Danny Rogers: The NoW apology signals strategy shift

It was a mixed week for this country's top selling Sunday paper.

At the British Press Awards last week, the News of the World picked up four accolades. This included 'Scoop of the Year' for uncovering the cricket corruption scandal during Pakistan's 2010 summer tour of England.

Like it or loathe it, the News of the World employs some brilliant reporters and breaks some great stories.

However, last week will be remembered more for the paper's admission that it did hack into the voicemails of various figures in public life - and its apology in Sunday's edition.

There was understandable cynicism from News International's rivals and some of those affected by phone-hacking. But don't be mistaken. This was a significant move by News Int. In fact it could prove a major turning point, not only in the four-year scandal, but in the whole way Rupert Murdoch's publisher conducts itself.

It is worth remembering that newspaper groups, and particularly News Int, rarely apologise. Indeed they prefer, even thrive on, a siege mentality. But News Int's management team - and therefore its comms strategy - has subtly shifted.

The change has come in the form of Will Lewis, last year's Editor of the Year at the British Press Awards for his work on The Daily Telegraph, who became group general manager of News Int last year; and Simon Greenberg, former sports hack and by now experienced comms operator, who joined as head of corporate affairs three months ago.

More recently Lewis and Greenberg have been handling News Int's response to the phone-hacking scandal, advising the more established senior managers Rebekah Brooks, James Murdoch and, ultimately, Rupert Murdoch.

And while this issue is by now way beyond a comms challenge - involving civil litigation, criminal investigation and parliamentary scrutiny - there is a new determination to engage externally and influence the wider narrative.

News Int is not so naive as to think last week's apology will draw a line under the scandal, which is likely to drag on for at least another 18 months. But it is beginning to move away from a siege mentality that had almost led to paralysis.

This does not mean we will see a soft and fluffy publisher emerging. Far from it. The very nature of News Int's business and the aforementioned personalities mitigates against this.

Instead we may be witnessing a firm facing up to the harsh realities of corporate reputation management in 2011.

danny.rogers@haymarket.com

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