Ever since James Murdoch broke cover on News Corps’ climate denialism, we’ve been asking whether News Corp will de-carbonise its climate coverage. But the real question is: can it, even if it wants to?

Climate denial is deeply embedded in the company’s outrage business model. News Corp thinks it owns the outrage. Too late: the outrage now owns the company. De-carbonising its journalism would demand not just a new top to bottom approach — it would also demand a new audience to the one they’ve curated and nurtured.

Don’t take my word for it: read the comments under any News Corp article about climate change (or maybe not!). As a sponsor of the denial industry, News Corp has worked hard to get that audience to where they are now. It won’t be easy to walk them back again.

With its business model now depending on subscriptions rather than advertising, News has to literally give its readers what they’re paying for.

The Murdochs have been here before. As Michael Wolff wrote in Fire and Fury, in 2016 Fox News tried to position itself away from Trump but found itself overwhelmed by his support among the network’s core audience.

At the moment, News Corp — like the Morrison government — is attempting to change tone, without direction. This means gaslighting readers with denial about denial, as in the now infamous “cool heads needed” editorial on January 11; providing greater space for pro-climate change commentary; diverting attention to soft options like the “real affordable solutions” on Thursday’s NT News front page; marshalling adverbs and adjectives in order to downplay the impact as in Chris Kenny’s Saturday column (“making an existing catastrophic threat slightly more common”).

At the same time, their holy wars continue, with a backhander to “keyboard warriors” in the NT News‘ call for climate unity.  Saturday’s op-ed by 76-year-old John Carroll referred to 17-year-old Greta Thunberg “ranting” and “raging”.

There are a few more easy things News Corp could do: they could quietly drop the more extreme deniers from their op-ed pages — like Ian Plimer or Maurice Newman. Harder, but still doable: it could get rid of the most identifiable deniers among the company’s culture war warriors, like Andrew Bolt.

The in-house writers will adjust. For them, to paraphrase George Orwell, if News Corp is at war with climate denial, News Corp has always been at war with climate denial.

For the junta of lieutenant-colonels in News Corps’ local management, things could get trickier. Traditionally, when Rupert has wanted change, he starts with the editors. Now, a real change would require a comprehensive purge of the Queensland mafia that dominates the Australian division. That’s a big ask: when these editors last went to war in 2013, Rupert’s pick as local CEO, Kim Williams, left the company after only 20 months.

These are Lachlan Murdoch’s people: his first real job in the Australian company was as general manager of Queensland Newspapers, in the early 1990s when it was owned directly by the family trust — all part of the rich history between the Murdochs and Queensland, all the way back to Sir Keith. The Queenslander! ethos endures in News Corps’ continuing two-thirds ownership of the Brisbane Broncos.

While in Brisbane, Lachlan reached out to many of the company’s young and mid-career journalists. Many of those connections endure, at least in the minds of the Australian hierarchy. James’ comments are unlikely to move them.

James’ people on the other hand have largely left News Corp — most prominently his best man Jesse Angelo who abruptly left his job as NY Post CEO last year.

News Corp has one other way of marking change — through political leadership. Another reason why Scott Morrison will be keeping at least half an eye on the Queenslanders — both in News Corp and in his Cabinet.

Do you think News Corp can make the switch away from climate denialism? Send your thoughts through to boss@crikey.com.au. Please include your full name for publication.