murdoch's decision to shutter the British Sunday tabloid News of the World – the largest circulation paper in the UK – has the British press and social media in a frenzy. The public has reacted with a mix of shock, glee and delight.
The paper is a tiny piece of Murdoch's sprawling News Corporation empire (the company had $32 billion in sales last year) and is being jettisoned as he seeks regulatory approval to take over British broadcaster BSkyB. With NotW embroiled in a deepening scandal over hacking into cell phones and paying police officers for information, there have been growing calls for the deal to be blocked.
Meanwhile, criminal investigations grind on. The Guardian reports today that Andy Coulson, a former editor of the paper who stepped down as Prime Minister David Cameron's communications director in January, as the scandal started to break, will be arrested for questioning tomorrow. Mr. Coulson's predecessor as NotW boss, Rebekah Brooks, was promoted to head all of Murdoch's print operations in the UK, and currently retains her job.
"It's absolutely disgusting," says one NotW employee. "They've put the staff on the line instead of Rebekah Brooks ... . I'm absolutely in shock. It seems Rupert would do anything to save the Sky deal, including killing off the biggest selling newspaper in the country. No one has any idea what's going to happen."
As the news broke, just at the end of office hours, there were mixed reactions among white- and blue-collar workers gathering at the newsstands, pubs, and cafes of Fleet Street, London’s former media heartland.
David Bryant, a recruitment consultant, said: “I’m horrified. Tabloids are sometimes unscrupulous about how they get their stories. The News of the World has made a massive mistake and needs to be held accountable, but it’s very bad for Britain if we stop printing newspapers. It has severe implications for free speech.”
These sentiments were echoed by Mahmadul Hassan, an employee of a Fleet Street newsagent: “The News of the World is one of our most popular titles. I don’t read it myself, but I believe any newspaper being closed down, whether it’s by the government or anyone else, is a bad thing. It’s a violation of free speech.”
Others thought the title, which has a reputation for juicy celebrity scoops and for using questionable methods for getting exclusive stories, has overstepped the mark and deserves being closed down.
Iain Pendle, a chartered surveyor used a series of four-letter words to describe the paper. “It’s a tyrant rag of gossip and lies,” said Mr. Pendle. “They have some of Britain’s best journalists, but they’re being wasted on a newspaper that’s full of filth.”
Sara Addis, also a chartered surveyor, said: “It’s only a pity that the whole of News Corp doesn’t go under. The journalists who will lose their jobs ought to go work for a more reputable publication. The News of the World is a comic."
Twenty Irish reporters are also set to lose their jobs, according to Seamus Dooley, the Irish secretary of the National Union of Journalists. Mr. Dooley says innocent journalists are suffering for past mistakes. “In particular Irish journalists are being punished for the [behavior of] the sly and mighty in Murdoch's empire. It has nothing to do with taking an ethical stance. It's more about protecting his Sky television deal."
Speaking to the BBC, a NotW spokeswoman refused to say whether the 200 or so employees at the paper would be laid off. "They will be invited to apply for other jobs in the company," she said.
NotW is accused of hacking into the mobile phones of crime victims, bereaved families of the July 7, 2005 terrorist attack in London, families of soldiers killed in action, as well as of celebrities and politicians. On Thursday, the Metropolitan Police said it was seeking to contact 4,000 possible targets named in documents taken from the NotW.