Phone Hacking Fallout: What Will Happen to News Corp's Education Plans?

The Scandal

The phone hacking scandal of the British tabloid News of the World has brought the once-powerful media mogul Rupert Murdoch and his News Corp under intense scrutiny -- from other media organizations and now from governments. For those who've missed the headlines: the News of the World, renowned for its salacious stories about celebrities and royalty, has not "all of a sudden" been caught hacking voice mails. The publication actually has quite a long history of snooping for its stories. But it's one thing, apparently, to hack into the royal family's voice mail and another to hack into a regular person's. Actually, "regular person" isn't quite the right descriptor here: the News of the World hacked into the voice mails of a murdered schoolgirl, deceased British troops, terrorist attack victims.

As the story of the hacking has unfolded, it's become quite clear that the influence of the Murdoch media empire has extended throughout the British government. The scandal has prompted the resignation of the head of Scotland Yard, for example, when it was revealed that the police force had hired a NOTW writer as a consultant. And it seems likely that the British government's inquiry into the each of News Corp could go all the way to Number 10 Downing Street as the current Prime Minister David Cameron has deep ties to Murdoch and his company.

No surprise, all eyes have been on the "media" component of the Murdoch empire. But as Rupert Murdoch made clear in his testimony before Parliament this week, the News of the World was really just a small, small part of the News Corp business -- "less than 1%," he said.

The Fallout

CUNY journalism professor Jeff Jarvis recently asked, "What's next for News Corp?" He argued that it might well be time for the company to get out of the news business altogether. He looks at the different pieces of the media empire -- not just News of the World of course, but FOX News, The Wall Street Journal, Harper Collins -- and notes that all of these institutions, phone hacking scandal or no, are losing their ground to newcomers -- the Internet, new media, self-publishing and so on.

Jarvis says that by ditching the publishing world, News Corp could become an entertainment company "and a successful one."

And maybe it could.

But to suggest that entertainment is the next best bet for News Corp is to overlook what may have been the company's next chosen market: education.

Murdoch's Plans for Education (And the Scandals We're Already Ignoring)

In November of last year, News Corp acquired a 90% share of the ed-tech company Wireless Generation for $360 million. The move came shortly after News Corp hired Joel Klein, the former New York City Chancellor of Schools.

Murdoch spoke at the recent G8 summit about education, pointing to a "broken system" and calling education the "last digital holdout." Lots of people praised the speech.

But really, are we going to welcome News Corp's investment in the education space? I would think we would have been concerned before now, as Murdoch has never balked at blending politics and business. Why would we think his educational efforts would be any different?

Now, with the inquiries into the company's ethics, News Corp's interest in education also warrants scrutiny. Just last month, Wireless Generation was awarded a $27 million contract with the New York City Public Schools in what was apparently a no-bid contract. Considering the close ties with Klein and with other former NYC school officials who've been hired by News Corp, the contract seems nothing if not unseemly. But calls for a closer look at the bidding process have been unheeded. Wireless Generation claims it is a totally separate company. (And Joel Klein has been pulled from his educational efforts to serve as Murdoch's main counsel during the inquiry into the phone hacking.)

It may be that the phone hacking scandal at News of the World permeates all of News Corp, and that any sort of trust the company had to make moves into education has been squandered. Or, it may be, as Jeff Jarvis predicts, News Corp will ditch its ties to publishing and focus elsewhere. Jarvis says that education will be its target. I still worry that the target will be education.

Image credits: The Inquisitor


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