What Would New Ownership Mean for 'Journal'?

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The Dow Jones Board, and specifically the Bancroft family, announced Thursday a desire to entertain purchase offers, including one from Rupert Murdoch that will be tough to beat. What would The Wall Street Journal look like if Murdoch, who has a long track record at The Times of London, becomes boss.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

The family that controls the Wall Street Journal has agreed to listen to media baron Rupert Murdoch. He has made a $5 billion offer to buy the paper. The money could hardly be better, but family members are still wrestling with Murdoch's history of infusing his own opinions and interests into his news coverage.

As NPR's David Folkenflik reports, for guidance on what a Murdoch-owned Journal would be like, it helps to look east.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: First stop, the United Kingdom and the Sunday Times London. Andrew Neil was hired to run the paper soon after Murdoch took over.

Mr. ANDREW NEIL (Former Editor-in-chief, Sunday Times): You have a certain latitude. You got to be on the same planet as Rupert Murdoch. Every now and then, you couldn't be on a different continent and even a different country, though you can do that too often under a limits to your freedom.

FOLKENFLIK: Over on planet Murdoch, you probably would've been pretty supportive of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher during the 1980s. More recently, his papers have befriended British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Senator Hillary Clinton.

At Murdoch's tabloids, the London Sun as well as the New York Post, the pressure to slant coverage was more blatant, but there were subtle influence at the more prestigious Sunday Times as well. Neil says he knew the game.

Mr. NEIL: On a number of issues, Rupert and I agreed anyway so it wasn't an issue. Where we didn't, I went carefully, and I usually still got my own way and I survived for 11 years.

FOLKENFLIK: Murdoch plowed new money into the paper, but on planet Murdoch, you don't crusade against corruption in Malaysia just as the boss is seeking to expand his satellite television empire there. After those stories ran, Neil says he got an annoyed call.

Mr. NEIL: And I said, excuse me, Rupert. We don't do prime ministers on the run. When did the newspaper ever do that? He then changed tact and said, well, that's just typical of you Andrew Neil. You want to bring down two prime ministers, not content with one. I now knew from his tone and what he was saying that our days together were numbered.

FOLKENFLIK: For a next stop, let's head farther east - to China. Murdoch admitted to a biographer that business interests led him to ax the BBC from his Star TV satellite service there. Chinese officials were angered by a documentary on Chairman Mao. Murdoch's publishing arm dropped a memoir by the last British governor general of Hongkong, Chris Patten, who was highly critical of human rights abuses in China. A top editor quit.

Murdoch later apologized for that and last month, promised the Bankcroft family he would not damage the Journal's heritage. Instead, he said he'd rely on the papers insights and scoops for his other outlets, such as a new Fox business channel. Murdoch, who declined to be interviewed for this story, recently made his case on his own Fox News Channel.

Mr. RUPERT MURDOCH (Global Media Executive, News Corporation): This is the greatest newspaper in America, one of the greatest in the world. It has great journalist, which deserve, I think, a much wider audience.

FOLKENFLIK: Former Sunday Times editor Andrew Neil says there won't be any frontal assault on the Journal's values, but that Murdoch won't be able to resist violating his promise to keep corporate interests separate from the paper's news coverage.

Mr. NEIL: And it's certain, he finds the Journal as concern. I would suspect that if Mr. Murdoch ends up the owner, that Chinese wall ain't going to last for very long.

FOLKENFLIK: A group of Journal foreign correspondents wrote to the Bankcrofts to encourage them not to sell the paper. Ian Johnson was one of them. He won a Pulitzer back in 2001 for stories on the repression of the Falun Gong that was critical of Chinese authorities.

Mr. IAN JOHNSON (Foreign Correspondent, Wall Street Journal): Our newspaper has written extensively on corruption of senior leaders and their children, for example. This is a huge issue in China the Chinese press can't deal with because it's too sensitive.

FOLKENFLIK: Johnson says any attempt, even to put a thumb on the scale, would damage the Journal's hard-won reputation.

Mr. JOHNSON: If people think that if reflects Rupert Murdoch's business interests, they're not going to read the Journal. They're going to think that this is a slanted take on things.

FOLKENFLIK: Murdoch has yet to meet with the Bankcrofts, but the family's willingness to listen represents a big step forward as he attempts to add a crown jewel to his media empire.

David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York.

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Wall Street Journal Considers Takeover Deal

Shares in the parent company of The Wall Street Journal surged on Friday, after the family that owns a controlling stake in the respected publisher said they will discuss a takeover offer from media mogul Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

The Bancroft family, which own 65 percent of the voting shares in Dow Jones & Co., announced Thursday they are ready to meet with Murdoch. They also said they will consider other bidders for the company.

Stocks of Dow Jones were at $53.31 in early trading on Friday, but jumped to $61.27 by the close of the day. That compares with a finish of $36.33 at the end of April.

In April, Murdoch offered $5 billion for Dow Jones, but his offer was quickly rebuffed. Dow Jones employees and others raised concerns that Murdoch would not maintain the Dow Jones' high editorial standards. Murdoch's media empire includes Fox News, the New York Post and British tabloids The Sun and The Times.

But after a special meeting of the Dow Jones board of directors on Thursday, the family decided to reconsider. A statement from the family said, "After a detailed review of the business of Dow Jones and the evolving competitive environment in which it operates, the family has reached consensus that the mission of Dow Jones may be better accomplished in combination or collaboration with another organization, which may include News Corporation."

And the financial news environment is about to get much more competitive. In a deal that become public days after the Bancroft's nixed Murdoch's initial offer, it was announced that Dow Jones competitor Reuters Group PLC would merge with Thomson Corp. in a deal worth $17.2 billion.

Murdoch has also said he would invest in the Journalto allay the Bancrofts' concerns and ensure the paper's editorial independence.

The Wall Street Journal is among the most widely read newspapers in the world and is the flagship of Dow Jones' publications. The company also publishes the financial magazine Barron's and holds a portfolio of community newspapers as well as distributing a variety of financial data. Its sales were $1.8 billion last year.

Murdoch's News Corp. — significantly bigger and wealthier with $25 billion in sales last year — wants to buy Dow Jones to fortify its financial news operation. That would catapult it ahead of the Reuters and Bloomberg news agencies that are known for providing real-time financial information.

Like several other newspaper publishers including The New York Times Co. and The Washington Post Co., Dow Jones is a public company but remains controlled by a family through a special class of shares with powerful voting rights.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press



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