Thank you and Goodbye. That was the final cover that the staff of the most-read UK newspaper sent to print last Sunday. After 168 years, the News of the World, one of the many babies media magnate Rupert Murdoch adopted over the decades is gone.
The closure was a result of a years-old phone hacking scandal that escalated when it emerged that several reporters of the newspaper have not only tapped phones of politicians, celebrities and royals but also of a teenage murder victim and families of soldiers who died in Afghanistan. Oh and I shouldn’t forget – they also paid people to get interviews. I am pretty sure that paying people for interviews is frowned upon in every country that at least resembles democracy.
The end of the weekly is shocking. It is damaging for Rupert Murdoch. But I am not so worried about him – he has the Wall Street Journal, the 20th Century Fox movie studio and hundreds of his other media outlets to play with. I am more worried about the credibility of the 200 people who have worked there and are now out of jobs. And what is bothering me the most is the price media in general will pay for their not-so-little spy game.
I am not saying this is the biggest scandal in the history of media. There were some bad ones before. In 1980, Washington Post reporter Janet Cooke made up an 8-year-old heroin addict and later won a Pulitzer Prize for her fabricated story. In 2005 it was revealed that several columnists with different newspapers were taking money from George Bush’s administrative to promote its policies. A junior reporter with or without journalism training would know this was wrong.
Each media scandal hurts the credibility of media. It makes people doubt that journalists are getting their stories right. It makes journalists look less trustworthy and less professional.
After the scandal broke around the Bush administration paying journalists, polls in U.S. showed that 63 per cent of public thought that the news presented by media are often off-base. Two years before that, “only” 50 per cent of people doubted journalists’ work. Does one journalist with a skewed reporting morality really make everyone doubt the hundreds who are diligent and actually work hard to get the stories right? Will one poor newspaper management turn the public and politicians even more against the media?
When I started my master’s degree in journalism three years ago I met an incredible group of journalists. Young, passionate, ready to fight injustice, tell stories that matter and help others. We all were proud of each other when someone got a major scoop and freelanced their school assignment to CBC, Macleans or the Ottawa Citizen. Were we jealous? I think a little but that only made us work harder on getting bigger stories and improving our skills – not on cheating, making up stories or bribing. One of these amazing people started this newspaper just over a year ago. And all of us still have the same journalism passion, sense of justice and even stronger professional ethics since we first met.
So don’t look down at all media, even when they make small mistakes. The majority of us don’t do it on purpose. We are trying to inform you as much as we can. And if you see a copy of the last edition of the News of the World (yes, I have just ordered it along with the first one from 1843) on the walls of our office, take it as a promise that we are not going to tap anyone, bribe anyone, or make up characters to build our journalism egos. We are really mostly doing this for the communities we live in. And our egos are just fine.