Is Murdoch’s soaraway Sun about to crash to earth?

One minute crisis-torn News International, Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper company, was readying a new paper, the Sun on Sunday, for an April launch. Then four senior Sun journalists, past and present, were arrested and all of a sudden there are doubts about the future of the daily Sun, let alone a Sunday version.

Current Sun editor Dominic Mohan (pictured), who has so far managed to evade the clutches of the law, has now told the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics that he doubts that tabloid newspapers (of which the Sun is one) can prosper in an era when people get their almost completely unregulated scandal fix from the internet and social media while papers like his are forced to toe the line.

Both Mohan and his The Times counterpart have been recalled to give further evidence to the inquiry, in Harding’s case about a phone hacking incident at his very posh paper.

What’s clear is that the contagion that started with phone hacking at the News of the World (since closed) wasn’t confined to that paper alone and that the various Metropolitan Police investigations into wrongdoing among the Fourth Estate are now focussing on other News International titles.

This in itself must be causing News Corporation boss Rupert Murdoch to wonder if his British papers are worth the pain (much as he used to love them). Now his senior tabloid editor is saying the game might be up anyway as they will no longer be able to do their ‘job’ (as he sees it) in a more tightly-regulated environment.

2011 was the most important year to date for British newspapers in all their 300 years or so in business (they started as pamphlets published by individuals). The headline reason is the phone hacking scandal and a much-changed cultural environment. The other is the realisation that they all need to change radically to survive in any form at all in the internet era.

And you don’t need to be of a marxist persuasion to see that the two are related. The pressure for scoops, even invented scoops or illegally-acquired scoops, comes directly from the reality that newspapers can’t compete with the internet (especially the likes of Twitter) for breaking news any more. So journalists on the tabloids in particular have felt obliged to take crazy risks to satisfy their masters, both editorial and commercial, with ‘exclusive’ material.

Rupert Murdoch bought the Sun, then a failing paper, from Mirror Group, publisher of the Daily Mirror, in 1969. With the News of the World, which he had bought some years earlier, it made his fortune, allowing News Corporation to expand in film and TV with Fox, book publishing with Harper Collins and pay-TV with the UK’s BSkyB (it owns 39 per cent) and Sky Deutschland and Sky Italia. Until recently the Sun still made about £40m a year.

But Murdoch and his lieutenants showed just how ruthless they could be when they closed the News of the World, with the loss of hundreds of jobs, to try to close down the phone hacking scandal. This clearly hasn’t worked.

Is the once ‘super soaraway Sun’ destined for the same grizzly fate?

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.