So the News of the World is dead. Killed off on Thursday by News International amidst the on-going scandal surrounding phone hacking. It’s quite incredible. Clearly, the allegations of the phone hacking are beyond comprehension to most of us and, to put it bluntly, sickening. No excuses.
But that’s not what I’m here to comment on. As I was pondering this post I came across another blog by Andrew Barr of Gloucestershire based PR firm 10 Yetis. His blog post took some of the words out of my mouth around the impact that social media has had on this whole affair. Andrew is absolutely right when he says that the views routinely expressed on Twitter are not necessarily representative of the country as a whole. But that makes the impact that certain anti-NOTW campaigns run on social media in the past few days even more astounding. The voices of the cross-section of society who use social media and sites like Mumsnet were broadcast, amplified and heard.
Pre-social media how would we have expressed our outrage as a nation? Phone calls to the newspaper in question? Well I gather that happened but the impact of that is not broadcast to the world at large (unless of course the call is hacked and then reported on of course!) Or people might have staged protests perhaps? Well that involves physically getting to the NOTW headquarters in Wapping, or somewhere equally prominent. It takes time, money and significant effort – sure you cared about this scandal, but would you have cared enough to trek into London to protest?
But to express your disgust on a social media site is easy. To sign an online petition in simple. As we all know by know, social media has broken down many of the traditional barriers and given power to consumers in a way that simply didn’t exist before. And without doubt, social media contributed to the downfall of NOTW . Consumer power put pressure on advertisers such as Ford and Virgin Media who then withdrew their spend and hit News International where it hurts; in their pockets. Coupled with the name of the NOTW being dragged through the mud and the drive to takeover BSkyB, the decision was taken to shutdown a newspaper that’s been running for over 160 years.
One of the aspects of this story I’m most interested in is where this leaves the national print press. Even prior to this scandal, they were under pressure. News is so easy to come by for free now – why pay for it? Some publications like The Times have started subscription based services online and there are a proliferation of newspaper apps, but paving the way has not proved straightforward. There is no doubt there is real value to be had from reading professionally written, well researched journalism. Indeed it was the journalist Nick Davies that seems to have blown the phone hacking story wide open. But does the market for buying the news in the traditional way still exist? I read a daily newspaper everyday online but I only actually buy a newspaper on Sundays (no, not the NOTW before you ask). How are the papers supposed to fund the online and mobile reading habits of so many for no money?
The worlds I inhabit of Marketing and L&D have also been under pressure to evolve since the explosion of digital and social media in the past few years. Practices and approaches have changed and we continue to pedal hard to keep up with new technologies and channels through which to best reach our audiences. The press are in the same situation, but have the additional ramifications of the NOTW scandal and the subsequent enquiries and rulings to deal with too. I think it’s going to be absolutely fascinating to watch not only the continuing fall out from the NOTW story, but the future of the press as we know it.