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July 7, 2011

News of the World closure: The reaction

By Press Gazette

The announcement that the News of the World will close after this weekend was greeted with shock and amazement by journalists at News International in London.

Staff at the publisher’s other newspapers received the statement by chairman James Murdoch and gasps were heard across the newsrooms at Wapping as they reached the line: “This Sunday will be the last issue of the News of the World.”

One member of staff said: “Then there were lots of gasps and general amazement. Everyone is talking about it. People are still astonished and a bit worried.”

Journalists at The Sun, the Sunday tabloid’s sister paper, wondered what impact the closure would have on them.

One journalist said: “Everyone here is shocked and in disbelief. It’s very sad that the paper is closing.

“We’re not sure what this means for us yet.”

Times editor James Harding addressed the newspaper’s staff at 5.15pm, telling them: “The best answer we can give to what is happening around us is to be judged by the quality of our journalism.”

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He told them he had been informed of the decision at 4pm, one Times reporter said. Another said: “He told us we should continue to be proud of being Times journalists and maintaining our high standards and that he didn’t know any more than us.”

Assistant news editor Lech Mintowt-Czyz tweeted: “Lots of people gathered outside the office. Smoking or talking to their families on their mobiles. Shock in their eyes.”

‘Carrying the can for previous regime’

Speaking to BBC News, NoW political editor David Wooding said the current editorial team was completely different to the one in place when phone-hacking was alleged to have taken place.

“We came in to clean this place up. All these decent hardworking journalists are carrying the can.

“I’m horrified by what happened. It’s wrong, wrong, wrong. I can’t say anything in defence of what happened in the News of the World.

“I’ve never been out of work in my life. And now this has happened it’s quite a shock, I’m quite badly shaken by it.

“I don’t think they could have done any more to cleanse the News of the World. They have taken the ultimate sanction, they have removed it from the face of the earth.”

Ed Miliband told the BBC the closure was a ‘big decision’but won’t “solve the problem’- because News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks could still be in charge.

Lord Prescott described the move as a ‘management stunt”, adding: ‘I have no doubt it will become the Sunday Sun.”

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke agreed with Prescott’s assessment, telling reporters that ‘all they’re going to do is rebrand it.”

Alastair Campbell said the announcement of the closure was ‘one of those moments that slightly takes your breath away”.

He said: ‘This is largely about trying to persuade the government that finally News International are doing what they need to do. What they really care about is the takeover of BSkyB.”

‘No one was going to buy the paper’

Labour MP Tom Watson told Sky News: “Let’s be clear about this, this paper has closed but the hacking saga has not.

“The issue for me today is not whether Rupert Murdoch closes a paper that was going to go bankrupt because there are no advertisers or readers left, it is whether Rebekah Brooks is going to consider her position and resign as chief executive of News International.

“The anger will only subside when a very senior executive in this company takes responsibility for this heinous attack on British people.”

Watson added: “There are only two people in the country left who are supporting Rebekah Brooks today – Rupert Murdoch and David Cameron. I’m surprised she even bothered turning up to work this morning.”

The MP added: “No one was going to buy this paper any more. No one was going to advertise in it. They destroyed it. The people who were hacking phones, they were the people who closed this paper.

“I feel very sorry for honest journalists who are left at the paper and I actually have a degree of sympathy for the outgoing editor Colin Myler who, I think frankly has had to carry a heavy load for the wrongdoing of other people in the organisation.”

Bill Stewardson, whose son died serving in Iraq, told the BBC that it was a ‘gimmick based on profit and loss’and that ‘just changing the name of the newspaper doesn’t change anything

The Mail Online, meanwhile, has reported that Brooks ‘gathered all the News of the World staff and told them: ‘The Guardian newspaper were out to get us, and they got us.'”

NUJ condemns NI announcement

The NUJ has released a statement condemning the move by News International.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ General Secretary said: ‘This shows the depths to which Rupert Murdoch and his lieutenants at News International are prepared to stoop. The announcement James Murdoch should be making today is the dismissal of Rebekah Brooks as chief executive of News International. The shocking revelations this week show beyond doubt the systemic abuse and corruption at the top of the operation ran by both Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson. Yet News International has persistently lied about the extent of this scandal and tried to pass it off as a problem created by a couple of rogue reporters.

‘Closing the title and sacking over 200 staff in the UK and Ireland, and putting scores more freelances and casuals out of a job, is an act of utter cynical opportunism. Murdoch is clearly banking on this drawing a line under the scandal, removing an obstacle to the BskyB deal, and letting his senior executives off the hook. That simply won’t wash. It is not ordinary working journalists who have destroyed this paper’s credibility – it is the actions of Murdoch’s most senior people.

‘James Murdoch was absolutely right when he said in his statement today that ‘Wrongdoers turned a good newsroom bad.’ Yet those wrongdoers are still there today, at the top of the News International empire and ordinary staff at the paper are paying with their livelihoods.

‘The closure of the News of the World – a newspaper that has been in print now for 168 years – is a calculated sacrifice by Rupert Murdoch to salvage his reputation and that of News International, in the hope that readers will switch allegiance to a new seven-day operation at The Sun, the government will wave through the BskyB deal and he will widen his grip on the UK’s media landscape.

‘It is ironic that 25 years after the Wapping dispute it is the behaviour of Rupert Murdoch and his management that has caused the closure of the newspaper. The NUJ will offer all support to its members at the News of the World facing compulsory redundancies and will be organising an emergency meeting of all journalists at the title to offer advice and support.”

Outstanding questions

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger has issued the following statement in reaction to the closure:

“James Murdoch’s statement describes the crisis at the News of the World as eloquently as anything that has been written in the Guardian. He admits – as we have been reporting for two years – that the paper has been “sullied by by behaviour that was wrong…and inhuman.” He concedes – as we reported – that the paper has misled parliament and that he was wrong personally to make the out of court settlements which the Guardian revealed in July 2009.

“Mr Murdoch blames “wrongdoers” who “turned a good newsroom bad.” He does not say who these wrongdoers were – and that is the crucial question people will be asking, including those who are paying with their jobs and who are angry about the loss of a 168-year old newspaper title.

“There are numerous outstanding unanswered questions – over the behaviour of the police and the complete failure of the current News International management to uncover what had gone on inside the company. We welcome Mr Murdoch’s belated statement of regret. If he and Rebekah Brooks had taken the Guardian’s accusations seriously two years ago it is doubtful whether the News of the World would now be closing.

“It remains to be seen whether Mr Murdoch’s words will be matched by a genuine attempt to get to the truth.”

The Media Standards Trust, which launched its ‘Hacked Off’ campaign yesterday, said the News International announcement will not alter the need for a full public inquiry into phone-hacking and related matters.

“Indeed James Murdoch’s statement raises further questions about the conduct of senior figures at the company,” it said in a statement. “We feel that the closure of a 168-year-old title, with the consequent loss of jobs, is a destructive act which actually underlines the need to get to the truth.”

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