LONDON (Reuters) - Former News of the World staff are watching with alarm as Rupert Murdoch’s media empire scrambles to contain a hacking scandal that has closed their newspaper and could make finding new employment more difficult.
Some reporters at the hugely popular British paper say their reputations may be harmed by association as more cases of intrusive news gathering surface, both at News of the World and other Murdoch titles.
“Now that the dust has settled, we are looking to our future and I think we have all been a bit tarnished by this and we’re genuinely concerned about issues going on elsewhere,” said one former employee, who asked not to be named.
“Two weeks ago, despite what has come out, having worked at News of the World was a huge bonus (in getting new employment),” added the reporter, one of around 200 to lose their jobs.
“We are now at a point where we are not going to get a job abroad, and in the UK we may be able to, but it won’t be as easy as it was.”
The Sunday Times broadsheet and the Sun tabloid, also part of the Murdoch stable, have been sucked into the scandal after the Guardian newspaper reported on Tuesday that they had targeted Gordon Brown when he was finance minister and prime minister.
The reporter said he and around 10 former News of the World workers were meeting on Tuesday to discuss whether to seek legal advice before entering into negotiations with News International, Murdoch’s British newspaper arm.
Some have already contacted lawyers. The London legal practice Silverman Sherliker invited the sacked journalists to sign up to an action group via its website.
“News of the World employees are now not only acutely concerned for their immediate future, but are also distressed about the potential long-term career damage that may suffer by being, as they see it, unjustly tainted by the acts of others,” the blog posting read.
The firm did not return calls requesting more information.
News International tried on Tuesday to allay some of the sacked workers’ concerns.
“NI can today announce that it will offer employment opportunities to the vast majority of staff who lost their jobs as a result of the closure of the News of the World,” it said in a statement.
It said personnel managers would meet staff from next week.
It has identified 30 jobs across its titles including existing vacancies. The News of the World’s supplement magazine “Fabulous,” employing 30 journalists, will be kept.
Whether or not the company replaces News of the World with a new Sunday title remains to be seen, although it has taken control of internet domain names that suggest it could launch the Sun on Sunday, a weekly version of its daily.
There are concerns, however, that a broader crisis within Murdoch’s News Corp media empire could scotch that idea.
Even if News International did start a new Sunday tabloid, it would not be guaranteed to repeat the success of News of the World, which sold around 2.7 million copies.
“We’re not guaranteed to get (those readers) back,” said David Wooding, the former News of the World political editor who became an unofficial spokesman for staff when the shock closure was announced on Thursday.
He, like many others, is waiting to hear about the terms of his severance, and is weighing his options. An initial package has been offered, which ex-employees say is open to negotiation.
“All sorts of people are in a difficult position,” Wooding told Reuters. “But I do believe the company when they say they will take on as many people as they can. I think a large number will get jobs in News International.”
Neil Ashton, who was chief soccer writer at News of the World, said he hoped something positive would come out of the hacking scandal and his newspaper’s closure.
“We should all learn that we have to improve and this is a massive opportunity for the newspaper industry to improve.
“This is ... the chance for newspapers in this country to make a clean break from the past to regain the trust of the British readership.”
Most ex-News of the World employees contacted by Reuters expressed pride in the newspaper.
Several backed Rebekah Brooks, head of News International, who has survived the scandal so far despite editing the paper when some of the worst hacking incidents took place.
But the crossword puzzle in Sunday’s final edition contained clues including “String of recordings” and “Woman stares wildly at calamity” — apparently barbed parting shots from employees who believed they had been sacrificed to save one of Murdoch’s favorite executives.
Reporting by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Kevin Liffey