Gini Dietrich

Communication Lessons from News of the World

By: Gini Dietrich | July 13, 2011 | 

When I was a kid, I remember my dad coming home from work and telling my mom he’d had to fire someone.

I very vividly remember the image it conjured in my head. MY dad had set some poor man on fire! What about his family? What about MY family? Was my dad going to go to jail? Isn’t setting a person on fire murder?

At that very young and impressionable age (I might have been five or six), it became clear to me that you never wanted to be fired. Or have to fire anyone, for that matter. And, like so many of us, even though I grew to understand what it meant, it was still something you never wanted to happen.

Being fired. Closing your business. Going bankrupt. These are all things that are seen as huge failures in the business world.

Until they’re not.

Because of my Vistage membership, I was fortunate to watch someone go through bankruptcy two years ago. It’s not something I would ever wish on anyone. But I learned a great deal from it. My biggest lesson? You can pick up and grow another business after bankruptcy.

Who knew? I always believed that was the kiss of death and you’d never be able to work a day in your life again.

News of the World Closes

Fast forward to this past Sunday when News of the World published its last issue. A Murdoch publication, you tend to think nothing he does fails. But this one. Boy! This one was self-inflicted.

For those of you who don’t know, the bare bones story is they were intercepting phone calls of everyday people and celebrities in order to get to the juicy tabloid stories before their competitors. They hired private detectives to take photos and spy. They did everything they could not only to get the story but, in some cases, break the law in order to get them.

James Murdoch suggested to his father that they close the paper and they moved swiftly to do so.

The Communication Lesson

But the interesting thing is not just that they’re closing the paper; it’s that they’re changing the conversation.

News Corp. also owns The Sun, a weekday tabloid in London so it’s pretty likely they’ll return to the Sunday market fairly quickly. Not only that, but News of the World was bleeding cash (I guess that’s what happens when you hire private detectives to do reporting?) and I can imagine they’re pleased to get the property off their books.

So the conversation goes from the egregious things they did, to very fast decisions, to a bankrupt company, to an entirely new vision at a company that is making the parent lots of money.

Think Arthur Andersen turned Accenture. Blackwater turned Xe.

While Rupert Murdoch is still lumbering along in the age-old traditional media (buying the Wall Street Journal, anyone?), this move gets a bleeding company off the books, changes the conversation, and allows the younger generation in James Murdoch (assuming he doesn’t go to jail) to move toward the digital age more quickly.

You haven’t seen the last of News of the World. You’ll just find it in a different form…most likely a Sunday edition of The Sun.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • A story that is still rolling in the UK. The real reason the paper hit a wall was because it hacked into and deleted messages on the phone of a murdered girl – Milly Dowler, giving her family false hope. They may have been able to ride out the hacking of celebrities, but not this.

    Closing the paper potentially allows them to draw a line and move on but the story is moving so quickly it may yet de-rail Murdoch’s bid to buy the 61% of BSkyB he doesn’t already own. This would be a bitter blow to Murdoch. He makes a lot more money from his TV assets worldwide than his newspaper assets. News of the World profits accounted for just 1% of News Corp total profits – so not such a loss, especially as you suggest, we will probably see a Sunday Sun.

  • JGoldsborough

    Great fire story. LOL’d at that one. Funny how literal we take things as kids.

    Not to sound cliche or like a Deep Thoughts moment, but every situation provides a lesson. And we can either learn from failing, which is what strong leaders do, or let it take us down. My guess is Rupert Murdoch has failed more than all of us combined. It’s the learning part that makes him stand out.

  • As I finished writing this the news has just been announced that he has withdrawn his bid for BskyB – so his gamble in closing the NOTW has failed for the time being

  • Thoora

    It’s disappointing that more journalists aren’t reporting that NOTW was ‘bleeding cash’ and challenging readers/listeners to think about an important layer of this story. From a PR perspective, how effective do you think this shift in conversation will be in shifting sentiment towards Murdoch?

    Thanks for insightful post.

    Renée Mellow, Thoora

  • knikkolette

    I wonder as time goes on how many more newspapers will be closing their doors as more and more people go to their mobile devices and computers as their preferred choice for news? I suppose only time will tell.

  • danielnewmanUV

    Gini – I remember when my dad WAS fired – and it is so funny the image you describe is EXACTLY the one that I had as well. I was about 5 years old and it was the last corporate job he had before he started his own business and ended up a great success.

    Thanks for the share and the memory.

  • ginidietrich

    @NickWDeane Wow! In between the time I wrote this and getting to the office that happened. Thanks for keeping me up to speed!

    I read that NOTW is less than one percent of their assets, too, so it’s really a flea on an elephant. I don’t know how I feel about the leadership lesson, but I’m amazed at the communication lessons.

  • ginidietrich

    @JGoldsborough I’m pretty sure he’s failed a gazillion times…just like Warren Buffet and Donald Trump, too. As I watched this thing unfold, I was reminded of the whole Arthur Andersen/Accenture announcement. Be rid of the bad by “closing” the company and reinvent yourself by changing the conversation.

  • debmorello

    @knikkolette remember though, it was “newspapers” that dogged this story – the slime activity of NoTW – The Guardian. Here’s a good story: A Tabloid Shame, Exposed by Earnest Rivals –

  • debmorello

    @ginidietrich @NickWDeane yep… and I tweeted it 🙂 seriously, this is a great post and very relevant! I also just linked to a story in a reply above – I think another lesson here too is – don’t count dogged journalists, newspapers, out. Love the irony in: A Tabloid Shame, Exposed by Earnest Rivals – (Newspapers, yep!) (great piece by David Carr!)

  • ginidietrich

    @Thoora I don’t know if the shift will change in sentiment, but people have very short memories. I think the conversation change that is happening right now is setting them up to relaunch (for lack of a better term) into the Sunday market. Murdoch is staying out of it so I don’t know that it’ll change sentiment toward him.

  • ginidietrich

    @knikkolette Well, we saw mass closures in 2009 when the economy tanked and people went online for their news because it was cheaper (or free, in some cases). I can’t imagine that trend isn’t going to continue.

  • ginidietrich

    @danielnewmanUV Sometimes we have to “fail” in order to get where we needed to go in the first place.

  • jeffespo

    @ginidietrich This should be your license plate ~

  • aakomas

    @ginidietrich LOL Gini! Yeah, if you set someone on fire = jail. Good post & also a lesson for all journalists. The story keeps unfolding.

  • HowieSPM

    Your dad looks like Donald Trump! How was that growing up? I bet Mr. D thought you were the scion of a wealthy east coast family when he asked you out the first time. 8) I luckily was never fired. I once walked out on a part time college job. I once resigned vs being let go. And once I engineered a ‘layoff’. But I know failure.

    Like or Hate Rupie-boy he is a pretty crafty and very cut throat businessman. Old media world? Not really. He is ALL-Media. Fox Studio made Avatar. He was the first with regional sports cable networks. He also has bled much more than from the print media segment. Myspace bought for $750m sold for $30m. LA Dodgers fiasco. WSJ. So obviously I would be surprised he was clueless about what was going on with News of the World. I am sure Wink Wink it was given tacit Wink Wink approval.

  • @HowieSPM That is so funny; I was thinking the same exact thing. Uncanny, but of course Bones looks like @ginidietrich so it was probably only natural.

  • HowieSPM

    @ginidietrich @danielnewmanUV I almost fell in a Vermont river on Sunday when I slipped on some rocks. It can hurt to fall. I prefer landing on pillows.

    Wait you said fail. Well Twitter survived 2 years of Fail Whale right?

  • When I was young a friend of mine’s father was Justice of the Peace in our town. I’m guessing it was an appointed position but one night my dad came home and told us our friend’s dad had been fired. I started crying because I thought they burned him up……………..yes, my dorkdum goes way back.

    I too thought bankruptcy was the kiss of death; you might as well move to Siberia because there was no way anyone would lend you money. I guess that’s not true either and have seen many ‘success’ stories from the ashes. Of course someone got singed along the way………..

    All I can say is never say never and there will always be opportunities out there.

  • HowieSPM

    @ginidietrich @knikkolette @debmorello News is consolidating. Remember back in the pre-internet day for the most part each major city had 1-3 papers. And that was their competition. Then NY could compete with LA and DC and Miami and Paris for quality of world and national news coverage. That changed things a lot. I can see a hybrid of how we consume news with just less printed paper which is a good thing for trees.

  • HowieSPM

    @JGoldsborough you said Fire! hehe huhuh hehehe Fire! Fire! Fire!

    everyday deserves at least one beavis and butthead reference.

  • HowieSPM

    @bdorman264 I gave up credit many years ago. I now pay with gold bullion.

  • ginidietrich

    @bdorman264 LOL! This is why I love you…you’re as big a dork as me.

  • ginidietrich

    @HowieSPM @bdorman264 Hey Bill! Let’s rob Howie’s house. He has gold bullion lying around.

  • ladygagaladyg11

    @tonia_ries Please watch how to make shopping more fun on YouTube by TheYellowPelican its The Grocery Game!

  • ginidietrich

    @tonia_ries No, no. Spin sucks.

  • ginidietrich

    @jeffespo Mine would say SPIN SUCKS

  • jeffespo

    @ginidietrich 🙂 never

  • ginidietrich

    @aakomas Didn’t you ever think someone being fired meant they were on fire?

  • aakomas

    @ginidietrich No. Back home they used the work “sack” & it always reminded me of sacks of kennels. LOL! Same perspective 4 a child though.

  • tonia_ries

    @ginidietrich oops!! 🙂

  • Leon

    G’Day Gini,

    I think Rupert will manage, We Aussies are a……… no: that would be immodest.

    Disclosure: this comment was submitted by a subscriber to News Limited’s national daily in Australia, “The Australian.”

    What’s the world coming to?



  • @ginidietrich But we have crafted it to a certain level of ‘coolness’… least in our own minds…………:)

  • ginidietrich

    For sure in our own minds!

  • ginidietrich

    @Leon Let’s blame it on Al Gore!

  • ginidietrich

    @HowieSPM I’ve never been fired either. But I did quit a movie theater in a flame of glory. I QUIT! You can’t quit, you’re fired! You can’t fire me; I already quit!

  • ginidietrich

    @bdorman264 @HowieSPM You didn’t know my dad IS Donald Trump?

  • monicaBMH

    RT @ginidietrich: In the words of Donald Trump ‘You’re fired!’ RT @spinsucks Communication Lessons frm News of the World

  • ambercleveland

    @ginidietrich – I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but @CASUDI wrote a great post about death of a business, changing the convo, and learning

  • ginidietrich

    @tonia_ries LOL

  • ginidietrich

    @ambercleveland I didn’t, but I’ll go find it. Thanks!

  • adamtoporek

    @ginidietrich @HowieSPM I remember hearing about that GIni. You were fired for texting during the movie and then left this nasty voicemail for management that went viral on the Internet… 🙂

  • ginidietrich

    @adamtoporek @HowieSPM No, no. I was fired for texting during the movie and then using the F bomb in the voicemail for management.

  • adamtoporek

    @ginidietrich @HowieSPM I heard they wanted to hire you back based on your keen understanding of free speech and constitutional liberty here in the Magnited States of America, but the lawyers wouldn’t let them. Another career wasted — such a shame.

    Have you thought about doing something in PR instead? 🙂

  • ginidietrich

    @adamtoporek @HowieSPM It turns out, because of my tribute to the Magnited States of America, I am well sought-out with job offers.

  • ambercleveland

    @ginidietrich I would’ve sent the link if I had it handy. Sorry about that. It’s really a great outlook about tough biz decisions

  • ginidietrich

    @ambercleveland Oh that’s OK! I found it.

  • Private detectives didn’t do the reporting, they were sub-contracted by the editorial staff. One of the reasons that many senior journalists face jail and for some reason Murdoch want to save Rebekah Wade, who was editor at the time a murder victim’s phone was hacked.

    The News of the World had the largest share of the market of Sunday papers with a circulation of roughly 4 million which was falling. Between 2010-11 advertising revenue fell by 25%. Coincidentally this mirrors the amount of journalists the US lost 2006-2011 at 27%.

    The Sun is also available on Saturdays.

    There are tons of fallout to still come from this, one of the allegations is that 9/11 victims and responders had their phones hacked. I can imagine the US reaction if this is proven to be correct, your claims of a new vision may be premature. Rupert’s empire is crumbling, I doubt it will raised to the ground but the foundations look mighty cracked at the moment.

  • @NickWDeane You won’t see a Sunday Sun given that it’s a local newspaper in the North East and Yorkshire.

  • Uhmm, @lisagerber lookie here………this is what I mean…… @bdorman264

  • ginidietrich

    @MSGiro I had Sentra anger today.

  • MSGiro

    @ginidietrich so proud of you.

  • Practitioners of the journalism profession will however have to re-examine the ethical practices of their profession in the newsrooms across the country.

  • Practitioners of the journalism profession will however have to re-examine the ethical practices of their profession in the newsrooms across the country.

  • NancyM.

    Sure bankruptcy does not have to be the end of the line. It may be challenging to let go and move on, but you never know. May be you will be headed towards something better. The case above is not the best highlight for this point though. Somebody who has so brutally breached the ethics of a supposedly noble profession like journalism should not be allowed to ever own or manage a newspaper again. And if he does, I don’t think readers will ever trust him.