Lesson from News of the World

More evidence that  workplace bullying affects the employer’s bottom line:

On July 10, 2011, Rupert Murdock  shut down  Britain’s top selling newspaper,  News of the World, because of a cell phone hacking scandal. A Reuters story describes the bullying culture of the publication, which affected both employees and outsiders.  Here are some excerpts from:  Special Report: Inside Rebekah Brooks’ News of the World:

  •  “It was the kind of place you get out of and you never want to go back again.” That’s how one former reporter describes the News of the World newsroom under editor Rebekah Brooks, the ferociously ambitious titian-haired executive who ran Britain’s top-selling Sunday tabloid from 2000 to 2003.  (Note – Brooks was arrested in London over the weekend. PGB)
  •  A fifth former News International employee who worked with News Of the World journalists at this time said its reporters were under “unbelievable, phenomenal pressure”, treated harshly by bosses who would shout abuse in their faces and keep a running total of their bylines. Journalists were driven by a terror of failing. If they didn’t regularly get stories, they feared, they would be fired. That meant they competed ruthlessly with each other.
  • Reporters say they lived in constant fear of byline counts which weeded out those who had filed the fewest stories. “They were always seeking to get rid of people because it was a burn-out job. Their ideal situation was you work your nuts off for six months and they let you work there another six months,” said the general news reporter. “Every minute you spent there you felt that your employer hated you.”
  • Charles Begley, an ex-News of the World reporter, has spoken out about the bullying culture. He said he felt close to breaking-point when, three hours after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York’s twin towers, he was ordered to appear at the paper’s daily conference dressed in a Harry Potter outfit he had been given to help the tabloid capitalise on the craze for the books about the boy wizard.  “At that time, we were working on the assumption that up to 50,000 people had been killed,” he said then, according to tapes published in 2002 by the Daily Telegraph of a conversation between him and assistant news editor Greg Miskiw. “I was required to parade myself around morning conference dressed as Harry Potter.” It was during this conversation that Miskiw made a comment that was to become notorious in Britain: “That is what we do — we go out and destroy other people’s lives.”
  • Matt Driscoll, a sports reporter sacked in April 2007 while on long-term sick leave for stress-related depression, was later awarded 800,000 pounds ($1.3 million) for unfair dismissal. The employment tribunal found that he had suffered from a culture of bullying led by then-editor Coulson.  “Nobody ever felt secure there and that’s the way they liked it. On the edge, scared, insecure,” said the general news reporter.
  • Editors would then often use damaging stories as bargaining chips, trading them for future access to public figures or to build relationships with stars. Often, the paper would drop the story they had altogether and publish something more sympathetic.”It would be things like: ‘We know you were sleeping with your secretary but we’ll keep it out of the paper if you give us the story about how you were given away as a child,” said the long-term freelancer. “They used to call stories ‘levers’,” said the general news reporter. “They weren’t necessarily interested any more in using the story you’d proved or got past the lawyers. They were interested in using the story as leverage in order to get a different story.

Meanwhile, according to the Washington Post, the scandal is now threatening  Murdoch, who built his publishing empire over six decades. The Post says  independent directors of New York-based News Corp. have begun questioning the company’s response to the crisis and whether a leadership change is needed.