On Thursday, media-​​mogul Rupert Mur­doch closed the British tabloid News of the World fol­lowing alle­ga­tions that his pop­ular paper paid police offi­cers for news tips and hacked the mobile phones of a teenage murder victim and rel­a­tives of fallen sol­diers in Iraq and Afghanistan. We asked Walter Robinson, dis­tin­guished pro­fessor of jour­nalism at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity and a Pulitzer Prize-​​winning jour­nalist, to assess the fallout from the scandal.

Hacking mobile phones and paying police offi­cers for tips appear to be short­cuts to prac­ticing sound inves­tiga­tive jour­nalism. Why would a news orga­ni­za­tion resort to such dubious tac­tics?
Plain and simple, these illegal prac­tices were encour­aged to beat the com­pe­ti­tion in London’s sleazy, bottom-​​feeding tabloid news culture.

How does this scandal affect the legacy of Mur­doch, who is chairman and CEO of News Cor­po­ra­tion, the world’s second largest media con­glom­erate? Did he make the cor­rect deci­sion by shut­ting down News of the World?
Murdoch’s legacy has nothing to do with jour­nalism, and every­thing to do with making money and using his clout to influ­ence gov­ern­ment policy on three con­ti­nents. Even before this scandal, his news prop­er­ties have never paid much homage to the truth when a good head­line might sell copies.

As for shut­ting down the News of the World, it’s a ruse. I think there’s little doubt that it will not be long before the paper’s weekday twin, the Sun, starts pub­lishing on Sunday.



Do jour­nal­ists at other news orga­ni­za­tions resort to uneth­ical tac­tics of the same variety? How will these alle­ga­tions affect news­room pro­tocol at other pub­li­ca­tions?
It remains to be seen whether other British tabloids engaged in any of the same behavior. One hopes not. I think there is a far dif­ferent, and much higher stan­dard at major Amer­ican news orga­ni­za­tions — except, per­haps, at the Murdoch-​​owned New York Post, some super­market tabloids and at some web­sites. All major Amer­ican news­pa­pers have codes of ethics that pro­hibit reporters from doing any­thing illegal to obtain infor­ma­tion. Beyond that, how­ever, we have eth­ical guide­lines that forbid mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion by reporters. To trans­late that into simple lan­guage, I’ve always told reporters not to do any­thing in gath­ering the news that would upset their mothers or that would embar­rass the papers if we had to spell out our reporting steps for our readers.