An audacious plan is being hatched to rescue the News of the World despite its being closed down by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp organisation and published for the last time yesterday.
The Independent has learnt that a consortium of media and business figures is attempting to put together a rescue package and revive the title as a responsible investigative newspaper. At the centre of the group is Susan Douglas, a former editor of the Sunday Express, a former deputy editor of The Sunday Times, and a former executive in numerous media organisations.
She said: "What we are talking about is saving the freedom of the press for ordinary people, who are not going to read the Financial Times, or even The Independent or The Guardian. I think it's really important and worth doing."
Ms Douglas has been holding talks with leading media owners and venture capitalists, but said that a rescue attempt would need to be made quickly before the opportunity to save the 168-year-old title was lost.
"We have really got a window," she said. "We are looking at what might be possible and talking to ex-editors and VCs [venture capitalists] and exploring this with people who are interested in upholding freedom of the press and buying into a title that still makes money."
She said the plan would involve taking the existing News of the World staff – who have been invited to apply for new positions at News International – under its editor Colin Myler, out of News Corp and into new ownership. The process would reverse the pattern of the famous industrial dispute of 1986 when attempts were made to prevent journalists entering the company's headquarters in Wapping, east London.
"I think News of the World readers want the News of the World, and the team that produces it is still extant and haven't done anything inappropriate or unlawful as far as we know," she said. "The News of the World's trouble is really about misdemeanours of management. People talk about prurience and invading people's privacy but when it's in the public interest, it's completely justified. I think there will be mounting public opinion behind anyone who tried to save the News of the World on that basis."
The consortium knows that News Corp would be likely to legally challenge any attempt to wrest away the News of the World brand, but believes that public opinion would support a rescue attempt. "The opportunity is to give it life support," said Ms Douglas.