Expect everything- but change

Rupert Murdoch- no longer scary

It’s hard to get through an hour – never mind a day – without coming across some media scribe daring to think the unthinkable.

As the News International commentators desperately try to avoid feeding on their own corpse, the Guardian is leading the charge into a previously-unthinkable situation- that of a Brave New Murdoch-free Media world.

It might prove to be a better place but I would sincerely doubt it, as there will be no change as to how the media, in particular in Britain, does its business.

Remember the other institution in the not-too-distant past that was too big to fail?

The collapse of Lehmann Brothers sent shockwaves around the world, because for once a vested interest was allowed to drown in the pit of its own greed and stupiditiy.

We were told that never again will a bank be allowed to get into such a position.

Having displayed the same traits, there is every chance now that News International will go the same way, and if last week’s flight of the shareholders continues it could become the media equivalent of a run on the bank.

The once all-powerful Murdoch will be left with nothing- no company, no power and no respect (his reputation doesn’t matter because he never really had one worth defending).

But despite all the “never again” waffle around the collapse of Lehmann’s, little has changed.

Banks are still taking huge risks and passing them on to their customers. Needless to say, they only pass on a fraction of the profits from these risks, and they are more than happy to allow other investors and taxpayers to foot the bill when it all goes wrong.

So too with the media. Murdoch, whose media outlets had precious little credibility to begin with, has now completely lost his air of invincibility.

His continued clumsy attempts to manipulate not just the media, but also the police and politicians have made him so toxic that even those he put in power are running away from the mushroom cloud of poison that surrounds him.

Still, nothing has changed. Confining themselves to covering the collapse of Murdoch’s empire, the press do not speak of regulation or investigation of practices across the board – only in connection to News International.

Because in truth, they do not wish to have the whole sorry story of how they do business dragged out into the light.

If they did, it would mean the end of the “source close to the player/celebrity/victim”.

It would mean an end to hanging around outside hospital smoking areas offering cash to nurses and cops in return for information.

It would mean an end to taking a single sentence and spinning it harder and faster than a Major League baseball pitcher.

It would mean writing about actual news, instead of making stuff up on a whim. And that would be nigh-on impossible.

The media, and in particular those active in the tabloid newspaper sector, have created a monster made up of millions of readers who crave news about Cheryl Tweedy, Ryan Giggs and Gordon Brown’s sick child.

It is a ravenous monster that needs feeding every day.

It cannot be caged, and it isn’t even in their interest to do so. Hence the lack of desire for real change.

So what will happen?

It’s very possible that Cameron will resign, as will Murdoch junior. Brooks could well go to prison for a while along with a few others.

And Murdoch himself will go quietly into the night, becoming the Bernie Madoff of the media, whose empire was built on a lunatic Ponzi scheme of ever-greater lies and deception.

But change and regulation in journalism will be notable only by their absence, and we will return to the insanity of allowing the media to do what they always did, all the while expecting a different result.

And like the banks after Lehmann Brothers, News International will become a footnote in history, a cautionary tale of what can happen when you sail too close to the wind.

Then it will be business as usual again.

She’s gone, but the rest may still follow

A few minutes ago I received the news that Rebekah Brooks has finally fallen (or been pushed onto) her sword as chief of News International.

We are currently in the eye of a storm that one day will be taught in media classes in universities all over the world.

Her resignation perfectly follows the NI reaction to the hacking scandal – too little, too late.

There is a school of thought in PR that says you take the blame, take the pain, keep your trap shut and move on. Its effect is to appear contrite and limit the life-span of a story. It is often very, very effective.

For NI, this could have meant carrying out a proper investigation when the original hacking allegations came out, publishing the findings and taking appropriate disciplinary action all the way up the chain where warranted.

This, as we know, is not what happened.

Instead, the laughable “lone wolf” defence was put forward as NI refused to concede more than was already in the public domain. No-one in any position of responsibility at the News of the World or NI was held to account.

The result is that the revelations have gotten successively worse for the world’s most feared media barons and that, in their attempts to slow down the runaway train of bad publicity, they may well end up derailing their media train altogether.

And yet the resignation of Brooks is not the worst piece of news for Murdoch this week.

That prize is reserved for the preliminary investigation into whether or not the systemic NOTW tactic of hacking into mobile phones was used at the time of the 9/11 atrocities in the great city of New York.

If what seemed to be a cheeky tactic to get the jump on the competition was used on one of the blackest days in American history, Murdoch’s empire will be buried faster than you can say “Enron”.

This is, after all, the country that gave us “freedom fries” and if Murdoch’s minions have hacked the phone of a firefighter or police officer who gave their lives on that day, America’s revenge will be swift, brutal and richly deserved.

Murdoch, an American citizen, was attracted to the land of the free by their values and patriotism. It is fitting that it will be the very same patriotism that leads to the demise of his empire.

But for now, let us enjoy the fact that Brooks has gone, and with her the idea that a newspaper can consist of lies, entrapment and hacking from cover to cover.

Today is a great day for journalism. But there are greater days yet to come.


Why Rebekah Brooks should resign from newspapers- along with the rest of us…

The Hotel Torni in the middle of Helsinki is a wonderful place. From the bar at the top you can look out over the rooftops of this wonderful city and winter or summer, it is a beautiful sight.

There are only two dangers; one is the narrow staircase that leads from the lift up the final flight to the bar.

The other is that, having consumed enough alcohol to make you both attractive and clever, you will get into a heated discussion with a foreign correspondent.

I did it once with Daniel Frykholm, who at the time was Reuters’ top man there.

Despite the fact that he subsequently left the world’s biggest news agency, Daniel was (and I suspect still is) a Reuters man through and through, possessing just the right combination of intelligence, humility and curiosity that makes a great news reporter.

Odd then that he would argue in favour of tabloid newspapers, saying that, ever since the time of the “penny dreadfuls”, the general public has had a hunger for the most salacious stories, and would gladly set the truth aside just to read an incredible rumour.

It was, as a colleague of ours once remarked “not necessary for it to be true-only possible“.

I disagreed. For me, it is not the function of news journalism to entertain, and not everything a journalist comes across is news. In much the same way, just because the public would be interested doesn’t mean a story is in the public interest.

The fac that we as readers are unable to make that distinction is the driving force behind circulation slaves like Brooks, who has more or less sacrificed her career because of her desire to go further than anyone else in the business.

But paper never refused ink, and the truth is that millions of readers queued up every week to read about the sexual indiscretions of Premier League footballers and politicians. Banner headlines proclaimed the shortcomings of celebrities about whom the most shocking thing was usually their stunning lack of talent.

Simply put, if we didn’t read it, they wouldn’t write it, and in doing so they wouldn’t tempt journalists to root through people’s garbage or hack their phone messages.

We have a responsibility not just to be more selective about what we read, but to be critical of it, asking the obvious questions- why am I being told this? How did they find out? What are the sources? Has money changed hands? Entrapment? To paraphrase the Dublin expression, what is the story?

Reading is a skill, reading a newspaper is something that requires a more suspicious and enquiring mind, and it is only when we start to read more carefully and selectively that journalists will feel obliged to write in a similar fashion.

And if we decide not to, we should do what the despicable Rebekah Brooks has thus far failed to do and resign from the newspaper (reading) business.

And hope to hell that she quickly follows us.