Today’s extraordinary announcement of the closure of the News of the World raises the question: is the traditional Sunday tabloid model broken for good? For years, the aim has been to create a string of ‘exclusives’ which will be juicy enough to ensure the target market will want to ‘read all about it’. Frequently these are genuine stories – sometimes with real public interest – often they are just the usual celebrities-in-bed stuff. The method depends on having a talented, motivated bunch of reporters, willing to push the boundaries – often buying in stories from ‘friends’ or former lovers, paying informers (including the police) for information, with the occasional ‘sting’ – think the News of the World’s ‘fake sheikh’ – and, as we now know, phone-hacking. (The NoW is certainly not the only tabloid that has been linked to this).
With a heavy-duty police enquiry going on and tabloid methods under scrutiny, some of these routes are increasingly difficult to pursue, so the exclusives and reader-appeal may be fading. With tabloid sales contracting, the appeal of a lower-cost seven-day business model becomes increasingly evident. Despite owning a stable of fiercely independent titles, Mr Murdoch was already inching towards this idea, already adopted by other newspaper groups including the Mirror, Telegraph and Guardian, with the recent appointment of a joint managing editor for The Times and Sunday Times. A ‘Sun on Sunday’ will not sell as many of the News of the World but with a far lower cost base may be extremely profitable. Maybe not such a bad long-term outcome for News International if the company can survive the short-term storms.