Orderly, understated and out of a clear blue sky. From a comms point of view, Rupert Murdoch’s retirement bombshell was more The Waltons than Succession: a family love-in that truly marked the end of an era.
There won’t be another Rupert Murdoch. There won’t be another risk-taking entrepreneur who’ll put their time and money where their mouth is, in support of newspapers in the way Rupert did for more than seventy years. The question those who work on those newspapers will now be asking, of course, will be: “How long have we got?” When it comes to the printed page, Rupert’s departure will accelerate the inevitable countdown of doom. Yes, Lachlan is a news man, like his father. But he’s also a pragmatist. There will be no room for romance in the decisions he now has ahead of him.
I’ve long since dropped off Rupert’s Christmas card list and have not been in touch for many years, but I still feel grateful that my working life overlapped for a couple of decades with his. My newspaper years may have ended badly but he enabled a career that — as a lad from Essex — I never thought was possible. The day Rupert told me that I would be the editor of the News of the World will always rank as one of the proudest moments of my career: whatever came to pass years later.
As a young Sun reporter, not once was I stopped in the corridor and asked where I went to school. News was a true meritocracy, a place utterly devoid of snobbery, where class and background didn’t matter and where opportunity was open: if you put a shift in and had some talent. How many other news organizations can honestly say the same about their culture twenty-five years ago.
It was also a place where I learnt the fundamental importance of esprit d’corps — the value of graft but also of having a bloody good laugh along the way. There were very significant failings and errors, but anyone who was actually there knows the Wapping of the 1990s and early 2000s was not the grim Death Star others now like to portray it as.
From my direct dealings with Rupert I took two major lessons: know your facts before you open your mouth and never underestimate the reader.
These were rules I carried into my second career in politics — a move that Rupert was not especially impressed by. Lachlan put it more directly when I told him over lunch that I was thinking of working for the Tories: “Why the fuck would you do that?” he said with a genuine look of bafflement. In their attitude to politics and politicians, Rupert and Lachlan are alike.
My old trade has been speculating obsessively about life after Rupert, but my guess is that the teams at News and Fox have — like Kieran Culkin’s Roman Roy — “pre-grieved,” and will very soon be back to what they do best: agenda-setting mischief making. It’s what Rupert would’ve wanted.
And when it comes to the leaving do (with the obligatory mocked-up Sun front page I hope) the answer to “what do we buy him?” is obvious. With all due respect to the current publishers of this piece, it has to be: The Spectator.
This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website.