Feature

Murdoch

Will Dow Jones be his next conquest?

'œEveryone here is trying to do their jobs,' said one journalist, 'œfrom under the ton of bricks that just landed on them.' That reaction last week from one of the 7,500 Dow Jones employees was fairly typical, said David Carr in The New York Times, after media mogul Rupert Murdoch announced he wanted to buy the parent company of The Wall Street Journal for a gasp-inducing $5 billion. It wasn't just the sheer size of the offer that hit some people in the gut, said Frank Ahrens in The Washington Post. It was also the prospect that one of the world's most controversial media barons might seize the crown jewel of American business journalism. The Pulitzer Prize'“winning Journal is the reliable voice of the financial establishment. By contrast, the hard-knuckled Murdoch is best known for media properties such as the sensationalistic New York Post and the right-leaning Fox News Channel. Many liken him to a modern-day Citizen Kane, saying he ruthlessly uses his $70 billion News Corp. empire to advance his own agendas. A business rival has called him 'œa threat to democracy.'

That's probably an overstatement, said Jack Shafer in Slate.com. Still, the prospect of a Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal should make all fans of fearless, independent journalism shudder. In his long career, Murdoch, 76, has demonstrated that he 'œhas no principles' except his own self-interest. Because of his major business interests in China, for example, his media outlets regularly soft-pedal news that reflects badly on China's leaders. Consider the Journal's recent Pulitzer-winning articles: 'œIt's hard to imagine Murdoch dispatching reporters to dig into the stock-option backdating story, critique defense spending, or probe the tobacco industry.' Murdoch insists that he'd 'œmake no colossal editorial changes' in the Journal. Yet he 'œviolated every promise of editorial independence he made' before his purchases of the London Times and the Chicago Sun-Times. The man is 'œinnately treacherous.'

Still, Murdoch's unique brand of 'œpersonal passion' may be just what the hidebound Wall Street Journal needs, said former Journal managing editor Norman Pearlstine in the Los Angeles Times. Murdoch 'œloves news and newspapers and believes that business coverage can transcend dullness.' Besides, he would never reduce the value of his investment by mucking with the Journal's commitment to quality. In fact, he might be the Journal's knight in shining armor, said Andrew Ross Sorkin in The New York Times. Dow Jones, like the rest of the newspaper industry, is losing readers and advertising to the Internet. Murdoch's generous offer could be its salvation. If the Bancroft family, which owns 64 percent of Dow Jones, cares about 'œseeing the company continue to flourish,' it will overcome its initial revulsion and make a deal.

John Heilemann

New York

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