Big news today: Rupert Murdoch’s “News of the World” has been shuttered. Not exactly the shocker that would come if, say, the NY Times suddenly closed, given the drama that has surrounded NOTW as of late. The publication isn’t known for its hard-hitting, truth-seeking journalism: it is known for drama, scandal, and generally tabloid-rific tales. What caused the recent brouhaha about the paper had a lot to do with how the paper’s staff got its content. Employees were going to ridiculous, illegal lengths to get insider information, encouraging others to engage in shady behavior to inspire more exciting stories, and generally acting shady themselves, all in the name of journalism. The scandal that grew over the past couple of days had to do with reporters hacking into people’s cell phones to get juicy information. Those hacked include celebrities, many of whom have already brought the case to court. But this week details emerged about reporters hacking into the cellphone of a young girl who disappeared and was later found murdered. Hackers accessed the victim’s phone in the early days of her disappearance, listening to voicemails and even deleting some, all in the name of getting the scoop. Police investigating the case were misled by the activity on the phone, and had a false sense of hope that the girl was out there somewhere, ok and checking her voicemails.
Over the past few days, the British public has shown its outrage at Murdoch’s ways. First, Murdoch declared he would continue to support the paper and its leaders- then today, about face, and the operation was shut down. Some speculate that the paper will go through a rebranding to clear the tainted image it has gained over the years. But if there IS a rebranding and then reporters just go back to the same techniques, new problems are sure to arise. I will be the first to admit that my views on freedom of speech in the press depend on contextual nuances. Freedom to express opinions on new laws? Sure, go for it. Freedom to print hate speech? No thanks, I’d rather you not do that. So I wouldn’t claim to have a completely clear opinion on what should be allowed or disallowed in terms of content. When it comes to how the stories are scooped, though, I do think there need to be some boundaries in place. This isn’t the end of the NOTW scandal- see the link below for some theories on the matter- but I think the situation brings to a very public light the extremes journalists will reach to get the best story. There is definitely a line between investigative journalism and dirty journalism, and I don’t think it is that fine of a line, either.