Being a retired broadcast journalist, it’s de rigueur that I comment on the News of the World fiasco in the UK. No doubt it adds even more tarnish to the news industry, but it’s certainly not the first time that a news corporation put profits above ethics.
Time put Rupert Murdoch in the same category as William Randolph Hearst, and that makes a lot of sense. Controlling information is the source of great power and influence. And making a lot money is a part of that equation. Hearst, in large part, achieved his power through yellow journalism with his New York Journal. That paper was credited with playing a role in starting the Spanish-American War in 1898. He ended up, like Murdoch, owning a lot of papers, magazines, a movie production company, and added broadcasting when it came along. He basically lost control of his empire when he greatly over-extended it.
Murdoch’s power is basically the same as was Hearst’s, though on a global basis, it is probably much larger. Just as Hearst relied on sensationalism with his New York Journal, Murdoch did the same with News of the World. Murdock’s biggest money-maker is not his papers, though, but his movie studio, 20th Century Fox. His Fox network, with shows like American Idol, is very lucrative, and so is his Fox News cable channel. His problem is not the same as Hearst’s, though. It’s not that he overextended, it’s that one of his high-profile newspapers got caught being unethical and illegal by allegedly hacking phone calls. It may not be his downfall, but it has definately damaged his brand’s reputation, and the value of News Corp has dropped since the scandal broke.
What does all of this do to the credibility of the journalism business? Probably not much. Its credibility had plummeted before this ever happened. I suppose it has always been about the money, but there was a time when it was also about a lot more, especially doing the right thing for the common good. Actually, though, it is also about more than the money, because, in my view, especially with people like Murdoch, it’s about influence.
There is hope, though. There are still some old-fashioned, dedicated, ethical, and committed journalists. Name one, you might say. The first to come to mind is Bill Moyers.