A goodly number of Murdoch’s newspapers run at a loss. This isn’t because he’s a bad businessman, it’s because of the industry. His competitors are doing worse.
However, Murdoch loves newspapers and news. Whatever else his failings, it’s rare to have a newspaper owner who actually loves the medium. So even though these companies lose money for him (and, in revenue terms, are a tiny proportion of an empire that is mainly about entertainment and media) he keeps them alive and well financed.
Say that the clusterfuck over the infractions of a small number of his newspapers (assuming this goes beyond just News of the World) results in him divesting of news entirely. Firstly, who’d buy them? Secondly, what happens if this leads to the final destruction of actual daily newspapers?
New regulations are coming that may completely emasculate investigative journalism. Politicians may see a way to use public hostility to privacy infractions to protect their own. Would Woodward and Bernstein have gone to jail for cracking Watergate through the use of intercepted tapes, and brought down the Washington Post for good measure? We’d be left with a few very expensive weeklies featuring deep insight and analysis (and aimed mostly at the educated elite in business, science, literature, etc.) and the increasingly shrill voices of the twitterrama.
As George Brock says over on his blog: “Good journalism often operates near the edge of the rules; occasionally it breaks them. But no society – and certainly not one which has just learnt what happens when one newspaper abandons its decency altogether – is going to cut that journalism any slack at all if the newspaper can’t show that what it was doing has a public value. When the Daily Telegraph bought a (possibly stolen) disc with details of MPs expenses, when a Guardian journalist faked a signature, when the Sunday Times bought a key document in the Thalidomide scandal – these infractions can be justified by the overriding public interest in the disclosure thus made possible.”
Anyone want to consider a world where this is not allowed to exist?
While you’re enjoying the fall of a once-unerring titan of enterprise, certainly, hold him to account. But only to account. Going further and behaving like a baying mob at a witch trial harms not only a great company, but also the world in which that company operates. Which will harm you.