News of the World: Murdoch's Media Mess Is a Wake-Up Call for Journalism

Article excerpt

Rupert Murdoch's News of the World is mercifully defunct. Journalists and readers (or viewers, or listeners) should now reassess the very function of journalism itself.

The demise of Rupert Murdoch's News of the World tabloid in Britain over alleged phone hacking should be a wake-up call for journalism.

Journalists - and those who read on paper, view on a screen, or listen on radio or TV, to what they produce - should reassess the function of journalism.

Is it to make money? Some owners of newspapers have made a lot of it over the years, but with the advent of the Internet and new technology, those days are gone.

Is it for media owners and managers to manipulate politicians? It should not be. Is it for titillation, or to capitalize on sensationalism? On prurience? On trivia?

Is it to worship celebrity? To highlight depravity and the worst of mankind's failings? I think not.

Surely journalism at its best - and by whatever means of delivery - is to inform about, and objectively illuminate, the significant events of our times that citizens need to know about, shedding light on dark corners where necessary. Weekly and small daily newspapers do yeoman work keeping their readers informed about local government, taxes, high school sports, and all the detail of community life. Larger newspapers and other, electronic media cover news of the nation and the world that is relevant and significant.

Murdoch knows the difference

The puzzling thing about Rupert Murdoch is that he knows the difference between good journalism and bad.

Years ago, when I sat on the board that awards Pulitzer prizes, I got a call from a reporter at a not-so-admirable Murdoch newspaper. The deliberations of the Pulitzer board are supposed to be confidential, but reporters writing stories about the prizes often call board members for background material.

After I had finished talking, I asked the reporter how he was faring with Mr. Murdoch. I knew from the background clatter that the reporter was in the middle of the paper's newsroom, but to my astonishment, in a roar that must have been widely overheard, he yelled: "The man's a ------," using a five-letter word usually applied to a female of bad repute. …