End of the Old Order?

All that probably can be said about the closure of the News of the World has probably already be said, during these last, few frantic hours in the wake of James Murdoch’s bombshell (or, if you prefer, the description of one commentator: “the nuclear option”).

With impressive alacrity by both radio and TV, almost all the commentators you’d expect to be interviewed have been interviewed, said their thing about the unfairness of journalists facing redundancy for allegations that pre-date their careers at the paper; the seemingly contrasting fates awaiting former editors, Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks; the chances of a Sun on Sunday; the apparently declining business value of newspapers in the Murdoch empire; and how other editors may be having sleepless nights, haunted either by their own pasts possibly catching up with them or the public deciding to turn its back on tabloid journalism.

And of course, there have been others essentially saying ‘good riddance’, that it’s payback time for the pain and anguish they have endured (rightly or wrongly) at the hands of the biggest-selling newspaper in the UK – and, at 168 years old, one of the most venerable.

What does it mean for tabloid newspapers, in particular, and newspapers, in general? For Prime Minister, David Cameron, who hired Coulson as his chief spin doctor? What does it say about Rupert Murdoch? A strategic masterstroke or the latest in a series of tactical blunders? Our TV schedules loosened up for the sort of extended coverage afforded to only a handful of events per year.

In truth, allmediascotland.com has had no relationship to speak of with the Scottish News of the World. It was a two-way thing that arguably had something to do with the Omerta-like reluctance among many journalists and editors to publicly comment about each other, in particular, and the industry in general (while, of course, deploying every device available to gain competitive advantage).

But within the space of a week, the world has been turned on its head. And at this historic moment, it feels like it can no longer be business as usual.

Just like that, for those who worked at the paper, it must feel like, why did we bother?

If a paper that big is that vulnerable to being closed down, then perhaps it’s no longer true that anything goes, safe in the knowledge that there will be always next week’s (or the next day’s) edition.

While recognising the professionalism of most journalists, Press Gazette editor, Dominic Ponsford, writes, in his latest blog, of a need for improved training and, indeed, regulation of journalism.

How did it come to this? Ponsford says journalism can wreck lives. He compares journalists to doctors but it’s hard to imagine the editor of the British Medical Journal making quite such a basic appeal as he has.

And perhaps it’s the aforementioned competitive streak among newspapers that is to blame for many of the industry’s ills. For the slowest of mediums, newspapers behave as if time is of the essence, with all the attendant dangers that comes with trying to do too much in too little time while trying also to make the biggest impact.

And a lot of it is a self-imposed mad dash. Are readers genuinely saying they want 100 pages rather than 40, are they bothered that a story is exclusive (which other medium, including the fastest medium of them all – the internet – seems so fixated on boasting an exclusive?) and are they that impatient to get their news now, even if corners have had to be cut in delivering it?

It’s often said newsrooms are so fast-moving that there’s no time for introspection. But surely introspection is vital to understanding what readers want, how news-gathering cultures are developed and where a paper is headed.

Quite how the ‘hamster wheel’ is slowed, quite how introspection and reflection are factored into the crazy working day and quite how the competitive zeal is calmed a little, is much easier said than done.

But it feels time for papers to explore more the option of co-operation, as well as competition.

Even to share best practice and certainly to re-write some of the rulebook.

Which might mean, in future, that no longer does a conduit for mature debate, like allmediascotland.com, have to admit it has never really had a relationship with a major newspaper.

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