In 1968, Australian Rupert Murdoch bought The News of the World newspaper in the U.K., and followed that up in 1969 with the purchase of The Sun. In 1981, he acquired The Times and the Sunday Times. His media holdings in the United States now include Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, and many others.
British journalism (and eventually American journalism) would never be the same. Murdoch embraced new technology, moved operations from Fleet Street, raised the ire of the unions, threw himself (and his newspapers) fully behind Margaret Thatcher and later Tony Blair. The content of the newspapers he acquired changed as well. While the Murdoch newspapers didn’t turn tabloid journalism into an art form, they soon were treading where many newspapers had feared to tread. The journalism establishment was initially outraged; within a few short years, it would be forced to follow Murdoch’s lead.
In the play Ink, British playwright James Graham focuses on the pivotal acquisition of The Sun in 1969, not so much on how it happened but more on the assembling of a staff, the first Murdoch edition of Nov. 17, 1969, and how with a year The Sun was catching up to its bigger competitors. And the play is less about Murdoch and more about Larry Lamb (1929-2000), the editor Murdoch lured to The Sun and who in many ways “out-Murdoched” Murdoch.
This isn’t a play with a build toward a fever-pitch climax. Instead, Ink is a narrative, almost like a snapshot of what happened at The Sun in the early Murdoch years, and the determination that Murdoch and the editors had to overtake The Mirror, then the most widely read newspaper in Britain.
Graham, born in 1982, has written more than 20 plays, and recently had both Ink and Labour of Love being staged at the same time in London. He has gained a reputation for being one of the best of Britain’s playwrights writing about politics. He’s also written for television and worked as an actor.
Today, we’re watching enormous upheavals going on in the media world, brought by technology, the internet, social media, dramatically changing economics, and politics. Some of the seeds of these upheavals can be found in what Rupert Murdoch did in 1969. Ink provides a way to help understand what happened.
Writing Rupert, Playing Murdoch, Making Ink – The New York Times.
Top photograph: The first edition of the Sun under Rupert Murdoch, Nov. 17, 1969.