“Labour’s Lost It”
It being the endorsement of that erstwhile bastion of journalistic integrity, The Sun. Last week Rupert Murdoch’s flagship publication declared that after 12 years, the red top had finally relinquished its support of New Labour.
By making such a brash statement on the front page, The Sun assumes that their withdrawal will be the final nail in Gordon Brown’s coffin. However, the looming general election will be closer than editors at News International imagine.
Murdoch and co. have been in the news quite a lot recently, most notably back in late August when James Murdoch (son of Rupert) gave a lecture in Edinburgh attacking the BBC, declaring it to be a threat to independence of news provision. While he was storming around the stage, I hardly think that Mark Thompson was quaking in his shoes. The BBC is, and will remain one of the best examples of how a broadcasting corporation should be run. One need only hop over the Atlantic and tune into the likes of Keith Olbermann to see how good we have it in the UK. Murdoch’s Sky News prides itself on being first with breaking news, often to the point of throwing unsubstantiated quotes onto the screen, so obsessed are they with getting the scoop.
Rupert Murdoch sees himself as an all conquering, Alfred Harmsworth, Lord Northcliffe style character.
I think it’s a shame that history seems to have blotted out Northcliffe and his emergence as the first press baron in modern newspaper production. Having created The Daily Mail and Daily Mirror, he subsequently went on to rescue several papers whose sales were in free fall. At one point he owned both the aforementioned newspapers as well as The Observer, The Times and The Sunday Times. He pioneered modern techniques like advertising and headlines, amongst other modern conventions like serialisations and machine operated typesets.
If Murdoch (whose father, interestingly, was mentored by Northcliffe) truly wants to be the Northcliffe of the 21st Century, he a) Better come up with some ideas to revolutionise media quickly (and charging for online content isn’t going to cut the mustard) and b) Has to become a lot more pleasant in the process.
Undoubtedly Northcliffe was a difficult man. Rampant expansionism and megalomania contributed to a nervous breakdown before his death, and he was unpopular amongst rival newspapers for his aggressive taste for pioneering new techniques. But could you really forsee Murdoch leaving money in his will to all his employees, as Northcliffe did? Or starting a campaign proclaiming the evils of white bread and the virtues of wholemeal? It was these little eccentricities that gave him the edge that Murdoch lacks.
With his business-like approach to news, Murdoch has no doubt amassed a gargantuan fortune, but none of his media outlets have endeared themselves to the British public like the BBC. The Sun, as the most read newspaper, is still only read by 11% of the electorate. When you turn on Sky News, there is no authority, no sense that the newscaster understands the issues being presented. Instead a garish newsroom which resembles the control room on the Starship Enterprise is hurled before your eyes, which makes the presenters look like Gerry Anderson’s cast offs.
We’ll see what happens at the polling stations come 2010, if Cameron and Osborne are triumphant no doubt The Sun will be first to accept the plaudits. For now let’s just enjoy the fact that News International are faced with a problem that they’ve never seen, a media world which is changing beyond their control.