07 July 2011

All the News (of the World) That's (Not) Fit to Print

In a stunning development, the 168 year old British Sunday tabloid News of the World, one of the planet's most popular papers, is folding after this weekend's edition. The longtime scandal sheet, currently owned by the Murdoch family's News International organization, is falling on its metaphorical sword after its reporters scandalized Britain by hacking into private cell phone accounts in search of dirt for sensational stories about celebrities and commoners alike. The paper thus becomes the highest-profile casualty of the ongoing border war over privacy in this era of increasingly publicized life. For the Murdochs, it may prove nothing more than the sacrifice of a brand, since they can reclaim their readership by adding a Sunday edition to their popular daily tabloid, the Sun. But the fact that this step seemed necessary, that advertisers had pulled out of News of the World like it was Saigon in 1975, is still telling. It tells us that however shameless or exhibitionist many people seem to have become in the age of Facebook, there are still lines drawn that separate "none of your business" from the virtual universe. It also tells us, of course, that cell phone conversations aren't as private as people would like to think. If journalists can steal your communications, it's easy to imagine who else could. The demise of a sort of cultural institution may satisfy some people's sense of justice, at least in part, but like the death of any individual terrorist, it doesn't really make the rest of us any more safe.

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