At News Corp, the rank-and-file are the scapegoats
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At News Corp, the rank-and-file are the scapegoats

Paul Holmes

I know that the old saw that the “fish rots from the head” is not actually true when it comes to real fish, but it works as an organizational metaphor, which is to say the when you have a rotten corporate culture, it’s almost always the result of a failure of character or values at the highest level of the organization. Which is what makes News Corp’s transparently cynical response to the crisis involving its News of the World newspaper in the UK so profoundly distasteful. I assume most professional communicators have been following this story: News of the World editorial staff hacked into the cellphones of celebrities, politicians, teenaged murder victims and soldiers killed in Iraq; the scandal—and a savvy social media campaign—led advertisers to abandon the paper en masse; News Corp plans to take over British satellite company BSkyB appeared to be jeopardy; so parent company News Corp said it would close the News of the World down, after donating any profits from the final issue this weekend to good causes. My partner Arun Sudhaman asked on LinkedIn whether the decision to shut down the News of the World was the right thing to do, or a cynical stunt? To me, the answer is pretty clear: it’s the latter. The News of the World may be gone, but there is plenty of speculation that another News Corp title, The Sun, will soon—perhaps as soon as next week—launch a Sunday edition, which would allow the company to retain most of the readership, advertising and revenue lost as a result of the closure. Meanwhile, the senior executives responsible for creating the culture at the NotW—most notably former editor Rebekah Brooks, now chief executive of News Corp’s UK subsidiary News International—have escaped any consequences for the paper’s actions, while ordinary rank-and-file employees, many of whom were not working for the paper when the hacking occurred, have lost their jobs. I don’t blame them for being angry. And if I was an ordinary employee at any other Murdoch-owned company I would be slightly troubled at the alacrity with which they were sacrificed. In a just world, this attempt to ensure that blameless employees pay the price for the venality and greed of management would inflict more damage of News Corp’s reputation than the hacking scandal itself. In the world in which we currently live, it will probably provide Murdoch's company with the cover it needs to carry on its business—including the BSkyB takeover—as usual.
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