On September 13, 1916, Murderous Mary, “the largest living land animal on earth”, a 30 year old, five-ton cow elephant with the Sparks Brothers Circus, was hung by the neck. Despite her great age, and being the most popular asset of Charlie Sparks’ business – she was sacrificed arguably in the name of crisis management.
On July 10, 2011, the News of the World, Britain’s best selling Sunday newspaper and 168 year old, cash cow within Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. (producing £86m in profit for the year ending June 2010), meets the same fate as Mary.
The story of Mary was presented by John Brummette of Radford University at the 2nd International History of Public Relations conference at Bournemouth University this week. Unfortunately I missed this session (as I was presenting at the time), but enjoyed a detailed conversation with John about the case.
The resemblance to the News of the World lies in the “damage limitation” approach evident by both Sparks Bros Circus and News Corp in undertaking an execution to shift focus from terrible management decisions.
In Mary’s case, the town of Erwin, Tennessee, the site of her death (and that of her inexperienced trainer), has sought to distance itself from the incident. It would seem that News International is adopting the same strategy, hoping the demise of the paper will be end of the appalling phone hacking affair.
There were other elephants in Sparks Circus, enabling the show to go on – much as News International is rumoured to be planning the Sun on Sunday as an alternative star in its stable.
Sparks Circus -which was founded just 12 years after the News of the World – was sold in 1928, with its final performance in 1931. News of the World has had a long history as popular entertainment of the working classes – much as was the case for Mary.
Clearly the actions of News Corp are designed to maintain its licence to operate – like Mary, the NotW seems to be a victim in the battle of corporate reputation management.