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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Rupert Murdoch: Where it all started

From left to right: Rupert Murdoch aged 5 years old with his father Keith Murdoch, about the time he was working his first newspapers in Australia and finally how he looks like today.

To understand Rupert Murdoch the media mogul and what makes him who he is today it is important to go back to the 19th century and to a time when he was not even born. We need to understand the life and times of one Alfred Hamsworth billed to have been the greatest publisher who ever lived.

Who was Hamsworth and what is his link to Murdoch?

Hamsworth (later Lord Northcliffe) was the major inspiration in the life of Rupert’s father Keith Murdoch. When the older Murdoch was working on behalf of the Aussie government in London he spent a lot of time with Murdoch and learned a lot about the newspaper business which he later went back home to apply. And as he did so this knowledge and information was passed on to the young Murdoch and is very evident in the younger Murdoch’s media career as we shall see later in this series.

Hamsworth’s most powerful newspaper principal was simplify, clarify, explain. Born in 1865, he came on the scene when newspapers were more like text books on medicine. Articles were written for detail and one had to painstakingly read through thousands of words to understand the content. With the strong traditions and class system in Britain it would have been an insult to suggest to any editor at the time to make his newspaper or articles more readable for the uncouth masses. Hamsworth saw only the money that could be made from reaching the masses.
Alfred Hamsworth

The foundation of his newspaper was a dirt-cheap weekly called Answers to correspondence (later shortened to Answers). The format was simple. Each article started with a question and was followed by the answer written in a simple easy to grasp way that had yet to be seen at the time. Sometimes the questions were picked from topical issues and at other times they were just based on the other powerful emotion successful publications exploit in prospective readers, namely curiosity. “Can a clergyman marry himself?” “Do Dogs commit murder?” are two examples that were big sellers at the time. This small pamphlet was a sensational success even as the then mainstream press ignored and laughed at it. Circulation steadily rose to 200,000 copies weekly.

But Hamsworth real money-making genius emerged from the fact that he realized that the material he produced in Answers could easily be recycled again and again by simple changing the headline and re-writing the articles from a different angle but based on the same researched material. This could be done almost endlessly and so he launched numerous other cheap papers like Comic Cuts, Illustrated Chips, Forget me Not, Home Chat and so on. By 1894 the total circulation of all his papers was 2 million copies a week and Hamsworth was rapidly becoming a very wealthy man. And that was the year that his inevitable shift away from the ‘gutter press’ to the mainstream media happen.

A newspaper called Evenings News was in serious financial trouble and on the verge of shutting down. Hamsworth purchased it and using the same tactics that had built his gutter press empire to such phenomenal success he turned it around instantly into a great success. In 1896 he founded the Daily Mail which sold 400,000 copies on it’s first day of publication.

Hamsworth’s guiding principle was simple but revolutionary in his time. He put it thus: “For a newspaper to pay it must deal with what interests the mass of people, give the public what they want.”

If you were to pick up any copy of Rupert Murdoch’s most financially successful newspaper over the years, The Sun you would see this simple principal in every article, every headline and every photograph including the notorious page 3 naked model. Simply put The Sun is successful because it gives the people what they want.

Hamsworth is the foundation of Rupert Murdoch’s phenomenal media empire which was built from scratch. Murdoch started with one very small afternoon newspaper in Australia which he inherited from his father and as we shall see throughout this series, that is the simple principle he copied and put to work.

Admittedly there was also a lot of financial smarts which can still be applied to any business today and we shall examine those as well. Indeed what Murdoch did can still be done today albeit on the information super highway. Because even with all the technology available now the basic fact that information is the most powerful and lucrative commodity on earth is still very much true.

Read more on Hamsworth

Read part 2

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have to be honest. I didn't realize that Chris knew so much about journalism and publishing in general.

Anonymous said...

Why should I care about this??

Kenya army blogspot. said...

Av been wondering as to whether Kumekucha makes you money. Does it?

kumekucha said...

@Kenya army blogspot

It does. Pocket change at the moment but I am luking to grow it.

Chris Kumekucha

kumekucha said...

anon@ 1:59AM

U don't hve to care abt this. That is the great thing abt the web, u can easily ignore stuff that doesn't interest u.

Anybody interested in understanding the media (even in Kenya) will be much smarter at the end of this series tomorrow. Media practitioners will find ways to sharpen their skills, coz Murdoch despite everything is one of the best in the world.

Chris Kumekucha

Anonymous said...

YAWN

Anonymous said...

Chris,
If u are looking for an expansion of your emerging 'empire', why don't we partner together.
In recent times I have been thinking(i mean serious thinking!)of starting a weekly newspaper, and if all goes well, daily news...preferably under the name "Nairobi Evening News".

I am not in the country but I would really appreciate your advise and input on this.

kumekucha said...

Anon@ 3:28 we can communicate via email;

umissedthis@yahoo.com

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:28,
There is currently a newspaper sold within Nairobi only in the evening, however not of the same similar name as yours, and published weekly. might be worth checking if there are any conflicts with your venture

Anonymous said...

Chris,

Great stuff. I may not agree with you when it comes to politics but I like your weekend special. By the way, the anon 3:28 am has made me think of this idea deaply;
what if you start a weekly paper exclusively talking of what happens in Nai after dark complete with paparazzi photos, joints with the hottest girls, joints with the highest rates of spiked drinks, twilight girls and their exclusive stories, campus students on the loose, previews of the latest kenya porn giving the editor's pick etc..there is just so much to write about.
You would make tonnes of cash coz it would become a reference point for the majority of Nairobi's youth (20-50 years).
I suggest 'NAIROBI AFTER EIGHT' for a catching name.
What is your take Chris?
KP

kumekucha said...

@KP

That is the most brilliant publishing idea I have heard in a very long time.

Anonymous said...

Amy Winehouse is DEAD.
She was found dead at her home in London on suspicion of drug overdose.

RIP
14 September 1983 – 23 July 2011

.

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