Murdoch gets to grips with the new reality - in 140 characters or less


MEDIA & MARKETING:GOOD TIMES, bad times. Or should that be good times, bad times!

Judging from the Twitter account of everyone’s favourite octogenarian media mogul, if there’s one thing Rupert Murdoch enjoys more than pretending he’s not part of the establishment, then it’s a nice friendly exclamation mark.

“Perfection not often attainable!” he declared this week, on the subject of wholly imperfect election candidates of unspecified origin.

His verdict on the Sun’s initial (now much diminished) Sunday sales? “Amazing!” On the sun-proper shining in London: “Miracles do happen!” (The odd miracle certainly wouldn’t go astray in the newspaper industry.)

“Good times, bad times” isn’t one of Murdoch’s tweets, but the title of former Times and Sunday Times editor Harold Evans’ book on Murdoch’s takeover of the newspapers. It’s to be made into a film it was announced this week, though it’s hard to see how retelling this 30-year-old story could be any more fascinating than the first-person narrative that is currently unfolding via @rupertmurdoch.

These are mostly bad times for Murdoch, and despite his best efforts to sprinkle his tweets with the punctuation equivalent of a rising inflection, his Twitter account gives it away.

When he joined on December 31st, it sparked a flurry of “it’s not really him . . . it can’t really be him . . . ” tweets, swiftly followed by suspicion that Twitter was about to become the new MySpace – meaning News Corp’s next online impulse purchase, despite the fact that the link-friendly joy of Twitter doesn’t exactly fit with Murdoch’s paywall ideology.

It started off innocuously enough. “Jack. Tokyo sounds great but be careful of that full moon,” was an early effort, in which he was presumably trying to talk to @Jack, aka Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, his first followee.

There was an admirably frank (and now safely historical) MySpace mea culpa: “Many questions and jokes about MySpace. Simple answer – we screwed up in every way possible, learned lots of valuable expensive lessons.”

Sadly, he has not yet accidentally @d himself, which is the Twitter equivalent of talking to yourself and never not funny.

Notwithstanding one hasty deletion – “maybe Brits have too many holidays for broke country!”, which he naturally sent while holidaying on a Caribbean island – Murdoch adapted to Twitter as fast as you might expect from a man who has proved himself to be ahead of the game, over and over again.

The problem with broadcasting your views from a social-media account is that anyone can do it. Murdoch’s tweets, like his red-tops, entertain as much as they chill. Intrigue, as the smarter, tighter-lipped celebrities that grace his tabloids are aware, is a finite commodity. His is now leaking away faster than a “rogue reporter” defence at a parliamentary inquiry.

The myth of Murdoch, the all-powerful string-puller feared by political leaders who were forced to become courtiers under his empire if they wanted to gain power, is inevitably undone by the intimate and esoteric nature of a medium such as Twitter, where Murdoch’s compelling missives (and weather observations) pop up sandwiched between retweets of yet another inane Alain de Botton truism and someone’s Tumblr of sloths that look like musicians.

To a large extent, downplaying his Machiavellian reputation seems to be the main point of the public relations offensive that is Murdoch’s account: “Please keep tweeting,” he wrote in February. “I read all but how about cleaning up language? Incidentally most credit me with non-existent power and money.”

The political and social control exerted by his media organisation – dubbed mafia-like by the Labour MP Tom Watson – is much overplayed, he contends.

“Only ever met PMs when asked, believe it or not. And NEVER asked for anything. That is, I never asked for anything!” he tweeted.

“What did I give? Years of argument against the euro.”

A thankless task, clearly. Just ask Gordon Brown.

And yet relative to the good old days of “It’s the Sun Wot Won It”, it seems an admission of weakness for Murdoch to bother with PR firefighting at all.

His grumblings following allegations of computer hacking at a former subsidiary of News Corp by BBC’s Panorama programme are unlikely to be seen as particularly dignified by those shareholders who want a simple life where the company’s board is free of the hacking-tainted Murdoch surname.

“Seems every competitor and enemy piling on with lies and libels. So bad, easy to hit back hard, which preparing,” he warned, hitting out at the “old toffs and right wingers who still want last century’s status quo”.

He wastes little time on such old-fashioned habits as trying to disprove any correlation between his political views and those of his publications, instead setting himself the task of stripping away of his remaining enigma.

He’s revealed himself as a keen supporter of erstwhile Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, announced Alex Salmond is “clearly most brilliant politician in UK” and proved rather less enamoured with the donor-schmoozing of David Cameron, the in-fighting of the Australian Labor Party and Barack Obama, who he accused of collusion with “piracy leader” Google, which, without a hint of pot-kettle shame, he in turn castigated for “pouring millions into lobbying”.

Murdoch’s attack on the “plain thievery” of “Silicon Valley paymasters” who opposed the Stop Online Piracy Act didn’t go down too well with Twitter’s natural constituency, but worse, he came off sounding like a loser whose industry has been turned into a financial minnow by Google’s omnipotence.

It’s all getting a bit petulant now. “Tweeters who don’t like particular newspapers don’t have to buy them. Thousands of crappy blogs available,” he harrumphed on Sunday in a gloomy, defensive tweet, free of exclamation marks. He didn’t have to worry about that during last century’s status quo.

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