At The AIMN Network we don’t see
ourselves in competition with other independent media sites. Rather, we
see ourselves in partnership with them. For this reason we are delighted
to be able to promote the work of VERUM.POST; a new organisation formed by QUT and Griffith students who describe themselves as ‘an ulternative from mass produced media’. Verum Post is a Latin phrase which in English means: Behind the Truth. This piece by Dilshad provides us with a candid look at why Verum makes better reading that News Corp.
In the first section of this article, three sociological
terms—production, commodification and mediation—are used to compare News
Corporation to VERUM.POST. News Corporation is a business that is
arguably the epitome of mass media. VERUM.POST, on the other hand, is a
new independent news outlet. This comparison is then expanded on in the
second section where an insight into the celebrity of Rupert Murdoch,
the man behind News Corporation, is detailed. It is hoped that the
article encourages discussion of the differences between mass media and
Need a conversation starter? Try asking what people think of
celebrities. There are a countless number of replies you will get… maybe
someone will answer back about how Kim Kardashian isn’t a celebrity,
how they don’t get Scarlett Johansson’s latest SodaStream advertisement,
or how they uploaded a hilarious video of their [insert pet name,
family member, friend here] to YouTube for their fifteen minutes of
fame. Funny thing is, most answers can be related back to three concepts
within the sociological study of celebrities. Read on to find out what
the concepts are and how they relate to News Corporation and VERUM.POST.
Production: This refers to how a brand, person or organisation is
brought into the public sphere. Generally the production of someone or
something falls into either an ascribed or achieved category. An
ascribed celebrity has inherited their celebrity status. Conversely, the
self-explanatory achieved category describes a celebrity who has earned
their fame. Rupert Murdoch is both an ascribed and achieved celebrity;
as a brand, News Corporation has earned its fame (or notoriety).
VERUM.POST, on the other hand, belongs to the achieved category. (Kim K.
achieved her fame too.)
The commodification of a person, brand or organisation deals with how
that brand or name is sold to the public. News Corporation is sold as a
dominant mass-media organisation. VERUM.POST commodifies itself as an
independent media organisation that gives its contributors freedom to
write about anything they want. Commodification can also be seen as a
process based on advertising and revenue. Mass media organisations earn
their revenue and worth by publishing advertisements along with their
news stories. VERUM.POST earns its keep by promoting ethical and moral
organisations. VERUM.POST does not and will not conform to the norm of
capitalism. We’ve chosen this ethos because it gives VERUM.POST’s
journalists the freedom to contribute articles they think will interest
the audience, rather than writing stories that will sell. Readers are
invited and encouraged to write too. VERUM.POST is not a community that
is separated by creator versus consumer roles. (So does Ms Johansson
sell SodaStream or does SodaStream sell Scar-Jo?)
Mediation: How is an organisation, brand or person viewed by the
public? Mediation deals with personas and personalities; it is defined
by how much influence the brand/celebrity/organisation may have. At the
moment, News Corporation is mediated strongly; its newspapers, magazines
and other news outlets dominate the Australian market. Australia’s mass
media influences politics and society—just take the coverage of the
2014 Australian budget as an example. Verum Post, however, would much
rather use its influence (oh yes, we have influence; it’s not a lot, but
it is growing) to inform and educate. Our mediation occurs at a
grassroots level. (Did anyone find the YouTube video of your [insert pet
name, family member, friend here] funny?)
So now that you have the basics of the sociology of celebrity,
are you interested in an in depth analysis of Rupert Murdoch’s
celebrity? If you are, this article is for you. (And if you aren’t, do
me a favour and just read the first sentence—it’s a hoot.) Full
disclosure: The following section is adapted from an essay the author
wrote in 2011.
Bad fame/good notoriety: how Rupert Murdoch is celebritised
‘I can go into restaurants and a whole table will get up and clap if they recognize me…’ so said Rupert Murdoch in a 2008 Esquire
magazine profile. In this article how Murdoch has been celebritised
across a range of media is discussed. This will be done by discovering
how Murdoch has been produced, commodified and mediated in the world of
celebrity. A brief biography of Murdoch will first be used to identify
what type of celebrity he is. Then two of Murdoch’s public identities
will be analysed to further investigate how Murdoch is produced in the
public sphere. Next, Murdoch’s unique position as both a celebrity and
as a cultural industry will be explored. This will show how Murdoch is
commodified in the media. Finally, Murdoch’s influence—in the context of
the power elite and the celebrity CEO—will be examined, demonstrating
how Murdoch has been mediated. These arguments will all be used to come
to the conclusion that Murdoch is a rather unusual celebrity.
The 83-year old (as of when this article was published) is Executive
Chairman of News Corporation, and Chairman and CEO of 21st Century Fox.
Although he was born in Melbourne, Murdoch holds US citizenship, has
been married and divorced three times, and has six children. In 1953,
Murdoch inherited his father’s position as the publisher of two Adelaide
newspapers when his father died in 1952 (Tuccille, 1989). This
inheritance reflects the sociological definition of an ascribed
celebrity, which ‘…concerns lineage: status typically follows from
blood-line’ (Rojek, 2001). Murdoch’s celebrity status, power and wealth,
however, have not only been inherited, they have also been achieved.
Achieved celebrity status is described as ‘…the perceived
accomplishments of the individual in open competition…’ (ibid). Murdoch,
therefore, has the unique position of being both an ascribed and an
achieved celebrity. From his humble beginnings, Murdoch ‘…spent the rest
of [his] life building one of the world’s grandest and most
controversial media empires…’ (Esquire, 2008) while competing against other media organisations for ownership and market dominance.
Murdoch’s good and bad personas are the two most dominant identities
of his portrayed in media. This dichotomy is frequently presented in
biographies, profiles and articles about Murdoch. He ‘…has been called
many things, some good, some bad’ (Tuccille, 1989). The name-calling
includes ‘Dirty Digger’, ‘rampaging Rupert Murdoch’ and ‘Citizen
Murdoch’—a play on Orson Wells’ protagonist Citizen Kane—(McKay and
Rowe, 1997; Tuccille, 1989). Furthermore, one of Murdoch’s biographers,
William Shawcross, said Murdoch is ‘…“courageous” and “charming,”
[while] others close to Murdoch described him as “arrogant,” “cocky,”
“insensitive, verging on dangerous,” “utterly ruthless,” and an
“efficient Visigoth”’ (Donaldson, 1993). These conflicting descriptions
demonstrate how Murdoch’s identity has been produced in the media as
having both good and bad personas.
The process of being commodified refers to how a celebrity has been
sold as a brand. Murdoch holds a special position in that he is not only
sold as a brand but he is also in the business of selling other
celebrities as brands. He is a celebrity and is involved in—and owns—a
cultural industry. Murdoch became a celebrity by ‘…injecting his
personal views into the press and promoting provocative entertainment
for nearly four decades’ (Kirkland, 2007). Murdoch’s biography—his life
story—has also been commodified. The story of Murdoch’s ‘…globe-spanning
empire that reaches, entertains, informs and influences people in five
continents…’ (ibid) has been reflected through various characters in pop
culture. In the Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, the villain
‘…Elliot Carver, [is] a demonic hybrid of Bill Gates and Rupert
Murdoch…’ (Woodward, 2004). It has also been suggested that the
character of Mr Burns from The Simpsons is based on Murdoch
(Hübers, 2006; Jones, 2011). The celebrity that Murdoch is has been sold
as a brand, not only because of his power and wealth, but also because
of his biography, which is reflected in pop culture.
Murdoch, however, is also in the business of selling other
celebrities as brands through his newspapers and other media outlets.
The celebrity industry is described as a conglomeration of various
sub-industries including the ‘…communications industry, which
encompasses newspapers, magazines, radio, television and film’ (Turner,
2007). A media organisation like News Corporation reflects the
distinctive features that identify a cultural industry. News Corporation
is a risky business where creativity and commerce are in constant
conflict; news is expensive to produce but relatively cheap to
reproduce, and news is a semi-public good (Hesmondhalgh, 2007). Some
print media like tabloid magazines ‘…deal with almost nothing but
celebrity and thus they must be tightly articulated to the industry and
its promotional needs… [a magazine like this] publishes uniformly
appreciative features about celebrities’ [personal lives]… in
collaboration with the celebrities concerned’ (Turner, 2004). Tabloids,
such as News Corporation’s The Sun or the now defunct News of the World,
link the production of celebrities with the consumer consumption of
celebrities. News Corporation and Murdoch, therefore, are a cultural
industry in the world of celebrity.
Murdoch has also been celebritised by being mediated. In media,
Murdoch has been portrayed as a powerful, wealthy and influential man.
He is, as a key-player in News Corporation and 21st Century Fox, an
economic leader and occupies one of the top positions in the
communications and media industry hierarchy. In Forbes magazine’s 2011 400 Richest Americans list, Murdoch appeared in the 37th position and was—at the time—worth US $7.4 billion (Forbes,
2011). This list catalogues wealthy and powerful people in economic and
political leadership positions; it defines the power elite.
The media also projects a special type of celebrity—the celebrity
CEO. They are business leaders whose ‘…persona has been deployed in
order to augment a company brand image’ (Littler, 2007). It has also
been suggested that celebrity CEOs are ‘…corporate media actors [who]
negotiate the power dynamics of the network society to serve their
overarching business goals’ (Arsenault and Castells, 2008). Because
celebrity CEOs are in the public domain, through their celebrity status
they can ‘…accrue a fairly expansive media profile by inhabiting a
cross-section of media discourses, some of which include or draw from
imagery which is intimately or sensationally tabloidesque’ (Littler,
2007). Murdoch has featured in media in a tabloidesque fashion by
voicing himself on The Simpsons twice (Sunday, Cruddy Sunday 1999; Judge Me Tender 2010). Another sensational and tabloidesque event occurred during the News of the World
phone hacking inquiry when Murdoch was the target of a protester’s
shaving-cream pie (the incident happened on 19 June 2011). Murdoch was
physically defended by his wife at the time Wendi Deng, who blocked the
pie from hitting Murdoch (Carne, 2011). Another feature of the celebrity
CEO is their dynamic personality, which is projected in the media. When
asked in an interview about how long he wanted to be the CEO of News
Corporation, Murdoch’s answer was forever (Kirkland, 2007), a reply that
demonstrated his drive and charisma. This projection of charisma along
with the projection of a corporate brand image and tabloidesque imagery
all contribute to a celebrity CEO’s status and Murdoch is no exception
to this category of celebrity.
Rupert Murdoch inherited and achieved his celebrity status. His good
and bad identities have been produced in media articles, biographies and
profiles, all which praise and criticise his life story. Murdoch’s
identities have also been projected into and manipulated in the public
sphere. He has been made into a brand and been commodified. His
character has been satirised in pop culture; villains have been based on
his personality and biography. But Murdoch is unique because he is also
in the business of commoditising other celebrities through the many
tabloid magazines and newspapers he owns. Through mediation, Murdoch has
been identified in Forbes as an immensely wealthy and powerful
man. He is one of the power elite; a charismatic celebrity CEO. By
being celebritised this way, Murdoch advertises his News Corporation as the
principal organisation in the communications industry. All of this
demonstrates Murdoch’s unique and unusual celebrity status—Murdoch is
both celebrity and celebrity maker. He is both good and bad; famous and
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This article was first published on VERUM.POST and reproduced with permission.