Saturday, July 9, 2011

To Hack With It

Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch is closing down London's 168-year-old News Of The World after a phone-hacking scandal. Reporters broke into voicemail accounts of soldiers and dead children -- among some 4,000 people -- looking for nuggets they could blow up into headlines. As I go to press this afternoon, at least three people have been arrested in connection with the scandal. The paper's chief executive, Rebekah Brooks, faces questioning by police investigators over what she knew and when she knew it, but she hasn't been fired, and her bosses have waved off her offers to resign.

I can believe the defense that the hacking was limited to a limited number of unethical reporters, but I'm not willing to let Brooks off the hook. At KOLD News 13, when somebody comes up with sensitive information, our bosses know about it, and they know where that information came from. We have anonymous tipsters. We have confidential sources. We have viewers who love watching Dan Marries, Heather Rowe, Chuck George, Scott Kilbury, Kayna Whitworth, Mindy Blake, Erin Jordan, Mark Stine, Teresa Jun, and the rest of the gang, and they want us to beat the competition with their inside info. We have Twitter and Facebook friends helping us cover the news. We don't need to hack phone mails. We would never dream of doing that. Our News Directors and General Managers have made it clear, even if it would give us competitive advantage.

That's why the News did it. Britain's tabloid industry is thriving and ultra-competitive. Rupert's weekly wanted to win at all costs, and it ultimately sold its soul. Now it's rotting in publishing's Hades. Murdoch didn't believe the paper was too big or too old to fail, but I don't believe he killed it as a public gesture of humility. I believe he killed it to make nice with British regulators as he tries to protect and expand his media empire.

In doing so, people at the News who had nothing to do with this scandal are without jobs. At the same time, I wonder why they chose to work for the paper in the first place, given that it had a dubious reputation long before the hacking. We all gotta have jobs, but there are TV stations (which I won't mention) I would never work for if I valued my career, or more importantly, my relationship with GOD.

Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine offers some deeper insight on the scandal and privacy rights here.

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