Reuters blog archive
By David Callahan
The views expressed are his own.
The demise of the News of the World after a phone hacking scandal will not change a troubling truth about tabloid journalism – or business in general these days: Bad ethics can yield big financial rewards and such are the upsides of cheating that even honest professionals may feel they must bend the rules to compete.
Tabloid editors will surely think twice now before drawing on illegally obtained information. But other unethical practices – used by a range of print, broadcast, and online media businesses – will continue, like paying sources for dubious information (“cash for trash”) or fabricating juicy stories outright to boost circulation or ratings.
This sleaze machine is fueled not by the deviance of editors and producers but by rational incentives. The media business is brutal, with intense competition, impatient shareholders, and often razor-thin profit margins. Everyone in this world is under extreme pressure to perform and cutting ethical corners is one way to get an edge. The News of the World became Britain’s highest-circulation newspaper in large part by being less scrupulous than the competition. Cheating paid – at least until this week.
These dynamics are not unique to the media industry. All publicly-held companies are expected to show robust earnings every single quarter and while executive compensation has skyrocketed it has also become more tied to performance. With the sticks hitting harder and the carrots getting fatter, it should be no wonder that scandals have consumed so many industries – whether it’s corporations cooking their books or bankers lying about the toxicity of mortgage-backed securities or pharmaceutical executives authorizing the illegal “off-label” marketing of drugs.
A scandal rocking Rupert Murdoch's media empire deepened on Thursday with claims his best-selling News of the World paper hacked the phones of relatives of British soldiers killed in action. The latest allegations prompted News Corp to shut down the 168-year-old tabloid. Here's a look at the rest of the empire.
from Reuters Investigates:
Steven Barnett, professor of communications at London's Westminster University, spoke for a lot of people when he said of the news: "Astonishing. I'm completely gobsmacked. Talk about a nuclear option."
Starting today, Facebook users will have the option of holding one-on-one video calls with their friends directly from their account on the social network. The new Skype-powered video service marks a renewed effort by Facebook to cement itself as the go-to communications hub on the Web and serves as a response to Google's recently launched Hangouts app, a similar video chatting feature that lets users on its Google+ social network chat with up to 10 people at once.
Facebook's video chat will be embedded directly into the site's messaging platform and won't require users to sign up for Skype separately to use it. Skype stands to see a big boost from the partnership seeing as it could open it up to a whole new set of users. So how does Facebook's video chat compare to Google's? TechCrunch finds there's little overlap at this point between the two services, arguing the former is well-designed for one-on-one pow-wows whereas the latter is better suited to group chats. In addition, Facebook unveiled a new group-messaging feature that lets users take part in text chats with multiple friends.
News Corp’s hunt to find a buyer for once-mighty social networking website Myspace has finally ended. Specific Media, an online advertising firm, has agreed to buy the site for about $35 million, a source familiar with the deal told Reuters. News Corp will retain a minority 5 percent stake in the website it purchased six years ago for $580 million. More than half of the site’s 500 employees are expected to be laid off as part of the deal.
Tech watchers will have to wait at least another sleep to find out more about Zynga’s plans for an initial public offering. A source familiar with the matter told Reuters that the online social gaming firm behind popular Facebook game FarmVille is expected to file for an initial public offering with U.S. regulators on Thursday morning. Earlier reports suggested the company could raise up to $2 billion in the offering and value the firm as high as $20 billion. AllThingsD’s Kara Swisher sizes up how Zynga’s expected IPO fits in with other recent filings from similar companies such as Groupon.
An investor group involving Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick is in final talks to take a controlling stake in News Corp's social network site Myspace, according to a source familiar with the matter. Kotick's involvement is personal and nothing to do with Activision at this stage, the source said.
News Corp, which paid $580 million for Myspace in 2005, had hoped to do a deal valuing Myspace at about $100 million, but sources said it was unlikely to achieve that target.
Rupert Murdoch didn't open the D9 conference this year as he's wont to do. So, his alter ego did.
Jane Lynch -- the acerbic, sarcastic and domineering Cheerios coach of Fox's "Glee" -- stood in for the News Corp chieftain in a brief stand-up spiel for the 600 attendees at the tech industry conference.
Johnson & Johnson is to buy Swiss medical devices maker Synthes for $21.6 billion in its largest ever buy, giving J&J a leading position in equipment to treat trauma. Synthes, which posted sales of $3.7 billion in 2010, makes nails, screws and plates to fix broken bones, as well as artificial spine discs. "It is surprising the deal has been struck between cash and shares. The market consensus, and our view, was it would be all cash, so the quality of the take-out is slightly lower than we anticipated," said Morgan Stanley analyst Michael Jungling.
More consolidation is on the way in the power industry as global power provider AES is buying smaller Ohio-based rival DPL for $3.5 billion. The acquisition will help the company beef up its regulated power business that tends to provide steady returns even during tough market conditions.
Just days after posting a sharp drop in first-quarter profit, Bank of America said it plans to spin off its last large private equity unit, BAML Capital Partners, which has more than $5 billion in assets. It’s the latest in a series of moves the bank has undertaken to comply with new U.S. regulations that limit how much of their own capital banks are allowed to invest.
Chinese Internet holding company Tencent, Myspace founder Chris De Wolfe and Myspace's current management team are among the 20 odd names kicking the tires at the once might social network to see whether it's worth buying outright or partnering in some sort of spin-out with current owner News Corp.
Tencent has previously said it is interested in possible US acquisitions.
The names come up in Reuters' Special Report on 'How News Corp got lost in Myspace', a behind the scenes tale on how the focused Facebook beat the partying Myspace. (We have the story in a handy PDF format here)