By Mike Collett-White and Sudip Kar-Gupta
LONDON (Reuters) - In a moment of celebration tinged with sorrow and no little anger, the staff of Britain's best-selling News of the World tabloid cheered as they left their offices on Saturday for the last time.
Reporters, editors and production staff walked out of the building in east London en masse, and lined up before the world's cameras waiting to capture a piece of media history.
The headline of the last edition was simple and unusually low key. It read: "THANK YOU & GOODBYE" and underneath in smaller print added: "After 168 years, we finally say a sad but very proud farewell to our 7.5 million) loyal readers."
The words appeared over a montage of some of the paper's most famous front pages, most of them involving celebrities, members of the royal family and politicians.
The owners of News of the World made the shock decision to close the title on Thursday in the face of mounting criticism of its newsgathering techniques.
Claims of illegal hacking into the voicemails of stars, royals, families of soldiers killed in combat and a kidnapped girl later found to be murdered have engulfed parent company News Corp in scandal.
Rupert Murdoch, head of News Corp.
Staff at News of the World, where some 200 people are losing their jobs, have voiced anger and disbelief at the sudden move to shut it down, believing they were ruthlessly sacrificed to save the prized BSkyB deal.
The collapse in advertising in the wake of the latest hacking allegations may also have played a part in the decision.
168 PROUD YEARS
"Goodbye Cruel News of the World," read the words on one employee's T-shirt on Saturday evening.
Colin Myler, the outgoing editor, addressed the media gathered outside his offices, watched by his staff who cheered him loudly.
"It's actually our 8,674th edition after 168 proud years," he said, holding aloft a copy of the front and back pages of the closing edition.
"I want to pay tribute to this wonderful team of people here who after a really difficult day have produced in a brilliantly professional way a wonderful newspaper.
"This is not where we wanted to be and it's not where we deserve to be, but as a final tribute to 7.5 million readers, this is for you and for the staff, thank you.
Before leading his team away, he added: "And now, in the best traditions of Fleet Street, we're going to the pub."
At the Cape pub nearby, some employees shed tears.
"Both my wife and I worked there, so it's going to hit us hard tomorrow," reporter John Roe told Reuters.
Meanwhile Bev Stokes, the paper's office manager, was serving beer to former colleagues from behind the bar.
Galling for many employees was the fact that Rebekah Brooks, a key Murdoch executive and editor of News of the World when an investigator working for the paper hacked into the voicemail of missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler, remained in her post.
She has denied any knowledge of the Dowler hacking case which has repulsed the British public.
The print run for the last News of the World has been bumped up to five million copies, nearly double the normal number, in anticipation of a spike in demand for the historic edition.
Rival titles in the cut-throat world of British tabloid journalism will be looking to exploit the demise of the market leader, with the Mail on Sunday and Sunday Mirror seen as most likely to benefit in the short term.
In the longer term, many News of the World journalists expect a new title to replace the closed newspaper, possibly a Sunday version of the daily Sun.
(Reporting by Mike Collett-White)