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Erik Wemple
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Posted at 10:04 AM ET, 07/08/2011

News of the World closing: ‘Stunning’?

The media had a uniform response to Thursday’s news that News Corp. would be closing its profitable News of the World Sunday tabloid over a spiraling voicemail-hacking scandal that broke in 2006.

Politico called it a “stunning announcement.”

Washington Post termed it a “stunning closure.”

Hollywood Reporter: “stunning announcement.”

“Surprise” and “shocking” also got a lot of rotation in the shutdown coverage.

Yes, no one saw this coming — so there’s nothing at all wrong with those terms. No one supposed that News Corp. Deputy Chief Operating Officer James Murdoch would prepare a marathonic statement blaming everyone but himself and announcing the paper’s demise come Sunday. Or that he’d propose that revenue henceforth would go to “good causes” while also clarifying that there’d be far less revenue for such causes: The paper’s last edition won’t be accepting advertising.

This is News Corp., a multibillion dollar media company that is challenging the vocabulary — the frame of reference — for those who cover its goings-on. Void of context, sure — closing your own money-making tabloid is a shocker, especially for News Corp. boss Rupert Murdoch, a guy who lives for the printed page.Yet in building a media giant seeking to dominate all platforms, the Murdochs have also built a record. And that record should force a recalibration of just what qualifies as stunning for News Corp.

l Is it stunning, for instance, that over the weekend News Corp.’s New York Post called DSK’s accuser a prostitute based on the testimony of one unnamed source?

l Is it stunning that the New York Post also reported that the accuser ”turned tricks” while in district-attorney-provided housing, an account also based on anonymous sourcing?

l Is it stunning that News of the World once did a story naming various convicted sex offenders and got it wrong, a mistake that resulted in activists hounding people who weren’t pedophiles?

l Is it stunning that the New York Post’s Page Six gossipmonger Richard Johnson had accepted money from a restaurateur in exchange for mentions in the paper?

l Is it stunning that Johnson kept his job after news of the payola broke?

l Is it stunning that Murdoch, even after the Johnson and phone-hacking scandals hit the news, paid enough cash to separate the Bancroft family from its beloved Wall Street Journal?

l Is it stunning that News Corp. did business with O.J. Simpson in the comic “If I Did It” episode?

There are more of these, though their common thread — ethical bankruptcy — makes them tedious reading.

By generating outrage after outrage, News Corp. has taken the bite out of “stunning.” It’s a word that’s inappropriate for describing business as usual.

Slate columnist Jack Shafer diagnosed the Murdoch mentality in closing News of the World, writing that the move is “designed to scatter and confuse the audience.” That’s why News Corpers will appreciate seeing “stunning” and “surprise” in so much of the coverage. It signals to the public that drastic countermeasures are afoot.

Meanwhile, as numerous outlets have reported, a plan for fatter profit margins may be afoot. The Murdochs could well be prepping another of their U.K. properties to print on Sunday. The shuttering of News of the World, after all, has left a void in the market. And there’s one company out there that may have a pretty good idea how to fill it. Not at all stunning.

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By  |  10:04 AM ET, 07/08/2011

 
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