IT is fitting that Rupert Murdoch should end the News of the World era with such an audacious act. The story of how he bought the newspaper in January 1969 is similarly brazen, not just because he defeated Robert Maxwell in a closely fought bidding war, but because of all that followed. The News of the World was Murdoch’s first UK newspaper, the precursor to his decades-long dominance of much of the British media.
Although the News of the World might be dead, the winning formula of sex, scandal and sport will live on for now – most likely in a new Sunday newspaper. The Sun on Sunday (as it is being referred to by advertising execs) is slated for a launch later this month; the appropriate website addresses were registered on Tuesday.
A plan of this kind has been on the back-burner for some time. Will Lewis, group general manager at News International was drafted in last year to slash costs, a task he performed with some success at Telegraph Media Group. Last month, staff were warned that the Sun and the News of the World would find ways of introducing “seven day working” – code for running both newspapers with a single, much smaller staff. The decision to scrap the News of the World brand came later, but must have been a no-brainer considering the furore surrounding the paper.
Analysts are suggesting Mail on Sunday owner DMGT and Trinity Mirror could benefit from the demise of their rival, and we expect their share prices to jump today. But history tells us that readers of extinct newspapers rarely migrate to different titles in a significant way. If anyone has the chance of capturing this audience, it is Murdoch’s new title. Some will wonder why Murdoch is bothering to replace News of the World at all, but they fundamentally misunderstand him. He is a newspaper man first and foremost; everything else – BSkyB, 20th Century Fox – is there to keep the papers alive. With annual profits of £2m and a cover price of £1 – ensuring it generates a huge amount of cash – the News of the World was doing well, at least as newspapers go. Murdoch will be hoping he can repeat its success. We wouldn’t bet against him.