'Ink' Goes Back In Time To Remember Rupert Murdoch Before He Was A Mogul The play chronicles Rupert Murdoch's attempts to upend the insular world of British newspaper publishing — how he bought a struggling paper called The Sun and turned it into a widely read tabloid.
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'Ink' Goes Back In Time To Remember Murdoch Before He Was A Mogul

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'Ink' Goes Back In Time To Remember Murdoch Before He Was A Mogul

'Ink' Goes Back In Time To Remember Murdoch Before He Was A Mogul

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Rupert Murdoch, the mogul who owns Fox News, the Wall Street Journal and other newspapers and networks around the world, is, arguably, the most powerful man in media today. But in 1969, he was a hungry 38-year-old looking to break into London's newspaper establishment. As Jeff Lunden reports, a new play called "Ink" chronicles those years.

JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: At the beginning of "Ink," Rupert Murdoch meets with an ambitious editor named Larry Lamb and asks him what makes a good story. Lamb answers with journalism's five basics - Who? What? When? Where? Why? But Lamb, played by Jonny Lee Miller, wants to ditch, why?

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JONNY LEE MILLER: (As Larry Lamb) Once you know why something happened, the story's over. It's dead. Don't answer why, and a story can run and run - can run forever. And the other reason, actually, honestly, I think is that there is no why most times. Why suggests that there's a plan, a point to things when they happen. And there's not. There's just not. Sometimes [expletive] just happens - only thing worth asking isn't, why? It's, what's next?

LUNDEN: What's next is the story of a failing British newspaper, The Sun, and its rebirth as a tabloid under Murdoch and Lamb. The play was written by James Graham.

JAMES GRAHAM: I wanted to do, like, an origin story to go back to the birth of what now feels like the predominant kind of tone to our news media, especially when you think of Fox News and social media and the Internet. It's very loud. It's very aggressive. It's very populist. And sometimes, it feels, I guess, quite dangerous.

LUNDEN: Murdoch already owned newspapers in Australia, New Zealand and wanted to crack the British market. But he found he wasn't welcome, says Bertie Carvel, who plays the future mogul.

BERTIE CARVEL: Ironically, really, given his beginnings from a wealthy and well-established Australian family, to come into the British society and be held as an outsider and sort of almost excluded from that establishment, I think that is probably key in terms of his kind of appetite to overturn and to disrupt.

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CARVEL: (As Rupert Murdoch) You know what I hear when I hear codes and traditions? I hear the rules as written by those who benefit from them to stop others from treading on their turf.

LUNDEN: He enlists editor Lamb, who assembles a staff of other establishment rejects, to take on the most popular paper in Britain. Playwright James Graham says The Daily Mirror was filled with highbrow conversations about art and politics.

GRAHAM: The Sun decided to be fun. It's cheeky. It's mischievous. It's sometimes insulting. Everything is in all caps. Everything's screamed at you from the paper.

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CARVEL: (As Rupert Murdoch) I just want something...

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CARVEL: (As Rupert Murdoch) ...Loud.

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LUNDEN: And with the addition of salacious crime reporting and pictures of nude women on Page 3, The Sun became and remains the most widely read paper in England. It was highly influential in the Brexit vote. So when "Ink" premiered in liberal North London, Graham says the audience seemed taken by surprise at the play's sympathetic portrayal of upstarts taking on the establishment.

GRAHAM: I would be thrilled in the interval to see these people coming out sort of gray with shock that they'd accidentally found themselves rooting for Rupert Murdoch.

LUNDEN: Murdoch himself actually saw "Ink" in London and met the cast, says the play's Murdoch, Bertie Carvel.

CARVEL: Oh, it was very strange. We said very little to one another. I shook his hand. And I said, well, this is weird. And he said, yes, it is. And we, more or less, left it at that (laughter).

GRAHAM: But, of course, you know, I don't want him to love it...

LUNDEN: Playwright James Graham.

GRAHAM: ...Because if he loves it too much, then I'm not doing my job. I wanted to prosecute him, but I also wanted to be fair.

LUNDEN: Still, the creators didn't want to preach to the converted, says director Rupert Goold.

RUPERT GOOLD: Its great function, it feels to me, is to get people into a room together, tell them stories that may not be normative to their own political position - ideally, to get people into the room together who may not even share the same position and say, look. We're all human here. We all have fun. We all get into trouble. We all have hopes and ambitions. And I do feel that's a really important thing to be doing at the moment.

LUNDEN: Which is one way to answer the fifth W - why?

For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

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