Yesterday was a momentous day for British journalism and, of course, the PR industry. The world’s biggest English speaking Sunday tabloid newspaper is dead. Rupert Murdoch’s action to try and halt the hurricane sweeping through his empire by taking a Butcher’s cleaver to his own corporate flesh was tactical filicide.
It seems clear from the events of recent days, especially the confusion and contradictory messages from the News International camp, that the company was struggling to thwart the meltdown of the brand and counter the opprobrium.
The move to close the paper, and thereby protect the brand, took my breath away. As a veteran voyeur, I’ve seen some of the extraordinary events Murdoch’s committed in Fleet Street, yet I am unable to work out if this one is a masterstroke or a gesture of panic. I can only suggest that this was a ruthless, brutal and cynical publicity stunt.
Unfortunately, the action some see as an attempt to put a lid back on the box has failed, because the lid perished some time ago. The tactic used is obtuse. A million monkeys at a million typewriters might produce a weekly edition of the News of the World, but one orangutan with severe head trauma could come up with a better PR strategy.
Of course there is another scenario in the slow cooker. It’s likely that the News of the World will be revived under the new name of “Sunday Sun” or “Sun on Sunday”, without the accompanying resignation of Mrs Brooks and other executives. In which case it’s a publicity stunt, pure and simple. And what everyone misses is that the people who started this – the advertisers, the British Legion, the readers – don’t want the brand killed off. They want the scalps of the executives. They want to see those responsible hung out to dry. If it is reborn and rebranded, the rabid bloodlust will return.
Teflon-skinned executives have survived the first shock waves. Surprisingly even Max Clifford has offered emollient words in defence of Rebekah Brooks, but somehow this scandal is more serious; it smells different. For starters it’s the end of the celebrated Britsh Sunday tabloid press. The likes of John Terry, Wayne Rooney and the various arrogant cabal of misbehaving showbiz celebrities will not be pursued in the same way. The tabloid life force has been castrated.
I guess I’ve had the last Friday or Saturday call from a triumphant journalist who thinks he’s nailed one of my misbehaving clients. The ramifications of the closure include the end of the cavalier, buccaneering scribbler, hellbent on making a dent in a celebrity brand.
No more unarmed combat, no more late night worry. No more long Sundays working out how to spin a positive Monday morning news agenda. It’s the end of having to creatively attempt to turn a disaster into an opportunity. I will miss the banter, stress and frantic mind-sapping manoeuvres.
The big question is, will competing titles have the resources to exploit the space left by the News of the World? The spirit will be willing but the financial resources are weak. Smug PR folk might be rubbing their hands with glee at the onset of a gentler age, but those that do miss the point. It’s a bad day for us all.
Could the closure precipitate something worse? Will we see a pack of cards tumbling into an Escher Tower of Babel? Jerry Seinfeld said people who read the tabloids deserve to be lied to. The American comic misses the point. Over the last few years the News Of the World has been a pretty damn good title. I have a number of good friends who worked there. It’s an outrage that any of them have lost their jobs for mistakes made by previous regimes. The ongoing PR meltdown will be be expedited by these wronged hacks, seeking revenge for being treated like some dumb sacrifices, mere pawns in a corporate masterplan.
So watch this space. There are plenty more episodes left in this hot new mini series.