Sunday, 10 July 2011

End Of An Empire?

Less than two years ago, I read a copy of Inside Rupert's Brain by Paul R La Monica. At the time, the News of the World phone-tapping scandal tarred but didn't sink the paper. Even then, Murdoch's empire was fraying around the edges.

What a difference a couple of years makes.

Today, on 10 July 2011, the 168-year-old News of the World publishes its last edition. The phone-tapping scandal turned out to be bigger and deeper than previously thought. In a move many see as baffling, Murdoch spared the head of the editor in charge at the time of the hacks and axed the paper instead. Earlier, MySpace which was bought by News Corp six years ago was sold at a loss of about 94 per cent, from US$580 million to US$35 million.

In the days that followed news of the hack, Fleet Street has been on a big schadenfreude buffet. Murdoch, from the looks of it, is not well-liked by the British press. But it's only a matter of time before all the UK papers will have their journalistic practices looked into. I doubt all this will make a really big impact on News Corp, though nothing seems for certain nowadays.

But back to the book.

What I found freaked me out a little. This guy certainly knew his business, and it looked like he had a way to make the Internet work for him. I found the size and reach News Corp had really scary. About half the world consumes what News Corp and its various components offer, and it seems that isn't enough for the old fox.

This book managed to convey just enough to give readers a brief look into his thinking, what drives him, and some background into what could be considered the milestones in his long career. Any deeper and you might have to speak to the man himself. Not that it matters to the casual reader.

Wonder what kind of books will come out about News Corp after this?

Along with other pieces I've done, this review brings back memories. The job at Off The Edge had its moments, including books such as this one. I'm not sure if I can deal with the stress, though.

I, Rupert
Inside the mind of an old-school newsman

first published in Off The Edge, December 2009 (Issue 60)

In a rather patronising radio address published in the Herald Sun’s web site last year (2008), Rupert Murdoch appeared to chide rival newspapers for writing their obituaries upon seeing the coming digital wave, rather than using it to their readers’ benefit as well as their own. "Give these readers good honest reporting on issues that mattered most to them. In return, you would be rewarded with trust and loyalty you could take to the bank."

Another thing he intends to take to the bank is money. Since this address the Australian-born media baron has gone on a roadshow of sorts, trumpeting the end of free news on the web as newspapers and magazines start folding worldwide. Quality journalism, he insists, is not cheap, and adds that today's readers are willing to part with a few more dollars for real, quality news.

It echoes of the McTaggart Lecture Murdoch gave at the Edinburgh International Television Festival in 1989, where he foretold TV’s digital (and paid) future, and lambasted British broadcasters’ protectionist policies. On the same stage twenty years later, his son James blasted UK media industry regulator Ofcom for what he believes is its complicity in the BBC’s "chilling" ambition to grow its footprint. It should be noted that Murdoch’s BSkyB (formerly Sky TV) has become the UK’s dominant pay-TV service, whose grip on the market is being probed by... Ofcom.

Thanks in part to his successes, and the reputed political clout of his media outlets, Keith Rupert Murdoch is hard to ignore. From just a single newspaper, the now-defunct Adelaide News, his News Corporation now includes movie studio 20th Century Fox, broadcasting company Fox, Asian satellite TV provider Star TV, web sites MySpace and Photobucket, book publisher HarperCollins, and of course, newspapers in Australia, the UK and US.

To many, this old-school newspaper man seems prescient when it comes to some media trends (as it was with multi-channelled, satellite pay-TV). What’s under the hood? Paul R La Monica, "editor at large" of, wrote Inside Rupert’s Head to find out. Quite a bit of research has gone into the book, written in a way that appears to only interest those who really want to look inside the media mogul’s head.

At first glance the book is a somewhat biographical account that highlights certain chapters in Murdoch’s career, which include the expansion of the newspaper business in Australia to the UK and US; the news channel battle between Fox and CNN; his forays into satellite and cable TV, and the Internet; and his bid for Dow Jones and Co, owner of the Wall Street Journal and the Dow Jones Industrial Average. In between the author inserts observations by himself and others about Murdoch during those times. The resulting picture of is that of an industry pioneer and maverick who still feels he has something to prove.

Given the bad news coming out of News Corp of late, he might. The company recorded a US$3.4 billion net loss for the latest financial year. Murdoch’s British newspapers’ year-end ad revenue dropped by 14 percent. Profits across News Corp’s global newspaper division fell from US$786 million to US$466 million. His News of the World was involved in a phone-tapping scandal. To top it off, his net worth dropped from over US$8 billion last year to US$4 billion, according to Forbes. Dow Jones wants to sell its iconic stock index business. Now comes what is seen as his war on Google.

While the senior Murdoch's call for paid news makes some sense, the timing is somewhat suspect, what with all the above. Even if subscribers passed more bucks to keep the media honest, how much of an improvement would it make on the business practices of this monolith of a media corporation? One supposes time will tell, as it did with satellite TV.

It is likely this old-school media mogul’s empire will continue to make the news even as it dishes them out. From James Murdoch’s McTaggart lecture this year, it won’t be too long before there’s enough interest in finding out if James Murdoch is a chip off the old block.

Inside Rupert's Brain
Paul R La Monica
Portfolio (2009)
272 pages
ISBN: 978-1591842439


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