The Layman's Guide to the Last Ever News of the World

After 168 years in the business, the terminal edition of the News of the World is weighed down by more than the gravity of the present situation. It is steeped in history, humour, hurt, hubris and boundless self-congratulation.

At the end of it all, the final News of the World has caused quite the perfect storm.

It was heavier than I expected, and thicker, just like my usual choices tucked under the other arm (I won't reveal which: some mystery is healthy in any relationship).

After 168 years in the business, the terminal edition of the News of the World is weighed down by more than the gravity of the present situation. It is steeped in history, humour, hurt, hubris and boundless self-congratulation.

Articles are laden with badly fitting hyperbole, such as comparing England's one-day cricket captain Alistair Cook with Martin Luther King, with as much tact and credibility as Ed Miliband did with himself. The pages are pockmarked with "Why I'll miss my NotW..." snippets, like an unsightly rash. The headline on page 4 - "We've saved children from paedos & nailed 250 evil crooks" - shows the journalistic finesse of a bull in a proverbial purveyor of oriental crockery.

For a newspapers called the News of the World, there isn't much world news to be found. A tacit nod to what is happening beyond these islands is featured in six text message sized chunks of world news on page 24, including the momentous occasion of South Sudan's independence. The world's most read English language Sunday newspaper heralds this important landmark with: "Salva Kiir was sworn in as the president of South Sudan, the world's newest nation, in front of tens of thousands of supporters." The news that Nigel Mansell is to become a member of the Magic Circle is given more column inches.

To be fair, the News of the World might be a coarse, shrill and Pecksniffian tabloid but those people who say it was more than just a newspaper are correct: it was an overwhelming force, a historic institution read by nearly 8 million people each week after WW2 and just under 3 million in a modern era of declining print readership across all major titles. Whilst the NotW's own circulation decline has been steep (its readership was more than 4 million as recently as the turn of the millennium), no other Sunday publication comes even close.

Next weekend, where will those 3 million readers go? The mooted Sun on Sunday? News International will take the gamble but competitor titles will hope to hoover up its readers. When I opened my copy this morning, the first things that fell out were two advertisements, one from the Mail on Sunday and another from The Sunday Mirror, both saying broadly the same thing. This was the MoS's:

Dear Reader

As you will have heard, this is the last issue of the News of the World.

We want to ensure you have a great newspaper to enjoy on a Sunday - and would like to offer you The Mail on Sunday for the next 6 weeks for just £1.

We hope you enjoy our newspaper.

The Sunday Mirror's pitch was for "a newspaper that is all about your life, your concerns and your interest", "a real family newspaper" at "a special discounted price of 70p with these vouchers". "We're on your side," writes Tina Weaver, its editor. Two fingers from Colin Myler to James Murdoch? Or just gallows humour? Either way, it shows some chutzpah from both sides.

The paper's editorial is proud and gutsy. Printed on page 3, the admissions are laid bare, as naked as that page's regular occupants, relegated this weekend to page 9 (in homage to the sensibilities of Mrs Brooks, the lady who protested too much, I think not).

Quite simply, we lost our way. Phones were hacked, and for that this newspaper is truly sorry. There is no justification for this appalling wrongdoing.

The two public inquiries are welcomed and there is a beyond the grave plea for clemency for the Press Complaints Commission, which needs more powers and resources but not meddling Government legislation. Self-regulation permitted the "appalling wrongdoing" but still it is prized. This might be true but the News of the World, however distant the incumbents are from earlier activities, is not the best advocate at the moment for maintaining press freedoms.

Yet it is regrettable to be too cynical about this last edition. It might have achieved the unnatural combination of schmaltz and arrogance, but one can't help but feel a bit daunted by reading it. This is not a newspaper sitting strewn in front of me. This is a history book, full of nostalgia and newsprint from yesteryear. It is an archive in tabloid form. There is an excited sadness to it all, another unnatural combination.

Above all, this newspaper was felt, even if it wasn't read. Last summer, for instance, the revelations about Pakistani cricketers accepting money from bookmakers were electric, coming in the middle of a Test series, shocking people who had never heard of the News of the World, let alone read it, and forcing authorities into action all over the world.

Its power and voice were feared. Fraser Nelson writes in his valedictory column, "As MPs will tell you, a story on page 46 of the News of the World has more impact than a front-page of a lesser paper."

Out of curiosity, I turned to page 46. "G Brown" from Cambridge had written in complaining about teachers' pensions demands. There were other notes about costs of living and prospects for the re-united Mr & Mrs Ashley Cole. However, the main section on page 46 is the weather forecast. For today, Monday, it reads:

Rather cloudy across Scotland with a few spots of rain. Elsewhere, sunny intervals and only isolated showers.

Throughout the week ahead there will be sporadic showers but the general outlook is improving with frequent sunny spells and a small drop in temperatures.

After the stormy times endured of late and with other storm-clouds gathering in another type of Sky, that's about as good a forecast as the Murdochs can hope for.

For now, smile and appreciate the living history that rests before you. Having spent 8,674 prying into the lives and emotions of others, they could not have captured the essence of themselves any better. The final edition of the News of the World has turned out to be quite the perfect storm.


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