I bought a copy of the first edition of the Sun on Sunday

I bought a copy of the first edition of the Sun on Sunday to see what the fuss is all about. A multiple first – it’s also the first time I’ve ever bought The Sun.

It looks and feels like the Monday-Saturday paper – one of their goals, I would imagine, not to look different. As for the content, well, ditto I guess.

Overall impression on me? Yawn :) If I want the Sun on Sunday content in future, I’ll just look at the website – unless it becomes paywalled. There’s nothing I find compelling, not even the columnists (which is a specific reason why I am willing to pay for content elsewhere, eg, the FT and The Economist).

Yet this is a milestone: the launch of a ‘new’ Sunday print newspaper at a time when print is declining both in circulation and in ad revenue.

Will it flourish? It’s doubtful this will grow a declining print market. Likely to poach readers from other tabloids and maybe attract some of the million or so ex News of The World readers who apparently never migrated to another paper when that title closed last year. At 50p, it’s an attractive and affordable price point compared to competitors.

Time will tell.

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How to hack a phone like News of The World journalists did

Via Reuters:

World renowned computer hacker, Kevin Mitnick, shows you step-by-step how the News of the World journalists hacked into private voicemails.

Shockingly easy to do with some open source software as Mitnick explains. If you access your mobile phone voicemail without a password, is that a risk worth taking?

(Background: News International phone hacking scandal)

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Seeing PR sense behind latest News International events

rebekahbrooksThe announcement this morning that News International CEO Rebekah Brooks had resigned provoked near-universal applause on Twitter, from what I could see in my content stream. It was also reported in mainstream media around the world, illustrating quite clearly how significant this is beyond the UK.

This and related events today look like the result of some wise counsel that must include public relations advice by PR firm Edelman which was appointed by News Corporation on July 13 to provide "general comms support and public affairs counsel."

The phrase "fast-moving events" is nowhere more applicable at the moment than to what’s happening in relation to this still-unfolding story that began with the News of The World newspaper and illegal phone hacking, embroiling News Corporation – owner of News International – and its ambitions for building out its global media empire with a bid to acquire all of pay-TV satellite broadcaster BSkyB, a plan ultimately scuppered a few days ago.

At the heart of it has been the central cast of characters ranging from Rupert Murdoch to Prime Minister David Cameron and other politicians, to murder victims’ families and to the Metropolitan Police; and now to the USA and the FBI where allegations have surfaced about hacking into the phone records of families of 9/11 victims by NOTW journalists.

Beyond all, though, has been Rebekah Brooks, CEO of News International and editor of the newspaper during much of the time when the phone hacking is alleged to have occurred. If ever an individual was vilified in the media – mainstream and social – metaphorically pelted with rotten tomatoes in the marketplace of public opinion, and reputationally stoned to near-death, it is Mrs Brooks.

Add to this the situation just yesterday where Murdochs senior and junior declined an invitation to appear before the Parliamentary select committee investigating the phone hacking affair, resulting in a summons to appear next Tuesday.

Also add Rupert Murdoch’s interview yesterday in the Wall Street Journal (owned by News Corp) in which he largely dismissed the phone hacking affair as a minor issue, and you can see how outrage, disgust and genuine public anger would not diminish any time soon.

So add all this together and you have a strong sense of looming disaster, one of a train wreck about to happen, as my American friends might say, that presented a clear and present danger to News Corporation.

On the face of it, Brooks’ resignation looks like a final acceptance of the reality of what’s happening: her position has appeared increasingly fragile as each day passed and as revelations alleging dirty deeds continued to surface, notwithstanding the support her boss Rupert Murdoch has publicly given her.

Yet it looks to me as if a shift has occurred in the past few days, one that appears to show a better grip on reality. It’s marked by a number of little things that make a big picture, such as:

  • The turn-around regarding the Parliamentary select committee – the arrogance of James Murdoch’s initial response to the invitation by saying he wasn’t available is replaced by a more humble and willing response to the subsequent summons (although I expect cynics would argue that his options were a bit limited at this point).
  • The focus of James Murdoch’s announcement to employees of the appointment of a new CEO, not focused on the resignation of Rebekah Brooks, marks a not-so-subtle change in position that says very clearly that "solv[ing] the problems at News International relating to the News of the World" is a priority. The overall wording demonstrates some long-overdue humility along with clear and confident statements about the future of the company under new leadership.
  • News International is to "apologize to the nation" with a full-page advertisement in every UK national newspaper this weekend. This action was mentioned in the employee announcement, in which James Murdoch says, "We will follow this up in the future with communications about the actions we have taken to address the wrongdoing that occurred."
  • Rebekah Brooks statement to employees about her resignation also struck a humble tone that made her words seem more credible and believable. While the statement is unlikely to warm the hearts of her many critics, the statement is online and no doubt will be widely repeated and quoted from.

It may just be coincidence, of course, that some effective planning seems to have invaded News International’s and News Corp’s public relations and overall approach to communication since Tuesday. So my speculatory comments about the ‘Edelman effect’ may be just that: speculation.

Still, whatever the effect, a communication shift has occurred as this story of fast-moving events moves to another level and as the central cast of characters evolves.

[Update @ 5.30pm] As you’d expect in this age of click-and-share, the full-page apology ad that will appear in all national newspapers tomorrow is already openly available online. I’ve seen it at a number of places; the best location I found is AdAge Mediaworks which has an actual copy they posted on Scribd.

Rupert Murdoch ‘sorry’ ad

(If you don’t see the document embedded here, see it at Scribd.)

And here’s the text:

We are sorry.

The News of the World was in the business of holding others to account. It failed when it came to itself.

We are sorry for the serious wrongdoing that occurred.

We are deeply sorry for the hurt suffered by the individuals affected.

We regret not acting faster to sort things out.

I realise that simply apologising is not enough.

Our business was founded on the idea that free and open press should be a positive force in society. We need to live up to this.

In the coming days, as we take further concrete steps to resolve these issues and make amends for the damage they have caused, you will hear more from us.

Sincerely,

Rupert Murdoch.

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Making some drama from the NOTW crisis

murdoch-skyLast week, the focus was on the News of The World and phone hacking, culminating in the newspaper’s final edition on Sunday July 10.

This week, attention has shifted dramatically as events have moved up level by level to embrace the ultimate owner of the British newspaper, News Corporation, in a genuine crisis that could engulf Rupert Murdoch’s media conglomerate in a demolition of reputation and trust that threatens the very structure of the organization.

The most significant development this afternoon was that Murdoch had withdrawn his £8 billion bid for the outstanding shares of pay-TV satellite broadcaster BSkyB, ahead of a united move by government and opposition to formally call for him to withdraw that bid.

Much speculation and opinion continue apace on what’s next for News Corp generally and its newspaper titles in the UK. There is some speculation that Murdoch could walk away from newspapers in the UK entirely.

Meanwhile, it’s interesting to see how comment and opinion on Twitter evolved during the week as expressed in an imaginative animated timeline created by The Guardian – an architect in exposing the phone hacking – showing how Twitter tracked the News of the World scandal.

Rupert Murdoch’s decision to close the News of the World was greeted with a frenzy on Twitter. The Guardian has analysed half a million tweets sent with the #notw hashtag over the past four days to capture how the scandal has resonated with the online community

The timeline animation really is good. I did a little experiment, mashing it up with some library audio using Camtasia Studio to add a little audio drama to the visual experience in a short video of that timeline animation.

(If you don’t see the video embedded above, watch it at YouTube.)

What’s quite fascinating is the animation of the primary characters most frequently mentioned in tweets – a visual word cloud, as it were – and how, from the outset, Rupert Murdoch featured large and consistently so in the Twitter chatter.

This is a business story with significant social, political and global dimensions, one that has quite a way yet to run as it further develops.

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A tipping point sets a milestone for mainstream media evolution

thankyouandgoodbyeI’ve been reading through the News of The World today. It’s the first time I’ve ever bought this newspaper – and the last time, too, as this was its last edition.

The closure that concludes 168 years of newspaper publishing is a sorry end to a popular tabloid that consistently served up the type of fare that captured the attention of 7.5 million Britons every Sunday.

At its peak in recent years, it claimed to enjoy the world’s biggest readership for an English-language newspaper, a view supported by circulation and readership figures for 2010.

The demise of the News of The World (NoTW) came about as a consequence of the phone hacking scandal which has dominated the news in the UK, in the mainstream and the social spaces, every day for the past few weeks and looks set to continue dominating in the coming weeks as events continue developing.

It’s a story with a compelling cast of characters that include the paper’s ultimate owner, News Corporation; the head of that company, Rupert Murdoch, and his ambitions to acquire a golden media prize in the form of pay-TV satellite broadcaster BSkyB; the CEO of the operating company that owns NoTW, Rebekah Brooks (and one-time editor of the paper); the 200 or so so employees who lose their jobs; some officers in the Metropolitan Police who, it’s alleged, enjoyed loadsa money bunged their way by NoTW journalists; the government and Prime Ministers past and present and their cosiness with News Corp and its executives; and the tipping point that led to the paper’s closure – the private citizens whose voicemail accounts were illegally hacked into, their messages listened to and, in some cases, allegedly deleted.

It’s precisely the kind of story that the News of The World would relish in publishing.

But that’s not to be.  You can get a sense of the paper, as I did from leafing through it, with a slideshow of photos that I took today.

(If you don’t see the slideshow embedded here, view it at Flickr.)

So while stories swirl about what it all means and what’s next, opinions and commentary abound and conspiracy theories magnify, I look at my print copy of the News of The World and wonder what can fill the vacuum it leaves.

Maybe something that’s not the obvious, eg, another printed newspaper. Maybe not only another printed newspaper.

My own feeling is that the demise of the NoTW is one further milestone on the evolutionary road to a media landscape that will truly be a hybrid, with content produced by professional journalists combined symbiotically with that of so-called citizen journalists. That means people like me and possibly you – we’re not journalists but we report, we write commentary and opinion, and we’re published, mostly online.

Frameworks are already here. Now things move faster. You can see it coming.

(My podcasting partner Shel Holtz and I discuss at some length our views about this still-developing story in the latest episode of our weekly business podcast which we recorded today. Do take a listen when it’s published tomorrow, July 11, and share your thoughts.)

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On the death of a mainstream medium

notw-logo

It’s an astonishing end to a newspaper that published its first edition in 1843 and grew to become the biggest-circulation English-language weekly newspaper in the world, with a readership averaging close to 7.5 million in 2010.

That newspaper is the News of The World (NoTW). After 168 years of publishing, this Sunday, July 10, is the day when the last edition will be printed and then the paper will be closed.

Part of Rupert Murdoch‘s News International since 1969 (which owns, among other media, Times Group and The Sun in the UK and Dow Jones and Fox News Channel in the USA), the NoTW has been embroiled in a huge and unsavoury scandal that began with the illegal access of the telephone records and voicemails of members of the royal family and celebrities and, in recent years, ordinary people (what everyone is calling “phone hacking”); and, relatedly, bribing officers of the Metropolitan Police. All of this goes back to the early part of this century.

If you just Google the phrase “phone hacking scandal news of the world“, you’ll find an enormous amount of reporting along with commentary and opinion of every political hue, much of it over the past week in particular united in its clear sense of disgust and outrage. One good detailed account of the unfolding scandal is “News of the World phone hacking affair” on Wikipedia.

In recent days, the scandal has grown epicly as revelations seemed to come daily of yet more outrageous allegations. British blue-chip companies who spend millions advertising in NoTW suddenly began backing away and pulling their ads. Questions were being asked in Parliament and people were becoming ever more vocal in their demands that heads must roll at News International.

With Rupert Murdoch publicly backing the News International leadership led by its CEO Rebekah Brooks (who was editor of NoTW during part of the scandal-hit period), you had to wonder what would happen next. The scandal was continuing to grow – it had clearly become a full-blown crisis affecting the reputation of other News International titles in the UK in the minds of advertisers (if not the readers) and the entire Murdoch empire, with additional speculation that the scandal would likely impact Murdoch’s plans to acquire the entirety of BSkyB, the satellite broadcaster.

And so, the bombshell news came. Here is the text of the internal announcement (published all over the public media) made to NoTW employees by James Murdoch today:

I have important things to say about the News of the World and the steps we are taking to address the very serious problems that have occurred.

It is only right that you as colleagues at News International are first to hear what I have to say and that you hear it directly from me. So thank you very much for coming here and listening.

You do not need to be told that The News of the World is 168 years old. That it is read by more people than any other English language newspaper. That it has enjoyed support from Britain’s largest advertisers. And that it has a proud history of fighting crime, exposing wrong-doing and regularly setting the news agenda for the nation.

When I tell people why I am proud to be part of News Corporation, I say that our commitment to journalism and a free press is one of the things that sets us apart. Your work is a credit to this.

The good things the News of the World does, however, have been sullied by behaviour that was wrong. Indeed, if recent allegations are true, it was inhuman and has no place in our Company.

The News of the World is in the business of holding others to account. But it failed when it came to itself.

In 2006, the police focused their investigations on two men. Both went to jail. But the News of the World and News International failed to get to the bottom of repeated wrongdoing that occurred without conscience or legitimate purpose.

Wrongdoers turned a good newsroom bad and this was not fully understood or adequately pursued.

As a result, the News of the World and News International wrongly maintained that these issues were confined to one reporter. We now have voluntarily given evidence to the police that I believe will prove that this was untrue and those who acted wrongly will have to face the consequences.

This was not the only fault.

The paper made statements to Parliament without being in the full possession of the facts. This was wrong. The Company paid out-of-court settlements approved by me. I now know that I did not have a complete picture when I did so. This was wrong and is a matter of serious regret.

Currently, there are two major and ongoing police investigations. We are cooperating fully and actively with both. You know that it was News International who voluntarily brought evidence that led to opening Operation Weeting and Operation Elveden. This full cooperation will continue until the Police’s work is done.

We have also admitted liability in civil cases. Already, we have settled a number of prominent cases and set up a Compensation Scheme, with cases to be adjudicated by former High Court judge Sir Charles Gray. Apologising and making amends is the right thing to do.

Inside the Company, we set up a Management and Standards Committee that is working on these issues and that has hired Olswang to examine past failings and recommend systems and practices that over time should become standards for the industry. We have committed to publishing Olswang’s terms of reference and eventual recommendations in a way that is open and transparent.

We have welcomed broad public inquiries into press standards and police practices and will cooperate with them fully.

So, just as I acknowledge we have made mistakes, I hope you and everyone inside and outside the Company will acknowledge that we are doing our utmost to fix them, atone for them, and make sure they never happen again.

Having consulted senior colleagues, I have decided that we must take further decisive action with respect to the paper.

This Sunday will be the last issue of the News of the World. Colin Myler will edit the final edition of the paper.

In addition, I have decided that all of the News of the World’s revenue this weekend will go to good causes.

While we may never be able to make up for distress that has been caused, the right thing to do is for every penny of the circulation revenue we receive this weekend to go to organisations – many of whom are long-term friends and partners – that improve life in Britain and are devoted to treating others with dignity.

We will run no commercial advertisements this weekend. Any advertising space in this last edition will be donated to causes and charities that wish to expose their good works to our millions of readers.

These are strong measures. They are made humbly and out of respect. I am convinced they are the right thing to do.

Many of you, if not the vast majority of you, are either new to the Company or have had no connection to the News of the World during the years when egregious behaviour occurred.

I can understand how unfair these decisions may feel. Particularly, for colleagues who will leave the Company. Of course, we will communicate next steps in detail and begin appropriate consultations.

You may see these changes as a price loyal staff at the News of the World are paying for the transgressions of others. So please hear me when I say that your good work is a credit to journalism. I do not want the legitimacy of what you do to be compromised by acts of others. I want all journalism at News International to be beyond reproach. I insist that this organisation lives up to the standard of behaviour we expect of others. And, finally, I want you all to know that it is critical that the integrity of every journalist who has played fairly is restored.

Thank you for listening.

While the announcement late afternoon today of the closure of the NoTW comes as quite a shock,  it’s actually a good and just decision. I believe it demonstrates quite clearly that the owners of the NoTW are listening to what people are saying and taking serious note of highly critical and exceptionally angry public opinion and sentiment, and acting in a decisive manner that directly addresses and responds to those concerns.

I’m not suggesting for a minute that this means things have come to a nice conclusion. On the contrary, police investigations continue and no doubt criminal charges will eventually be brought as and when individuals are identified who, it will be alleged, committed criminal acts. I would image civil lawsuits will be in there somewhere as well.

Cynics might say that this closure is a stunt to enable News International to continue NoTW under a different guise, maybe “The Sunday Sun” (keep an eye on the website www.sundaysun.co.uk, apparently registered just a couple of days ago). I hope not.

What effect will this have on other mainstream media especially print, in the eyes and minds of the great British public, aka newspaper readers, not to mention advertisers? Will we look on this as a milestone that dealt a severe blow to traditional printed newspapers and trust in journalism, and the opening of a new chapter – an increase in online content and readership – maybe accelerated by the arrival of a new disruptor such as The Huffington Post UK which started publishing yesterday (and let me disclose: I am a blogger for the HuffPost UK).

What a mess and an ignominious end to a newspaper with quite a history. Whatever you think of the paper itself, it was part of the fabric of the history of British journalism and newspaper publishing, done to death by bad people.