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The Storyteller – August 2011

The end of the World

Rupert Murdoch’s media empire took a damaging blow last month, as the oligarch’s son and News International chairman closed The News of the World in the wake of the phone-hacking scandals. But how did competing newspapers, both with the knowledge of writing to influence, tackle the same story?

Newspapers, you’d think, would need to be whiter than white when pegging up the dirty laundry of, well, anyone of public interest. The News of the World and its fellow red-topped protagonists are hardly darlings of the British public, but surely no one expected the disgraceful lengths employees of the aforementioned tabloid would go to just to gain a story.

Last month, James Murdoch announced the decision to close The News of the World amid widespread public disgust and numerous advertisers pulling campaigns from the troubled paper. This advertising boycott has seen rival publications fall over each other in the rush to secure ad partnerships with those that forfeited association with the ‘toxic’ paper. But how have NotW’s rivals, with a focus on The Guardian (cloud 1) and The Sun (cloud 2), reacted to the death of what was the UK’s biggest selling Sunday paper? And does the language used betray a thinly veiled agenda?

The Guardian Word Cloud

The Guardian’s approach was to rationally inform on the key occurrences and knock on effects of the paper’s closure as opposed to rubbing salt into the wound. ‘Staff’, ‘advertisers’, ‘journalists’ and ‘Sunday’ (referring to the final edition) take up a similar amount of space in the cloud, whilst the expected ‘Murdoch’, ‘news’ and ‘World’ are prominent in both clouds. While ‘James’- as in James Murdoch – is prominent in The Sun’s cloud, it does not feature in that of The Guardian. Here, Rupert Murdoch as chairman of News Corporation is portrayed as the villain in all of this, with most negative points made by The Guardian tied in some way to the media baron.

The Sun Word Cloud

True to form, The Sun’s cloud suggests another sensationalist article. Negative prose such as ‘appalled’, ‘jailed’, ‘victims’ and ‘probe’ frame the cloud, suggesting The Sun didn’t hold back in its criticism of their sister paper. However, these word mash-ups don’t provide an entirely accurate view. When we read the Sun article in full, there is evidence to suggest a degree of damage limitation on behalf of News International. Each negative point is countered by an apology, acknowledgement of wrongdoing or statement condemning actions – all from a senior News International figure. Words such as ‘respect’, ‘action’, ‘satisfied’ and ‘responsible’ help paint a more positive picture, with the focus on resolving issues and doing the right thing.

For this word cloud analysis, the two rival newspaper’s take on the same story suggested, at first glance, the unthinkable; agreement. However, when we pay close attention to the subtle differences in language used (and consider the reputation that goes before a certain red-topped tabloid) the real picture emerges. For as much as The Sun laid out the raw hard facts about their sister paper, you still sense an element of squirming from the Murdoch camp being projected. Meanwhile, The Guardian was content to sit back and let the facts talk for themselves, knowing for sure The News of the World had thrown itself off a cliff.

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