Murdoch’s Challenge: Keep Scoops, Hold the Sleaze
The challenge for Rupert Murdoch’s new Sunday tabloid: Keep the scoops, drop the sleaze.
News Corp.’s The Sun on Sunday launches this weekend, promising the same irreverent attitude that has kept The Sun tabloid at the top of the British newspaper market, even as its proprietor fights to limit the damage caused by the long-running phone hacking scandal.
Can Murdoch win while keeping it clean? Tabloid veterans say yes.
"There’s a dangerous misconception that the News of the World or tabloids generally can’t break major stories without resorting to illegal or unethical practices," former News of the World executive-turned PR professional Paul Connew said in a telephone interview. "The rivals are going to be sweating."
The News of the World closed in July after an advertising boycott led Murdoch to pull the 168-year-old paper. Britons were disgusted by revelations that the paper had routinely hacked into the phones of those in the public eye - including, most notoriously, a missing schoolgirl whose murder had shocked the country.
It was long rumored that Murdoch would try to reclaim the gap in the lucrative Sunday market. And the Australian media tycoon appears to be throwing his weight and enthusiasm behind the launch, buying up broadcast advertising and putting up posters to promote his latest venture into the newspaper business.
There’s already been the inevitable controversy. News vendors are upset over the low, 50 pence (roughly 75 U.S. cent) cover price, a Labour parliamentarian has reportedly pulled out of a planned column under pressure from his colleagues, and media-watchers have been whispering about the possibility that new arrests of journalists could eclipse the paper’s launch.
Assuming no hiccups, the paper will have a huge initial run - perhaps as many as 3 million copies. It’ll be under the direction of Sun editor Dominic Mohan. His deputy, Victoria Newton, a veteran of the News of the World, is also expected to play a key role.
There have been all kinds of rumors as to the paper’s content, although the traditional staples of tabloid reporting - campaigns, stings, and undercover investigations - will doubtless stay in place.
And it seems reasonable to assume that the Sun on Sunday would keep paying tipsters for stories - a practice generally shunned by U.S. journalists. Still, Britain’s new anti-bribery law - and sensitivities surrounding the ongoing investigation into the corruption of public officials - means that reporters will be far more careful about paying contacts.
Jules Stenson, former assistant editor of the News of the World, said that would free up money for big feature stories.