Industry split on whether demise of News of the World hands more power to PROs

One of the PR industry's top names has claimed the PR industry will benefit from a 'seismic shift in power' from the closure of the News of the World.

NOTW: the newspaper's final front cover
NOTW: the newspaper's final front cover


The final issue of the red-top hit the newsstands on Sunday, with senior agency figures predicting the fall-out from its closure will hand more media control to the PR industry.

Mark Borkowski told PRWeek that the newspaper's closure signalled a 'seismic shift of power to the PR world.'

The founder of Borkowski PR said: 'It puts a huge amount of power into the hands of PR people. It's a massive opportunity for PR to get it wrong or get it right.'

Ian Reeves, a lecturer at the Centre for Journalism at Kent University, said that the closure of the NotW, which often sought to expose celebrities, would mean a greater degree of PR-placed content in the media.

Reeves, a former editor of Press Gazette, also suggested that the prevalence of phone-hacking at the title was partly in response to the growing control of PROs.

'As PROs take a firmer hold on the way that public people are portrayed in public life, some journalists have sought ways of getting beneath the skin and phone-hacking is part of that,' he said.

Alan Edwards, CEO of top entertainment agency Outside Organisation, said that while he was not convinced the demise of the NotW would strengthen the PR industry in the long term, there may be a short-term power shift in favour of PROs.

He said: 'It's likely that the News of the World's disappearance will further reduce newspaper readership and revenues in general, meaning even less investment in quality journalism ... In the short term this could well empower the PR.'

However, other senior industry figures have insisted the newspaper's closure will not have any effect on the PR industry. Max Clifford said the closure of the NotW would have no impact on PROs because phone-hacking was no longer a part of the journalistic armoury.

'All the journalists rely on is contacts, PR-placed stories, gossip and the "best friend of" route for celeb stories - and that will continue,' said Clifford. 'Good PR professionals will get their stories across as much as they always have - the News of the World going will not change this.'


Alan Edwards, CEO, Outside Organisation

In the short term this could well empower the PR industry in terms of being able to provide content to over-worked and under-resourced writers. Whether or not that's good for the long-term health of PR is another matter altogether.


Max Clifford, Founder and managing director, Max Clifford Associates

The closure of the News of the World is not going to give any more power to PRs because showbiz hacks haven't been using phone hacks and underhand tactics for years. The exclusive revelations don't really happen in showbiz reporting now.



Key PR players

News International hired former England 2018 World Cup bid comms chief Simon Greenberg in January as its first comms head to help boost its public response to the deepening phone hacking allegations.

Greenberg, a former journalist and PR chief at Chelsea Football Club, took charge of articulating the News International response as the crisis unfolded early last week.

The director of corporate affairs was pitched into a series of bruising TV interviews defending News International's response to the scandal. His performance came under criticism from social and traditional media, with Alastair Campbell referencing his 'car crash interviews' on Newsnight.

Greenberg has since been appointed to a three-man committee to investigate the allegations within NI. The other members of the committee are News International general manager and former Daily Telegraph editor Will Lewis and general counsel Jeff Palker

Matthew Anderson, group director of strategy and corporate affairs in Europe and Asia for News Corp, was reportedly involved in previous internal investigations around the allegations but has maintained a lower profile throughout the affair.

Freud Communications boss Matthew Freud is married to Rupert Murdoch's daughter Elisabeth. He has no official involvement, but it is said to have been Freud's idea to close the News of the World.

Rupert Murdoch's biographer Michael Wolff wrote in The Guardian last week: 'Family insiders say it was Freud who suggested closing the paper. He is said to have described it to James as a "Wapping" approach – that is, when Rupert in the dead of night moved his British papers to Wapping to break the print unions.'

However Freud Communications insisted: 'Matthew Freud did not advise on the closure of the News of the World.'

Much of the coverage has centred on David Cameron's former comms head Andy Coulson and his subsequent arrest, but Ed Miliband's head of press Tom Baldwin has also been accused of illegal practices. The former Sunday Times journalist was alledged to have authorised the hacking of a bank account related to Conservative chairman Lord Ashcroft.



168 Years since the NotW was first published

3.8m Official sales figures of the last ever issue of the NotW

200+ Reported number of staff who lost their jobs as the paper shut down

4,000 Number of people potentially targeted for hacking by NotW.

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