Tears, then rage, as journalists are told that they face the sack

Announcement was greeted with disbelief at News International's Wapping offices
  • @oliver_wright

When staff at the News of the World saw Rebekah Brooks standing outside their editor's office waiting to address them they assumed that, as Andy Coulson had done four years ago, she was about to announce her resignation.

Instead, after five minutes of preamble – in which she is said to have got the age of the paper wrong – she told them they were the ones who would be losing their jobs. Some started crying. "Everyone else was like a zombie," said one member of staff who was there. "The anger came later."

Ms Brooks then said she had been asked to read out a statement by the company's chairman, James Murdoch – but that she thought, in the circumstances, it was best to leave it. She retreated to her office, promising to come back later to answer questions.

It was left to the paper's current editor, Colin Myler – in tears himself – to try to explain the ramifications of the decision to close the 168-year-old paper, the news of which he had only just found out himself. Ms Brooks did not return and was reportedly later escorted from the building by security staff. "The only thing I care about is you," Mr Myler told them after Ms Brooks had left. "You are blameless for what has happened."

One member of the staff who was at the meeting said: "We got a call to come to the editor's office and saw Rebekah with Colin. The last time we were there, it was with Andy when he announced he was resigning, so we just assumed she was going. Then she started talking about how good the News of the World was. It was five or 10 minutes before she told us the paper was closing. To be honest I can't really remember what she said before then. It's all a blur now."

But what he could remember was that, contrary to reports on Sky News, she was not crying. "She did wipe her eyes at one stage – but she wasn't crying. Not like Colin. He was crying his eyes out. He said all he cared about was us and, to be honest, I believe him. Not like her. Murdoch has sacrificed a newspaper to save one woman."

After the news, reporters were left to go back to their desks and absorb the news. They still have one last paper to bring out this Sunday.

At another meeting later in the afternoon with Mr Myler and a representative from News International's human resources department, the staff were told they would get 90 days' pay and then redundancy. They were told there were "limited opportunities" for jobs in other parts of the company. "Someone asked if we should come in after Monday," said one. "We were told there wasn't much point in that."

Staff afterwards pointed out that 90 per cent of the current staff at the paper were not there at the time of the hacking allegations – unlike Ms Brooks – and as the afternoon wore on, shock was replaced by deep and vitriolic anger. "We've heard a lot about disgusting behaviour here in recent days," said one. "This is another example." Another said: "Those of us who lose our jobs will be out for revenge. And Murdoch and Brooks should know better than most that we're very good at getting it." But contrary to some reports, it was not a "lynch mob mentality". "That's just being put out by the company to discredit us still further."

Two members of staff were prepared to speak publicly. The paper's chief political editor, David Wooding, said: "Decent and hard-working journalists are carrying the can for the sins of the previous regime. We knew we were in a bad place but we never expected a bombshell as big as this."

Asked to describe staff reaction to the announcement, Jules Stenson, head of features, said: "Profound disappointment rather than anger. Clearly no one among the current staff condones what's gone on in the past; they share everyone's collective horror about what has been reported this week."

Staff at the The Times, part of the same News International stable, discovered the news only after reading to the very bottom of a 1,000-word email sent by James Murdoch. One member of staff said: "It took a few minutes for everyone to read through the statement. There was a 'fucking hell' from the first person who read it."

Shortly afterwards, the newsroom was addressed by the paper's editor, James Harding, who told them he had only just found out himself. He said the only way to respond to the situation was with journalism that makes its readers proud and lives up to its historical standards. And with that he retreated into his office.