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Letting Freedom Ring

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Spews of the World

Reading the obituary of the tabloid of all tabloids, The News of the World, I couldn’t help wondering how the paper could still be alive.  I thought it had died a deserving death in the 1960s, the last time I saw it on the local supermarket magazine rack.  At a very early age, I recall salacious and titillating headlines of the Liz Taylor-Richard Burton scandal.  My mother, a former journalist said that only biddies read that kind of trash and that any resemblance it bore to a real newspaper was merely coincidental.

The News of the World was first published on Oct. 1, 1843, in London by John Browne Bell.  Its audiences were the working classes, who could afford its cost of three pence.  England had not yet repealed the Stamp Act – in England, that is – or the Paper Duty.  Its stock-in-trade was coverage of vice prosecutions with transcripts of police reports on brothel raids and the arrest of streetwalkers.  The paper initially sold around 12,000 copies per week.  Following the abolition of the taxes, the publisher didn’t lower the price and its circulation dropped.

The Bell family sold the paper in 1891 to Lascelles Carr, who installed his nephew, Emsley Carr as the editor.  But it was George Riddell who used local agents to distribute the paper.  Its motto was "All human life is there". The paper's name was linked with sports events as early.  By 1950, the News of the World had become the biggest-selling newspaper in the world with weekly sales of 8,441,000; individual editions sold over 9 million copies.

The newspaper concentrated on celebrity-based scoops and populist news.  It had a reputation for exposing celebrities as drug users or criminals, setting up insiders and journalists in disguise to provide either video or photographic evidence, and phone hacking in ongoing police investigations. Sales averaged 2,812,005 copies per week in October 2010.   On 16 September 2010, it was announced that the online website of the paper would be placed behind a paywall.

If you lie down with dogs, however, you will wake up with fleas.  In fact, it was the fleas who were investigating the dogs.  Private investigator Glenn Mulcaire and a journalist working for the News of the World were sent to prison in 2007 for hacking into the voice mails of royal staff in an earlier investigation.  Using their private investigator connections and knowledge, along with some alleged bribe money, the NOW’s reporters supposedly hacked into the voice mails of various crime victims, including the families of some murdered English schoolgirls and relatives of 7/1 victims.
Security personnel note that people in general are too careless with their password identities, choosing the easy way out rather than changing them to unbreakable, albeit unmemorizable, codes, every month or so.
The year 1843 was notable for some unusual events:
The British also exported The News of the World at a time when sideshows were popular, American was expanding westward (to the dismay of the future radio host, Glenn Beck), Greece was in turmoil then, as it is now, Christmas is still a revered and commercialized holiday, we count our calories, we use computer programs to watch YouTube instead of reading News of the World, and that paper has, like the Virginia Minstrels, been assigned to the ash heap of history.

The End of the News of the World comes at a bad time for publisher Rupert Murdoch, owner of The New York Post and Fox News.  He had his eye on England’s BSkyB.  The British government is now holding off on its decision whether to grant Murdoch’s company permission to purchase the company wholesale (Murdoch currently owns 39 percent of BSkyB) until September.  That hesitation may have influenced Murdoch’s decision to close the ancient tabloid.

Murdoch himself eschewed the unseemly paper’s unseemly investigative methods.  The world did not end in 1843 or 2011, but The News of the World has.  Hallelujah.

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