Friday, May 04, 2007

Takeover politics

The Journal has posted its sign: Not for sale. At least, not yet.

This week Dow Jones union president Steve Yount sent a letterto members to say he's not happy about a potential sellout to Rubert Murdoch. The News Corp. bid for the Wall Street Journal's parent company apparently sent shudders through Dow Jones ranks. Yount tried to cool the panic about a Fox-ification overhaul.

"We believe that what's at stake here is the essence of everything you do: the unquestioned integrity, objectivity and independence of Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal," Yount wrote in the letter.

He goes on to say he was particularly troubled by what Murdoch told the New York Times. The media tycoon said he was "sometimes frustrated by long stories." Yount balked at the statement:

"I'm afraid Mr. Murdoch doesn't understand why the Wall Street Journal is the Wall Street Journal. Not everything is five paragraphs and picture. Dow Jones did not become the most trusted source of business news and information in the world by serving up News Nuggets."

He ended the message with a promise to "continue the fight to preserve the quality, integrity and independence of Dow Jones."

But is he fighting a futile battle?

I think it's quite possible that News Corp. could buy out Dow Jones. Murdoch is determined to add a high-brow gem to his crown of media enterprises. He's willing to pay two-thirds more than share value - so either he has a personal mission or he's peeking around the corner to the Journal's lucrative future. The Bancroft family, which controls Dow Jones, has vowed to vote down Murdoch's agressive charge for the Journal. But there's no telling whether the media maven will pitch an even more irresistable bid if he's shot down the first time around.

Regardless of who wins this ownership battle, I am confident that the editorial board will maintain the integrity of the newspaper. The union president's message was refreshing. The entire media world -- from the corporate executives to university professors, ahem -- is abuzz about "audience." Everyone wants to know what's on the elusive consumers' minds. Are they looking for substance, style or a balanced blend of both?

Yount seemed to value substance. That's not to say Murdoch doesn't appreciate substantive reporting, but he's more likely to impose a certain style to the newspaper's articles. People like Murdoch believe news must be easily digestible, snazzy and quick.

That may be true for most consumers, but I think the Wall Street Journal has special readers. Its editors figured out the benefits of a niche market long ago, when the publication began targeting educated, finance professionals. The publication's readers are time-pressed and might appreciate Murdoch's "news nuggets."
But they're also curious and patient enought to carve out time to read an 1,000-word story, unlike Murdoch, who said he doesn't have patience to read some Wall Street Journal articles all the way through.

The newspaper retains subscribers by providing background and context that's largely unavailable elsewhere. And, honestly, if the Wall Street Journal isn't showing the bigger picture, where will readers find that perspective?

One thing is for sure. If Murdoch wins the Wall Street Journal with his unsolicited $5 billion deal, there would be major changes at his new trophy property.


At Saturday, May 05, 2007, Blogger MK said...

Doesn't the Wall Street Journal print "news nuggets" right on the front page? They do! And it's one of my favorite parts of the Journal. Right on the front, they have a listing of important news briefs.

But let's not argue semantics here. Murdoch does seem very determined. He's a successful businessman and it is hard to predict how he would affect the Journal. He seems intent on on having it because of how good its reputation is. Why would he praise it, buy it and then change it? Surely crazier things have happened but Murdoch seems to want the Journal for what it is, not for what he wants it to be. This whole story stinks of news arrogance to me. If Murdoch's style is so bad, why are Fox news channel and the NY Post so popular?


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