Although his media empire also includes TV channels, Rupert Murdoch has always been at heart a newspaper man. It was a passion he inherited from his father Keith, a renowned Australian journalist who owned The News, a small publication in Adelaide. That was the launchpad for an expansion into the antipodean media world and Rupert Murdoch’s subsequent move to Britain, where he acquired two ailing publications, The News of the World and The Sun, transforming them both into the country’s biggest selling newspapers.
In 1981, he bought The Times and Sunday Times, thus encompassing the quality and tabloid ends of the market and giving him cultural and political influence which he was not reluctant to wield. In America, Murdoch moved into the world of broadcast media, eventually taking US citizenship to satisfy regulatory ownership requirements.
In Britain, it was not state regulation that was his – and the industry’s – biggest problem but the print unions. They were preventing the move of newspapers into a computer age. In 1986, Murdoch engineered a showdown by consolidating his operations at Wapping and sacking printers who struck in protest. He broke the union grip on newspapers for good. This allowed his and other Fleet Street publications to make a reasonable profit, though his price-cutting war proved financially debilitating when the internet got into its stride around the turn of the Millennium.
People may balk at the brashness of some of Murdoch’s papers or question the influence he exerted over politicians. But like the newspaper barons of yore, he has been a towering figure in the British media and his decision to relinquish control of his firms after 70 years marks the end of an era.