Britain’s News of the World went to press for the last time on Saturday, ending its 168-year history of scoops and scandal with the headline “Thank You and Goodbye.”
Journalists at the mass selling tabloid put the last ever edition of the paper to bed as media mogul Rupert Murdoch prepared to fly to London to take personal charge in the wake of the phone hacking scandal that led to the title’s demise.
The front page was a wrap-around montage of some of its best-known splashes and a simple message saying: “After 168 years, we finally say a sad but very proud farewell to our 7.5 million loyal readers.”
More than 200 members of staff at the News of the World face an uncertain future as the paper closes its doors, but a spokeswoman said all of them turned up to work on Saturday to make the final edition one to remember.
Meanwhile Murdoch was due to arrive in Britain on Sunday, a source at his News Corp. said, to take charge of the phone hacking crisis which has threatened to contaminate other parts of his media empire.
The scandal has sparked renewed opposition to News Corp.’s already controversial bid to take full control of satellite broadcaster BSkyB, on which the British government is due to decide shortly.
Journalists at the News of the World said emotions were running high on Saturday as the paper prepared to go to print.
In an email to staff, editor Colin Myler said it was a “very difficult day for us all”, adding: “It’s not where we want to be and it’s not where we deserve to be. But I know we will produce a paper to be proud of.”
Chief sub editor Alan Edwards added: “We are like a family up there and there’s very much that feel that we’re all pulling together.”
The “Screws”, as it is affectionately known, made its name with sensational scoops about sex, crime and celebrities, from kiss-and-tell stories by call girls to the revelation of corruption among Pakistani cricket players.
But it has been dogged by allegations of phone hacking for years and this week it was claimed that staff there hacked the voicemails of a murdered girl and the families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The fresh claims sparked widespread revulsion, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, and proved the final straw for Murdoch, who made the shock announcement on Thursday that this Sunday’s edition would be the News of the World’s last.
Despite public anger, Britons are expected to snap up the final copy of the paper as a souvenir and a News International source said the print run had been substantially increased. It normally sells some 2.6 million copies a week.
The closure of the paper is, however, unlikely to be the end of the scandal.
Cameron has ordered two public inquiries, one into the furore at the News of the World, including why a police investigation in 2006 failed to unearth the latest claims, and another into the regulation of the British press.
The prime minister himself is also under pressure after his former director of communications, Andy Coulson, was arrested on Friday on suspicion of involvement in phone hacking and illegal payments to police.
Coulson was editor of the News of the World from 2003 until 2007, when he resigned after the paper’s royal correspondent and a private investigator were jailed for hacking the phones of Princes William and Harry.
Coulson has always denied wrongdoing, but he was forced to resign from Cameron’s office in January this year because of ongoing revelations. After his arrest on Friday, he was bailed until October.
Amid fresh claims that a News of the World executive had deleted millions of emails surrounding the scandal — which were strongly denied — the opposition Labour party urged Cameron to speed up the establishment of the public inquiry.
Two other men were also arrested on Friday, including Clive Goodman, the News of the World’s former royal editor who was jailed in 2007. Both were bailed.