Rupert Murdoch, News of The World, and the SoDOMM effect of social media

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The sudden demise of The News of the World newspaper was both shocking and exhilarating: That a 168-year old Sunday paper with more than 200 staff, selling almost three million copies a week, can be closed so suddenly is without precedence.

The News of the World was the first newspaper I bought. I was about seven or eight years old and decided I needed to get serious about life and that I needed to know what was going on the world. I looked around the newsagents for something that could tell me the news of the world, and here was a newspaper that described perfectly what I wanted.

My precious pocket money purchased an issue and I took it home and studied it. But I couldn’t find any news of the world in it! It was full of stories about affairs, political scandals and stories about celebrities such as Richard Burton, engaged in drunken acts of violence and infidelity. I didn’t understand any of it.

I decided to postpone my investigation of the adult world and went back to buying my favourite comic book The Eagle for its science fiction tales of adventure and heroism.

Savviest media mogul…

The demise of The News of the World is just one footnote in the incredible career of Rupert Murdoch, who easily qualifies as the savviest media mogul of all time. He’s more Citizen Kane than anyone.

Say what you will about his political views, he is running a media empire that quickly responds to massive changes in the industry and remains relevant during some of the toughest times the media industry has faced in its entire history.

At 80-years old he is a force of nature — I can’t think of anyone, at any age, that has managed to build such an amazing set of achievements.

Born into a wealthy Australian family, he studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford University. Starting with one newspaper in Adelaide, at age 22, he then started and acquired newspapers across Australia, then the United Kingdom, Asia and the US.

From Wikipedia:

Murdoch’s first permanent foray into TV was in the USA, where he created Fox Broadcasting Company in 1986. In the 2000s, he became a leading investor in satellite television, the film industry and the Internet, and purchased a leading American newspaper, The Wall Street Journal.

Rupert Murdoch was listed three times in the Time 100 as among the most influential people in the world. He is ranked 13th most powerful person in the world in the 2010 Forbes’ The World’s Most Powerful People list.With a net worth of US$6.3 billion, he is ranked 117th wealthiest person in the world.

The swift closure of The News of the World could be seen as punishment for unethical behavior by its journalists but it’s also a quick way to solve one of Mr Murdoch’s business problems: His planned acquisition of full control of satellite broadcaster BSkyB.

Jill Lawless and Robert Barr at AP reported:

His British arm of News Corp. was within reach of gaining the British government’s approval to make a bid for BSkyB when the scandal exploded, emboldening rivals and critics, who called on the government to block the takeover.As the week went on, BSkyB’s share price sank, reflecting market anxieties there might be no takeover bid.

and

Charlie Beckett, director of the POLIS media institute at the London School of Economics, said it was a bold move aimed at resolving a situation that had got out of control. “This is a fantastically brave move to try and cleanse everything and put a stop to it,” Beckett said.

Social media’s role…

While it remains to be seen if Murdoch’s “bold move” will succeed, there are potential “social media” lessons to be learned, according to Dennis Howlett, writing on ZDNet: News of the World shutters. So what of social media?

Howlett points out that this “is exactly the kind of issue that prompts social media activists to encourage brands into engaging with customers by using social media.”

But to no avail in this case, “yet still we see so-called social media gurus punting the line that engagement is everything. It isn’t.”

Social media by itself was bit player in this drama. It was the UK “mass media” in the form of other newspapers, TV and radio that brought this issue to a boil and kept it there until advertisers started to pull out and politicians began to ask questions in Parliament.

Lots of people played their part and shared links and Tweets pointing to the mass media stories about this scandal.

And that seems to be the future role of social media, that it is rapidly becoming: Social Distribution Of Mass Media (SoDOMM). People sharing links to the stories of the day.

SoDOMM links to stories are often scandalous and immoral — just the way we like them. It’s links about celebrity drug use, political scandals, and egregious acts of callous behavior by the rich and privileged. It’s just like what you’d find in The News of the World…

The newspaper might be gone but its spirit will certainly live on, in the type of content that people love to share through SoDOMM.

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