News Corp. and Dow Jones: No Match? Rupert Murdoch has always wanted to own The Wall Street Journal. But the Bancroft family, which owns a controlling interest in the newspaper's parent, Dow Jones & Co., does not want Murdoch to take control.
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News Corp. and Dow Jones: No Match?

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News Corp. and Dow Jones: No Match?

News Corp. and Dow Jones: No Match?

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And let's get more of this story now from Ken Auletta. He's the media columnist for the New Yorker. He's written about the Wall Street Journal and about Rupert Murdoch over the years, and he's going to help us better understand what's going on here. Mr. Auletta, welcome back to the program.

Mr. KEN AULETTA (Media Columnist, The New Yorker): Good morning.

INSKEEP: Remind us how big News Corp. is.

Mr. AULETTA: Well, News Corp. is a $70 billion company. It's probably the fourth largest media company in the world. It began as a small newspaper company in Australia under Rupert Murdoch's father. He expanded that dramatically, and it's now the largest owner of newspapers in the world, with about 170 newspapers.

INSKEEP: And now he wants controlling share in a gigantic newspaper that's been owned by the same family for decades.

Mr. AULETTA: He's always wanted to own the Wall Street Journal. He told me that years ago. And when I was doing a piece two years ago on the Wall - on Dow Jones, and the family that owns it or controls Dow Jones, they made it clear to me that the last person in the world they wanted to own that paper was Rupert Murdoch.


Mr. AULETTA: Because they feel - they worry. They - at least what they said to me was that they worry that his politics would spill not just onto the editorial page, which is close to his views, but onto the news pages. And they didn't want politics to bleed into the newspaper.

INSKEEP: The Bancrofts were saying - that's the family that owns Dow Jones right now - were saying to you that they didn't trust Murdoch to maintain the integrity of the newspaper, basically.

Mr. AULETTA: That is correct. And that's, you know, that becomes the issue, and that's one of the reasons, I think, that they rejected this incredibly lavish offer of $60 a share he made yesterday.

INSKEEP: Can I just ask what it is that makes a newspaper in this era so attractive to a giant media company like News Corp.?

Mr. AULETTA: Well, what makes it attractive to News Corp. are several things. One, Mr. Murdoch is - hopes to begin his new business cable channel in the fall, and the Wall Street Journal would provide, potentially, the reporting for that channel - the content for that channel. And it's the most respected name in business news.

Second, it would provide business news for his worldwide empire. He's the only person in the world who has a worldwide distribution system.

Third, a man who has pushed ahead, who now owns MySpace and has pushed ahead into online, The Wall Street Journal is pretty advanced in that area, and that becomes another - the online component becomes a very attractive component for Murdoch.

INSKEEP: Well, yeah, they got Web sites that you pay for. Now, let's assume that Dow Jones continues to say no - the Bancrofts continue to say no. Are there other possible buyers who might have a chance to get the Wall Street Journal?

Mr. AULETTA: Well, when I was doing my piece two years ago, the family made it clear they were not sellers, but if the Graham family that owns the Washington Post were to make a bid, they will be interested in that. And the second choice at the time was Bloomberg.

They thought that - they were two people who respected good journalism, and they were attracted to that. The Graham family were tends to be lowballers. They tend not to offer pricey, they would know...

INSKEEP: Oh, at the Washington Post. Yeah.

Mr. AULETTA: Washington Post. So that offer never materialized, at least one that would be attractive to the family. As this goes on, they might be other bidders, but it's hard to imagine that other bidders would bid $60 a share, which is a very rich price.

And what happens then is the Bancroft family, which only owns a quarter of the stock, nevertheless owns two-thirds of the voting stock. So the family, if they stay united, can reject this offer. But...

INSKEEP: Let me just ask very briefly if I can, Ken Auletta, before I let you go. Given that all kinds of newspaper stocks went up yesterday, is there suddenly a sense that newspapers have been undervalued?


(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: (unintelligible)

Mr. AULETTA: I think what will happen here is if this bid is rejected by the family, that newspaper stocks will again plummet. Because the perception on Wall Street - as crazy as it is sometimes seems, since newspapers are very profitable - is that newspapers don't have a bright future. Wall Street tends to look for growth. They don't see growth in newspapers, therefore, they punish the stocks.

INSKEEP: Good to talk with you again.

Mr. AULETTA: Even though these are very - these are very profitable business.

INSKEEP: Good to talk with you again, Ken.

Mr. AULETTA: My pleasure.

INSKEEP: Ken Auletta is the media columnist for The New Yorker.

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