Growing mistrust will not stop at the red-top

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Poison spreads. To stop it doing so requires more than just applying a hopeful tourniquet or executing a half-hearted amputation. Witness last week’s attempt by News Corp to sweep all of its bad news under the carpet with the dramatic closure of the UK’s biggest newspaper.

Certainly the News of the World needed to be put out of its misery. The essence of that brand was about championing causes that were precious to the common law-abiding citizen. Once it emerged that this value had been little more than a joke to those who were supposed to live and breathe it, the brand’s foundations crumbled fast.

News of the World had become a highly toxic brand. It needed to be isolated to stop it infecting the other titles and indeed preserve the chances of the BSkyB takeover. That deal has now been shelved, albeit temporarily.

But with reports since then of “worse to come” from News International executives, the suspicion remains that we are still not being told everything.

News International is learning fast that until the public believes it has all the information it feels it deserves, any trust its other newspapers retain will continue to erode. A drip-drip feed of new information serves it no purpose.

“News International is learning fast that until the public believes it has all the information, any trust in its other news papers will continue to erode”

In fact, News International’s current focus is not on its readers but its advertisers, who are said to be nervously monitoring the situation. The feeling inside the Wapping fortress is that accusations made over the weekend about The Sun and The Sunday Times are allegations, nothing more. Execs are advising clients to stand firm until due process has taken its course.

But consumer sentiment is on a knife-edge and advertisers have shown they will listen and act upon the customer’s mood. On Tuesday of last week, Ford was the first advertiser to declare it was pulling its advertising from the News of the World. Two days later the title imploded. On Friday night, just as we were leaving the newsroom for the weekend, Renault informed us it was removing its advertising from all of News International’s titles. The marque effectively said it believed it wasn’t the Sunday red-top that was toxic but the people behind it. It felt like a potentially game-changing moment. A suggestion that the poison had indeed spread to The Sun, The Times, The Sunday Times and potentially even deeper through the corridors of News Corp.

We’ve seen this before. Trust in banks evaporated because of the actions of a few irresponsible individuals in the run-up to the credit crunch. Parliamentarians lost our respect following the expenses scandal. As a result every utterance or action on the part of MPs begins from a negative starting point. Now it’s the turn of the press. What has happened will affect the way my entire industry is seen. The public needs to see those responsible taking the necessary medicine. A simple tourniquet will not do.

Mark Choueke
Editor

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