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Rupert Murdoch is one step closer to acquiring the Wall Street Journal. Murdoch's News Corporation reached an initial agreement yesterday in principle with the Journal's parent company, Dow Jones. This agreement is intended to ease concerns that Murdoch would meddle with the news pages of the Journal. If all the details are completed, that just leaves the price to be negotiated, and Murdoch's $5 billion offer for Dow Jones is already considered generous.
NPR's David Folkenflik reports.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: According to one person in each camp, Dow Jones and Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. have agreed to create a new five-person board to resolve future conflicts between the Wall Street Journal's top news and editorial page editors and Murdoch. That arrangement was prompted by concerns over Murdoch's record. To varying degrees, the news coverage of his properties such as the Fox News Channel, the New York Post, The Times of London and the Australian reflects his conservative beliefs.
Some former news executives say Murdoch also twists coverage to promote his financial interests, especially in Asia. Former Wall Street Journal editor Dennis Kneale says of course Murdoch interferes.
Mr. DENNIS KNEALE (Managing Editor, Forbes): As for Rupert Murdoch and his agenda, every media owner has an agenda. The New York Times, they're a controlling family. They have an agenda. They have a liberal agenda, and they are allowed to.
FOLKENFLIK: The Sulzberger family that controls the Times would take issue with that. The three-dozen members of the Bancroft family who own more than 60 percent of the voting stock in Dow Jones have kept their distance from news coverage and editorial page policy and want Murdoch to do the same.
Under the proposal, News Corp. and the Bancrofts would jointly name board members, prominent figures who lack ties to either side. Murdoch and his team would have to consult that board before appointing top newsroom leaders.
James Ottaway, Jr., is a former Dow Jones executive and board member and he controls about 6.2 percent of the voting stock. He knows where he comes down.
Mr. JAMES OTTAWAY, JR. (Former Dow Jones executive and board member): I could not live the rest of my life with the shame of having voted to sell Dow Jones Company to Rupert Murdoch.
FOLKENFLIK: News Corp. executives say Murdoch has no intention of damaging the Journal by meddling in its coverage. After buying The Times of London, Murdoch beefed up foreign coverage but he also hired and fired editors and paid little attention to a similar board there. Ottaway says Murdoch's approach is completely at odds with the Journal's traditions.
Mr. OTTAWAY, JR.: That sense of owning a public trust stronger than personal gain or profit, it would be just destroyed by selling to Murdoch, I think.
FOLKENFLIK: Some critics, such as journal editor Dennis Kneale, say the Bancrofts and Dow Jones executives fail to attract enough new subscribers and failed to improve the stock value for shareholders. Kneale is now the managing editor of the financial magazine Forbes.
Mr. KNEALE: For all the criticisms Rupert Murdoch will endure in this deal, the fact is the journal will have a much longer life and a much more robust life now because Rupert is taking it over than it would if it had stayed in the hands of this precious family who insists that they're protecting a national treasure.
FOLKENFLIK: Many of the Bancrofts originally didn't want to talk to Murdoch at all. It's not known yet whether enough of them will support the deal to make it happen.
David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York.
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