Tabloid's demise marks end of a British institution

8th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

The News of the World tabloid, scuppered by the phone-hacking scandal, made itself a British institution with its juicy scoops and scandals in an ultra-competitive newspaper market.

"It is Sunday afternoon," author George Orwell wrote in his 1946 essay "Decline of the English Murder", in a description of bliss.

"The wife is already asleep in the armchair, and the children have been sent out for a nice walk. You put your feet up on the sofa, settle your spectacles on your nose, and open the News of the World."

Its News International stablemate The Times said Friday: "Murders and investigations, scandals and gossip, light entertainment and dark crime, moments of farce and moments of tragedy, terrible wrongdoing and stories of human triumph: it was all there, amusement, sometimes enlightenment, for millions."

Founded in 1843, the Sunday paper took a populist approach from the start in a bid to gain the widest number of readers in Victorian society. It revealed juicy details from police probes and judges' sex scandals.

The move paid off. In 1950, sales reached a historic peak of 8.4 million copies, allowing the paper to claim it had the largest circulation in the world. Its motto was "All human life is there".

Wartime prime minister Winston Churchill was among its contributors.

Purchased in 1969 by press baron Rupert Murdoch following a long battle, News of the World downsized to a tabloid in 1984 to counter flagging circulation figures.

Still the biggest-selling Sunday newspaper, with 2.7 million sales, its history since has been filled with exclusives and exposes, mixing celebrity revelations with political and sex scandals.

Notably it played a major role in the Profumo affair of the 1960s, in which war secretary John Profumo had a fling with call girl Christine Keeler, the reputed mistress of an alleged Soviet spy.

Last year it caught out Sarah, Duchess of York, offering to secure access to her former husband Prince Andrew, Queen Elizabeth II's second son, in exchange for money.

And last year Pakistan's cricket team were embroiled in betting scam allegations during their tour of England after the News of the World claimed it had exposed a match-fixing ring.

The tabloid has long been a campaigning newspaper and notably led calls for a change in the law to give the public access to the sex offenders' register.

It rallied against paedophiles in 2000; naming and shaming many. But doing so led to mobs gathering outside -- and attacking -- the homes of many, some of whom were wrongly identified.

The tabloid owed some of its greatest scoops to its undercover investigations editor Mazher Mahmood and his "fake sheikh" stings, dressing up as a wealthy Arab to coax indiscretions and admissions out of celebrities and crooks.

Its relentless desire for bombshell stories ultimately proved its downfall.

While its royal editor and a private investigator had been jailed in 2007 for their part in phone hacking, revelations this week that a murdered schoolgirl's voicemail had also been hacked triggered a snowball effect.

Revelations escalated and the public and political condemnation reached a crescendo following further allegations that the voicemails of families of the Iraq and Afghanistan war dead and relatives of the London bombings victims had also been hacked.

It was announced Thursday that this weekend's edition will be the last, bringing to an end its 168-year history as a classic ingredient in a British Sunday.

© 2011 AFP

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