The cover page of the edition of the News of the World (NoW) that came out on the first Sunday of this month said ‘Thank You & Goodbye’, for it was the last rendition of the tabloid.
The newspaper might have been called many things over its 168-year-history, but 'subtle' was probably not one of the adjectives it was described by. For about a week, the tabloid had been in the eye of a storm following the allegation that the private eyes hired by them had been hacking thousands of telephones. NoW was rocked by revelations that the snooping extended to the telephones of a murdered teenager, victims of London's 7/7 Tube bombings of 2005 and the parents of two murdered schoolgirls.
Rebekah Brooks, editor and CEO of the embattled tabloid, was said to be responsible for the intrusive phone hacking (and alleged pay-offs to police officers to get story tips). She, however, denied any involvement or knowledge of the practice.
James Murdoch, son of the media baron Rupert Murdoch and Chairman of News International which owns the tabloid, referred to the charges and affirmed that the alleged ‘inhuman’ practices had no place in their company. Papa Murdoch flew in from Australia to London overnight to deal with the crisis that had engulfed NoW. He too condemned the phone hacking allegations as ‘deplorable and unacceptable.’ In a statement, James said, ‘Having consulted senior colleagues, I have decided that we must take further decisive action with respect to the paper…This Sunday will be the last issue of the News of the World… Colin Myler will edit the final edition of the paper…’
The staff at the London offices of the paper were shocked. Naturally. You have to live through such a crisis to have a taste of it. Imagine the panic that would grip you if you were to be told that you have no job from the next Monday. The job losses sparked scenes of anger at the paper's headquarters, largely directed at editor Brooks, whose actions, they said, had brought down the paper. Her pleas of innocence were denounced by her former employees. Though all the employees lost their jobs, she kept hers, which only exacerbated their wrath.
Brooks had recognized that the final issue of the tabloid could be used by the roughly 200 journalists facing the prospects of being thrown out of job as a skewer for barbequeing her. Apprehending that they would be on the offensive, the management had warned: ‘No libels or any hidden mocking messages of the chief executive’. Not just that: two very senior and loyal journalists from the Murdoch-owned ‘The Sun’ were brought in to go though every line on every page with a fine toothcomb and ‘sanitise’ the contents. The idea was to spot and remove any jibes directed at Brooks, a confidante of the owners, following the the phone hacking scandal resulting in the newspaper's spectacular demise. They read the paper cover to cover to ensure that soon-to-be-unemployed staffers – most of whom had nothing to do with the phone hacking – did not insert anything inflammatory into any of the articles or op-eds.
But looks like they didn’t do a good job. Or they clearly didn't think to look on the puzzle page. More likely, it turned out that the departing employees of NoW were smarter – and cerebral. The indignant lot sent a parting message of disgust to the former editor in the paper's final edition. They gave vent to all their ire in the crossword puzzle on page 47, splicing some less than obvious jibes and thus did the furious staff have the last laugh. Rebekah Brooks (and indeed the controversy in general) were both clues and answers in the crossword on Sunday. It was loaded with less-than subtle digs at the former editor over her being spared the knife and her decision to cling to her job. They found a way of mocking Brooks one last time.
The latent attacks savaging her resided in the paper's Quickie puzzle, with clues such as ‘Brook’, ‘stink’, ‘catastrophe’, ‘digital protection’ and ‘criminal enterprise’ alluding to Brook’s involvement in the systematic hacking and the events that followed. The choices for the Cryptic (an adjective one wouldn't associate with NoW) Crossword cut even closer to the bone, with clues including ‘mix in prison’, ‘string of recordings’ and ‘will fear new security measure’. The answers included obviously nasty words like ‘tart’, ‘menace’, ‘disaster’, ‘racket’ and ‘stench’. It is said answers like ‘deplored’ and ‘desist’ too reflect the mood of the staff, with a seemingly innocuous word like ‘repast’ being linked to its obscure meaning ‘a meal after a funeral’.
The common answer to the Cryptic Crossword ‘Will fear new security measure’ and the Quickie ‘digital protection’ is ‘firewall’, assumed to be a reference to the staff being blocked from using the internet following the announcement of the paper’s closure. Although the future of the paper’s staff and the financial impact of the closure remain uncertain, the final edition’s crossword page has forever immortalized the staff’s view of Brooks and what they consider to be her failure as the newspaper’s former editor.
The cerebral crew of NoW can gloat over the thought that the last ever crossword will forever contain many a cross word!
Postscript: Those interested in solving the crossword, please copy the image and enlarge. To see the solution to the crossword, please scroll down.
In order that I do not spoil the fun, I have used white font: words will appear when you select the table. I hope I'm right! Needless to add, the answers to both the Quickie and the Cryptic versions are the same.
To set the records straight, I have never read NoW. It is just that I was impressed by the deviousness of the staff of NoW and the way they got at the throat of the enemy. Most of this piece, except the solution, has been sourced from elsewhere.