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News of the World: an obituary

8th July 2011

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Yesterday afternoon Britain’s biggest selling Sunday newspaper was cancelled after more than a century and a half of publication.

Its closing will leave 200 people out of work, and has already ignited allegations that this behemoth of the newspaper industry has been sacrificed in order to protect Rupert Murdoch’s protégée Rebekah Brooks, as well as his numerous other business involvements.

TNS looks back over the history of this once giant of the newspaper industry.

It is unlikely that John Browne Bell would have predicted this end when he launched his new paper on October 1st, 1843.

Bell’s paper cost just three pence and was designed to appeal to Britain’s newly literate working class population. It was the cheapest newspaper available, and immediately began to deal in titillation –its early scoops included reports on vice prosecutions, and the uncovered world of brothels.

The paper was sold by the Bell family in 1891 to Lascelles Carr, who immediately put his nephew at its helm. Emsley Carr would remain editor for fifty years, until 1941, overseeing the paper’s reporting on two world wars and the movement of society from one with strict Victorian morals and repression to that which we recognize today. Carr remains the longest serving editor of the News of the World.

The reputation for scandal that was eventually to define the newspaper’s identity was built upon when it reported on the trial of wife murderer Dr Crippen in 1910.

In the years before and after the Great War, the News of the World’s circulation grew rapidly. It had a readership of two million by 1912, three million by the early 1920s, and four million by 1939. Its success inspired the creation of the Sunday People, Daily Mail, Daily Express ad Daily Mirror –all of which will now live on after the News of the World’s demise.

By its peak in 1950 the News of the World was the biggest selling paper in the world.

In 1963, at the high of the Cold War, it reported on the affair of Conservative Secretary of State for War John Profumo and London call girl Christine Keeler. And in January 1969, the News of the World became the first Fleet Street acquisition of Rupert Murdoch.

Titillation and celebrity scandal remained the basis of what the newspaper used to shift itself from shelves, despite ethical concerns that were often raised.

In 1981 Caroline Cossey, an extra on James Bond film ‘For Your Eyes Only’ was outed as a transsexual by the paper, a revelation which she claimed led her to contemplate suicide. In 1984, it made the move from broadsheet to tabloid.

The 1996 story of Roman Catholic Bishop Roderick Wright eloping with one of his parishioners was another scandal that the paper brought to public knowledge.

Its controversial ‘naming and shaming’ of paedophiles in 2000, under the leadership of the now infamous Rebekah Brooks, led to mistaken identity vigilante action and it being called ‘grossly irresponsible journalism’ by the Chief Constable of Gloucestershire police.

In 2002 it reported on Prince Harry’s underage drinking, and in 2004 that Premiership footballer David Beckham had been having an affair with his personal assistant Rebecca Loos.

In 2006 it was revealed that Liberal Democrat MP Mark Oaten had been having a relationship with a male prostitute. It was also this year that saw the beginning of the revelations surrounding the phone hacking scandal, which would eventually lead to the paper’s downfall.

A notable High Court case in 2008 saw Formula One boss Max Mosely being awarded £60,000 damages and £450,000 in legal fees from the paper after it breached his privacy by publishing that he had had sadomasochistic group sex and Nazi role play with five prostitutes.  The case found no evidence of Nazism.

In 2010 Sarah Ferguson was uncovered trying to sell access to her former husband Prince Andrew for £500,000.

In recent times, the News of the World has had 1.2 million more readers than its main rivals the Sunday Mirror, the Sunday People, and the Daily Star Sunday combined.

After the revelations of this week, it is unlikely that the News of the World will be remembered in a positive light by the average British newspaper reader. After 168 years, there is no question that the biggest Sunday newspaper in the English speaking world has bowed out in a bad way –between public disgust at the lack of morals displayed by those in charge to the loss of its major advertisers, the News of the World will close its doors for the last time in disgrace; a permanent mark on the face of British journalism that has threatened to bring a whole organization crashing down with it.


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