With public outrage over the apparently industrial scale of the phone "hacking" perpetrated by some of its journalists having reached boiling point and advertisers deserting it in droves, Rupert Murdoch's decision to cease publication of the 'News of the World' is less of a surprise than it seems. Once it became clear that 'News of the World' journalists weren't just eavesdropping on celebrity tittle-tattle but had illegally intercepted the mobile voicemails of murder victims and their relatives, the 168-year-old title's days were numbered.
Even so the speed and ruthlessness with which Murdoch moved to shut the 'News of the World', the first British newspaper he bought after moving to the UK in 1969, was breath-taking. In the end the fact that it was the profits from the paper, with its mixture of scandal, celebrity gossip and sport, which funded News Corp's expansion to become the UK's largest newspaper publisher, the controlling shareholder in its largest satellite broadcaster BSkyB and, in recent years, the world's second-largest media company, counted for nothing with Murdoch.
The key to yesterday's shock decision almost certainly lies in News Corp's decision last year to mount a £7.8bn (e8.7bn) takeover bid for the 61pc of BSkyB which it didn't already own. The BSkyB takeover bid breathed renewed life into the murky affair of the "hacking" of mobile phone messages by some 'News of the World' journalists which had dragged on inconclusively since the paper's royal correspondent Clive Goodman and private detective Glenn Mulcaire were jailed in 2007 for intercepting voice messages.
The longer the "hacking" scandal dragged on, the greater the danger that the BSkyB takeover would be blocked by the UK regulatory authorities.
As the news-gathering practices of the newspaper were subjected to renewed scrutiny, News Corp's line that the phone "hacking" was all the fault of one "rogue" journalist gradually crumbled. Instead what emerged was evidence of the systematic interception of voice messages involving hundreds, perhaps thousands, of victims.
While Rupert Murdoch's decision to pull the plug was at least partially motivated by a desire to save the BSkyB takeover, it was nevertheless an entirely appropriate response to the scale of the wrongdoing that had been exposed at the newspaper. Here was a newspaper that was quite clearly out of control and whose senior management were, at the very least, prepared to condone serious wrong-doing in pursuit of a "scoop".
Despite the vulnerability of mobile phones to "hacking" being widely known for many years, the vast majority of journalists and their editors seem to have resisted the temptation to eavesdrop. Which is only as it should be. Not only is listening in on people's voicemails illegal it is utterly immoral. Perpetrating such a gross violation of someone's privacy is never justified, no matter how juicy or salacious the story may be.
'The News of the World' and its staff, most of whom are innocent of "hacking", have paid a very high price for ignoring these basic ethical principles.
Other journalists would be well-advised to learn the lessons of the affair. If we journalists seek to hold others to account for failing to adhere to the highest standards then we must expect to suffer the consequences when we fall short of those same standards.