Blog & Company News

Sep 6, 2011

What You Can Learn From the News of the World Scandal

[caption id="attachment_393" align="alignright" width="305" caption="Learn from the phone-hacking scandal."][/caption] As you may have heard, the News of the World tabloid newspaper ceased publication in July, after 168 years in business. An internationally distributed, U.K.-based publication, News of the World was at one time the biggest-selling English-language newspaper in the world, according to the Guardian.1 News of the World employees were caught hacking into people’s voicemail messages in pursuit of news, the BBC reported.2 British royals, celebrities, and politicians were allegedly targeted. The Guardian reported that journalists also hired a private investigator to hack into a murdered teenager’s voicemail messages, and possibly those of fallen British servicemen’s families.1 Through this chain of events, News Corporation Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch (News Corp’s News International branch published News of the World) encountered a series of challenges not unlike those that many small-business owners face (granted, on a much larger scale). Here is what small-business owners can learn from the News of the World scandal:
  • Know what your employees are doing. It is certainly possible that Murdoch didn’t know the details of his employees’ wrongdoing, or the lengths to which some of them went to report news. Before a House of Commons Committee, Murdoch, his son James, and News International CEO Rebekah Brooks denied that they knew everything that was happening at the paper, the BBC reported. Every business owner must know—and take responsibility for—what’s going on “under his own roof.” In the event of an absentee owner, a trusted manager should act as a proxy, providing a guiding hand and watchful eye over the employees and reporting back to the owner. For those business owners who can’t be everywhere at once, many legal, ethical, and technically simple tools exist to help monitor employees’ activities.
  • Be ethical. Regardless of which tools a business owner may use, it is his responsibility to set an example for the entire company. An ethical corporate culture starts at the top and must flow down to every department, manager, and employee. In addition to setting a personal example, a business owner should implement formal policies and procedures to remind employees of their ethical duties. Texas Instruments has an “Ethics Quick Test” on its website with questions to determine whether an action is ethical. Small-business owners must scrap and claw and fight for their market share, but in doing so, they must be aware of the pressures placed on their employees to perform. Without a sound ethical base upon which to run a business, even the most successful companies stand to lose everything in the end.
  • Be realistic. Unrealistic pressure to perform or meet goals can cause even the best employees to experience cognitive dissonance between what they know is “right” and what must be done to keep their jobs and feed their families. Business owners must remember that for the most part, employees really just want to do the right thing. A business owner should never ask an employee to do something he wouldn’t be willing to do himself.
  • In the face of crisis, don’t go golfing. Photographs of Murdoch on the golf course during the heat of the investigation prompted great outcry in the U.K. and around the world. Mark Lewis, attorney for the family of a murdered teenager whose voice messages were allegedly hacked by the paper, told the Guardian, “It’s a bit like Nero fiddling while Rome was burning.”1
For more information, visit: 1. “News of the World to Close as Rupert Murdoch Acts to Limit Fallout” 2. “Q&A: News of the World Phone-Hacking Scandal