The Death of the Tabloid Newspaper

The News of the World scandal seals the fate of bad tabloid journalism.

By , Columnist

Readers of tabloid newspapers, such as the New York Post in the U.S and The News of the World in the U.K, have mostly been smart enough to take their stories with a pinch of salt. We have all grown up in the tabloid era, knowing that you can’t believe everything you read in the newspapers.

Following recent revelations of mind blowing levels of deceit and trickery at the hands of the king of the tabloids in the UK, The News of the World, we now know that you can’t believe anything you read in tabloid newspapers.

After a stream of allegations, ranging from phone tapping of the victims of the July 7 terror attack in London to accessing and deleting messages from a missing teenager’s mobile phone, The News of the World has been shamed into closing its doors. It will print its final edition on Sunday after 168 years as one of the most popular tabloids in the English language. Its parent company decided to save its own skin and throw the paper to the wolves.

newsoftheworld.jpegThis is not, however, just a scandal that is limited to the shores of the United Kingdom. This story does not just affect the odd journalist and the victims of their grubby, pathetic lies. This story has a direct affect on you, dearest TMR reader. It doesn’t matter if you are reading this in Bejing, Sydney, Glasgow or Oklahoma, this story can and should change how you get your news forever.

Phone tapping scandals have been creeping into our consciousness for many years now. In the past, we have probably known in the back of our minds that the ‘unnamed source’ that provided us with the latest bit of titillating gossip was actually a phone tap or some other kind of spying device. Maybe it was easy for us all to turn a blind eye, to allow the wool to be pulled over our eyes: the celebrity in question possibly deserved a proverbial kick in the nuts. Or perhaps the subject was just too juicy to miss out on. Either way, to some degree we’ve all been in on it.

Our collusion in this sordid story, however, has been to a large degree out of our control. For decades our news, both in print and on television, has been controlled by the media oligarch Rupert Murdoch. Through his iron grip control of News Corporation, he pulls the strings behind almost everything we read and watch.

In the US he controls The Wall Street Journal, Fox Broadcasting, Fox News Channel and 20th Century Fox. In the UK, he owns The Sun, The Times, The Sunday Times, as well as the newspaper in question, The News of the World. His reach extends to dominate the paid TV sector in the UK through BSkyB. Readers in Australia and Asia, don’t feel left out in the cold, he is lurking behind most of your media too.

You could argue that Murdoch is simply a globally successful businessman who is just printing what the braying public wants to read. Not only is that argument insulting, it is also naïve. It is insulting to assume that people who read tabloids want journalists to tamper with a missing girl's phone and bag the exclusive story about how her parents are clinging on to the resulting false hope that she is still alive. The News of the World underestimated the morals and intelligence of their readership.

Naive because Murdoch's ambitions go beyond the confines of his media company. Murdoch has used his control over the media to host private meetings with and thereby influence government leaders all over the world. Barack Obama seems to be the only leader to have avoided an invitation into his dark lair.

You may think, “So, what? Government leaders meet with leaders of industry all the time”. Those other leaders, however, do not have the power to change headlines, sweep stories under the carpet, and distract your attention from real issues by moving them off the front page and replacing them with some made-up piece of celebrity gossip.

In an Orwellian twist, the week in which the deathly fate of the print tabloid was sealed, new media shone a white light on the path to better journalism for the British public with the launch of Huffington Post UK.

Tired, old, crusty Murdochian hacks who have offered scathing dismissal of bloggers and the quality of online journalism can now eat some humble pie and wash it down with a glug of bitter regret.

While they have been busy employing the services of sordid private investigators and murkily moving behind the shadows of the tabloid front pages, other journalists on sites like HuffPost and TMR have been thriving in the transparent world of blogging. Both sites offer a collection of independent journalists who are free from the strings that Murdoch controls.

Arianna Huffington doesn’t try to influence the world of politics behind closed doors. She posts her views in her blog for the whole world to see. What you see is what you get.

The very nature of our Internet-driven world not only demands a seamless web of news, it also catches those who try to treat the increasingly media savvy public in its sticky spider silk and eats them for breakfast. The elusive Mr. Murdoch may be sacrificing this tabloid to save his own skin, but don't let yourself be hoodwinked; he'll be back trying to sell you the same junk under another guise in a few weeks. Let your eyeballs do the talking and look the other way. RIP, oligarch tabloids. Long live democratic online journalism.

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Victoria Robertson is a freelance current affairs columnist and founder of With her back foot firmly planted in some commonsense and a lively swing of the bat, she knocks today's big news stories straight out of the park.

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