Murdoch’s plan for Journal

first_imgLike any close reader of The Wall Street Journal, Rupert Murdoch has his opinions. “I’m sometimes frustrated by the long stories,” he said, adding that he rarely gets around to finishing some articles. The editorial pages? He likes them but would like to see more political coverage in the news pages. “I might put more emphasis on Washington,” he said. He’s not a huge fan of the Saturday Journal launched in 2005, but he would continue it and look at converting its Pursuits section into a glossy weekend magazine to compete with The New York Times’ Sunday magazine. And while he’s no technology geek, he also said he regularly reads the paper’s technology columnist, Walter Mossberg, although he added: “I don’t say I understand it perfectly.” Most readers just write a letter to the editor. Murdoch made a $5 billion offer to buy the Journal’s parent company, Dow Jones & Co. To do that, he must first win over the Bancroft family, which has controlled Dow Jones for the last 92 years and has so far resisted all of his overtures, in part because of concerns about what he might do to the Journal. He insists he won’t meddle in the journalism or slash-and-burn the staff. “We’re not coming in with a bunch of cost-cutters,” he said, but added: “I’m not saying it’s going to be a holiday camp for everybody.” In an interview in his eighth floor office in midtown Manhattan on Thursday, Murdoch, who occasionally glanced at his notes on a single page of yellow tablet, waxed on about his plans to invest in the company’s journalism, including rebranding the forthcoming Fox business channel with the Journal’s name. He also spoke of his family’s commitment to preserving the paper’s heritage and, perhaps more surprisingly, with sympathy for the Bancrofts in light of the position his offer has put them in. The family has said that 52 percent of its votes oppose Murdoch’s offer. They have not answered any of his invitations to meet with him and his sons, James and Lachlan, and a daughter, Elisabeth. “My real intention is to try to get a meeting, not to impress them with my charm – if I have any – but to impress them with the intentions and feelings of my adult children,” Murdoch said, trying to assuage concerns about succession at the News Corp. as he leaned back on his taupe sofa. While he said he still has hopes to address the family as a group, Murdoch said he did not personally plan to start to lobby any individual shareholders on the fence. The Bancroft trusts, representing three dozen or so members of the family, own 24.7 percent of Dow Jones’ stock but control 64.2 percent of the votes through supervoting shares. With many other shareholders in favor of his bid, Murdoch might only have to persuade a handful of family members. “I don’t want to be in a position of putting one Bancroft against another Bancroft. I’m not in the business of stirring up trouble in the family,” he said, though that appears to be exactly what he has done. “Our understanding is that there are several members of the family who have not made a final decision,” he said. “I think the next step for us is to be patient – and to be available at anytime should they respond to my suggestion for a meeting.” And if a large majority of the family ended up clearly rejecting his bid? “It would be ugly – depending on your perspective, it might be admirable too,” Murdoch said of the way the family would likely be perceived. “I think it would cause quite a lot of argument.” Murdoch has long coveted The Wall Street Journal. He said he decided to finally make a formal bid after years of flirting with the company. His offer – worth $60 a share, a whopping 67 percent premium – was meant “to get the attention of the owners,” he said, while acknowledging that even some of his own board members who unanimously supported the proposal shared the view that it was “insanely high.” Murdoch needs to win over not only the Bancroft family but members of The Journal’s newsroom, many of whom hope to fend off his bid. Murdoch said that if it were legally possible, he would rechristen his planned Fox Business Channel with a name with “Journal” in it. While Murdoch went to great pains to explain that he sees himself as a lifelong newspaperman who learned journalism from his father in Australia, he also implied that his reputation as an interloper owner was overstated. He said he is not involved with the news operations of the higher-end newspapers, although he takes a closer role in tabloids like The Sun in London and the New York Post. And he said he would propose to the Bancrofts setting up a separate board for the newspaper that would be mandated with ensuring its editorial independence, as he has had in place since he acquired the Times and Sunday Times in 1981. Although he said that he hoped to make money off his $5 billion investment, Murdoch said, as he did in his letter to the family, that being part of his larger global company would allow the company to invest for the longer term. He talked about revitalizing The Journal’s editions in Europe and Asia, which have been depleted of resources. He also suggested that globalization would make The Journal even more important internationally.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img