Sunday 17 November 2019

Dublin's Storyful offers Brooks low-key path to redemption

Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks
Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks

Mandy Johnston

The queen of the red tops is back. Rebekah Brooks is returning to Rupert Murdoch's news group to run Storyful, a Dublin-based social media news agency. Brooks' meteoric rise within the News International ranks is matched only by her spectacular and very public fall from grace.

Although eventually cleared of all charges, Brooks was a central figure in the phone hacking scandal which exposed unorthodox and unscrupulous behaviour within the News International organisation.

On a career break from the company, she was never really gone away. Instead, she was taking a break to allow time for her professional toxicity levels to abate so that she could one day return to the family fold. Now she is back, as sharp as shears, with a story full of redemption. Ironically, Brooks is now charged with running a news organisation that is entirely dependent on electronic monitoring and surveillance.

Re-entry into mainstream media is difficult for her and for her professional mentor Murdoch. The beauty of re-entering through Storyful is that it is not based in London. Because it is so obscure, no one really understands what it is or what it does.

At just 31, Rebekah Brooks was running the 'News of the World', by 34 she was at the helm of Britain's largest daily newspaper 'The Sun', and by 41 she was running Rupert Murdoch's entire British newspaper empire.

Like most people who are as successful in the media industry, she is ruthlessly ambitious - a connotation which always seems negative when applied to women, though is seldom considered a bad thing in men, it should be noted. Similarly, her looks are frequently examined in ways that men rarely have to suffer. At close quarters, Brooks is strikingly beautiful, in a very unconventional way. She has used this distinction to her advantage but the profile it has given her also prevents her from simply blending into any background.

Her career is punctuated by pragmatism rather than principle. Her success at developing and exploiting powerful relationships was not confined to the media or the Murdochs. Famed for befriending successive British prime minsters Blair, Brown and Cameron, her interest in the trio from opposing political viewpoints lay not in their politics or their policies, but in their power.

Having encountered her on a number of occasions, I found her to be as friendly as she was formidable, but the fierce determination was patently obvious and never far from the surface. Following a meeting with a delegation from News International, I asked a minister who seemed to fidget a lot during a meeting if he felt intimidated by Brooks - he replied, "Yes, but I kind of liked it."

Brooks and her husband Charlie were at the centre of the social scene in Chipping Norton - the weekend sojourn of the powerful and beautiful people in Oxfordshire. That collection of movers and shakers would make the D4 set look like the cast of Glenroe. So it is unlikely that she will relocate to Dublin anytime soon. It is not the centre of the earth, but a base in Ireland provides a gentle ease into her professional rehabilitation, while remaining in her spiritual home of News International, or News UK as it is now known.

Storyful is a sort of filtering system for digital news. Beady media eyes will watch with interest to see if she can continue the trend or whether she will be tempted like a moth to a flame to recreate a more sensational product, delivering salacious news stories, splashes, and scoops.

Irish Independent

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