When I first started in newspapers in the mid-Seventies a job with Thomson newspapers was something like the gold standard. Thomson’s paid well, were comparatively enlightened employers and the holidays were good. But above all they were successful in producing newspapers. The Times and the Sunday Times were Thomson, as was The Scotsman and a string of regional papers owned by a subsidiary, Thomson Regional Newspapers.
In July 1978, I joined The Journal as a head office reporter. The Journal was a Thomson paper, and one of the perks was a discount on a package deal with Thomson Holidays. (Incidentally, my stint with The Journal was not particularly distinguished. I was, technically, as good a reporter as any other, but unfortunately I wasn’t a reporter at heart. I don’t give a flying fuck about what passes for news for one thing, and just can’t get into the mindset. Also, the really good reporters, the ones employed by the national for very good money usually have the morals of an alley cat and would sell their mums for sex if needs must. I, on the other hand, wouldn’t. Then, about halfway through my time on The Journal, my inexperience landed me and the paper in an awful lot of trouble when I accidentally shut down Newcastle airport. But more on that another time, if ever, because it was not my finest hour.)
In the Sixties and Seventies, Thomson papers were respected. In those days, admittedly at a time when, as we now know, television was more or less in its infancy, there was no local radio or the internet, and many more people turned to read newspapers, both local and national, to keep up with what was going on, they did have a little more to boast about. The Sunday Times, under the editorship of Harold Evans didn’t rely on tarted up tittle-tattle and lifestyle pieces about what aftershave to use when opening a bottle of Californian red, but was, for example, known for the exposes of it Insight team. It also pioneered the magazine format and it had real photojournalism, not just glossy piccies of rich men’s yachts around the world and features on how to decorate your second home. (If the majority of its readers didn’t have a second home, they were self-regarding enough to believe they jolly well should have one and that, all things being equal, getting one was just a matter of time)
My point is that in an ever-changing world, Thomson Newspapers were a fixed point. But no more. These days, the Thomson Corporation is a multi-billion dollar enterprise but it doesn’t own a single paper, TV station or radio. (Lord Thomson, the man who began it all, got going when he bought a down-at-heel shop in provincial Canada which, among other items, sold radio sets. He realised that sales of these sets were so low because the area had precious few stations to tune into. So he simply started one. That sort of thinking lay at the basis of his business brain.) It might be a similar story with News International – in Britain – and News Corp worldwide: to suggest that a time when neither exists could be sooner than expected sounds mad. But don’t bet your shirt.
The problem for both is the both are Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch, who might have become a naturalised American, but who thought and acted like the Australian he was born, is not just the brains of both companies, but their soul. His son and heir apparent James is, by all accounts not a patch on Rupert. I was talking to a guy here at work who was a Times reporter for ten years and sat through many talks given by James. James, the man expected to steer News International and News Corp from strength to strength refers to ‘readers’ as ‘users’ and ‘newspapers’ become ‘the end-product’. It might be impeccable and classic Harvard Business School speak, but in the real world of newspapers it is the kiss of death.
Rupert is in his mid-eighties, and from where I sit, the guy who once had one of the sharpest brains in the business and was not afraid to roll up his sleeves and muck in with the troops – which is why so many of those troops are loyal to him – had lost it. For all his brilliance, he did not know when to take a bow and leave the stage. It might be that in his heart he knows James is a duffer and that he didn’t want to relinquish the reins to a man who sooner or later is bound to fuck it all up. I don’t know. But his behaviour over the whole News of the World phone hacking scandal and his backing for that idiot Rebekah Brooks seem to indicate just one thing: he’s lost it.
. . .
But why should this mean that News International and News Corp could go to the wall a lot sooner than expected? Well, I am just another armchair pundit whose experience of finance and big business is restricted to shoving my debit card in a cashpoint every few days. So please bear that in mind. But I can see the following happening: already a staggering £4billion has been wiped off News Corp’s share price because investors are getting queasy about the whole hacking affair and how it is being handled. Who knows? Rupert pops his clogs in a few months’ time, James takes over, the investors don’t like him in charge and vote in another chairman, the new board decides to ‘rationalise’ the company (whose parts might be worth more individually than they are as divisions of News Corp), and within a few years the once mighty News Corp is no more. That’s just one scenario, but … (I reckon the same will happen to Apple, too, when Steve Jobs finally pops his clogs.)
. . .
The shit is getting every closer to developing a mind of its own and going for a head-to-head with the fan. Guess who’s going to come off best? I’m talking about the euro, of course. Now the, more or less ‘official’, talk is that it might not be such a bad idea if Greece ‘defaults’, the posh word for telling those you owe loads of money to fuck off and stop bothering you. The new big worry is now Italy. It is no longer just idiots like me who just wish the EU would just get on with it and bite the bullet. The trouble is that when the bullet is bitten, it will be the Ordinary Joes throughout Europe who will carry the can. All those dicks in Brussels will simply retire to their country of origin, accept an honour or two, allow themselves to be granted a sinecure and settle back to write their memoirs and how they knew it was all going to go wrong and said as much but no one would listen! Plus ca change …