Ian Burrell: And the winners are... Desmond, the Daily Mail, and corporate PR
The Times might struggle to attract a new buyer willing to cover its annual losses of £50m
Monday 18 July 2011
When the smoke clears, who will have their hands on the spoils? The wreckage caused by this almighty scandal may leave the British media landscape looking very different.
We have already had many losers in this sorry affair but, eventually, there will be winners. How much bounty there is to be divided will depend greatly on the fate of News International (NI). It is difficult to see how any of the surviving Wapping titles can emerge stronger from "Hackgate", although The Sun at least has the chance to extend its brand as a seven-day operation thanks to the closure of the News of the World.
Rupert Murdoch has dismissed as "pure and total rubbish" the suggestion News Corp might sell or hive off NI, but the once unthinkable possibility that such a decision might be taken out of his hands is becoming increasingly likely. Aside from the old man's sentimentality, there is no love for NI at the top of the corporate ladder.
Fleet Street without Rupert – for the first time since 1969 – would offer huge opportunities to some of his biggest publishing rivals. The popular press could become dominated by Associated Newspapers, publisher of the Daily Mail, and Richard Desmond, who would surely be prepared to sacrifice the Daily Star for a chance to own The Sun – for which he has previously bid £1bn – and the potential for cross-promotion with his television network Channel 5.
Associated has quickly moved onto the front foot, slashing the cover price of the Mail on Sunday to £1 and celebrating its new-found status as "Britain's biggest-selling Sunday". It is also aiming to produce its own red-top Sunday paper, possibly called The Sunday, in advance of NI's launch of The Sun on Sunday.
Politically, the Labour-supporting Trinity Mirror titles are less well-placed to pick up fresh readers from the NOTW, although the company already has established Sunday titles and is increasing its marketing spend and pagination. Recent developments have also offered some welcome relief for Mirror papers that have been consistently trounced by their better-resourced Wapping rivals.
At the top of the market, there have already been winners. The story has been a great success for The Guardian. It must hope that the enhanced reputation of its journalism will sustain it through a difficult financial future. Nick Davies, the investigative reporter most associated with the story, can expect to be lionised by student journalists for a generation.
The i newspaper, carrying The Independent's forthright reporting of the scandal, may benefit from new public distaste for the red tops, with which it competes in terms of price. The Financial Times, another paper that has covered the matter extensively, deserves to make gains at the expense of its big competitor, the News Corp-owned Wall Street Journal, which has been damaged by its limited reporting of the story, a weak interview with Rupert Murdoch and the resignation of its publisher Les Hinton, the former executive chairman of News International.
The Times is most at risk of suffering collateral damage. Linked to the story through its employment as a columnist of Andy Hayman, the former police officer who headed the flawed original inquiry into phone hacking, it has covered the story with reluctance. If News International is to be sold, The Times will struggle to attract a new buyer willing to cover its annual losses of £50m. In television, Sky News has distinguished itself in covering a story in which the network itself was a player.
But when all the reckoning is done, the biggest loser is likely to be journalism as a whole. As the public views reporters with even greater suspicion, hidden facts are more likely than ever to remain uncovered. Companies and institutions are likely to have a sharper instinct for restricting journalistic access. All of which suggests that the public-relations industry, already enjoying greater success in its arm wrestle with an over-stretched and cash-strapped news media, will be another victor in the aftermath of the scandal.
But there are losers in PR too. Those that based their businesses on close relationships with the Murdoch papers will have seen a reduction in their power base. Suddenly it no longer seems that the support of Wapping is the key to winning hearts and minds in Westminster. A membership card for the Chipping Norton set is no more a media badge worth having. How the world has changed.
Vox pop: Who's buying which Sunday paper now?
Daniel Murrain, 28, chef
"I wasn't sure what to get but I went for the Sunday Mirror. Deciding was a big debate between me, my mum and my missus. I saw the Mail on Sunday but that was £1 and the Sunday Mirror was 50p and it had a magazine, too."
Dawn Waters, 46, nanny
"Today I got the Daily Star Sunday because of the free [OK!] magazine. I looked at the broadsheets, but I wanted something that was easier to read and just a bit of fun."
Joanne Davis, 47, carer
"I have always gone for The People but my dad loved the News of the World and has been asking me what I read. I think he will go for The People this week."
Makai Son, 28, shop worker
" I wasn't sure what to get, but I was looking at which paper had the best sport. I had a look through them all and went for the Daily Star Sunday."
Helen Ferrier, 88, retired
"I brought The People today. There are too many bits in the other weekend papers. I used to buy the Mail on Sunday but it had lots of different sections. There's too much, it fills your bin up."
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