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Should the PR industry celebrate Rupert Murdoch’s legacy?

Rupert Murdoch is the bête noire of the chattering classes, but in my opinion, his legacy has been overwhelmingly positive for the public relations industry - and for consumers of media across Britain. Now that he has stepped down as chairman of News Corp, we should celebrate how he made our world a better place.

Defeating print unions

First, by defeating the Fleet Street print unions, newspapers (from The Guardian to the Mirror) could shed production staff. That meant they were in a much better position to survive when the internet arrived. At the start of the 1980s, the newspaper industry was struggling with militant unions. American papers had given their reporters computer terminals, but in Britain print workers forced journalists to stick with old-fashioned typewriters, as only unionised print workers were allowed to directly type the words that appeared in papers. Needless to say, this ended up wasting time and caused lots of typos. It also threatened to put newspapers out of business.

It seems unbelievable now but trade unionists had actually caused the closure of The Times for nearly a year at the end of the seventies, and the paper had struggled financially as a result of overmanning and wildcat strikes. By 1981, Times Newspapers was threatened with closure and Mr Murdoch rescued it. Then he took on the unions by moving to modern, computer-based offices in Wapping, and transformed the fortunes of the newspaper industry, as everyone else copied his lead. We should give him credit for protecting the legacy of the once at-risk Times for over 30 years, preserving media plurality in the process.

Offering an alternative model

Second, he showed how so-called broadsheet newspapers could made a profit in the world of free internet news. Before The Times introduced a paywall in 2010, there was an assumption that news had to be free. But the broadsheets couldn’t attract enough advertising revenue to support their newsrooms. Mr Murdoch’s showed the industry that an alternative model could work - protecting a range of media outlets highly valued by PR practitioners.

Introducing more channels

Finally, he made television work better by smashing the restrictive world of four channels. Sky introduced choice and encouraged the creation and distribution of many extra news channels, generating new opportunities for PR practitioners to engage in the public debate.

Not a complete success

Mr Murdoch’s legacy has been less successful in tabloid newspapers over the past 15 years. The News of the World was shut and The Sun is seemingly unable to make a profit or compete effectively with the world-beating MailOnline. Mr Murdoch is also criticised for a price war in the 1990s. But cutting the cost of a newspaper was positive for readers of newspapers, and these days The Guardian makes a virtue of giving its content away free of charge.

Some PR practitioners will hate Mr Murdoch’s centre-right politics. But in an industry that is supposed to be good at understanding the public, it would be odd to criticise him for sharing the views held by most people.

Written by Alex Singleton, author of The PR Masterclass

You can read more about the changing face of news here

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