May 13, 2007


Reinventing newspapers is Murdoch's long-range goal (Richard Siklos, May 13, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

Whatever Murdoch says he may do with such a powerful enterprise, a close look at what he has done in the past - particularly how he has deployed his far larger Hollywood and television properties - is a telling indicator of what life may be like for Dow Jones in a Murdoch regime.

When Murdoch bought the struggling 20th Century Fox studio in 1985, Hollywood viewed him as just the latest arriviste, doomed to be suckered by the industry's vagaries. Yet Murdoch restored the studio, let his staff there produce the films they wanted (for the most part), and used Fox as a springboard to start his Fox television network and a passel of cable channels and other ventures around the globe.

"Rupert Murdoch is utterly consistent," said Barry Diller, who once ran Fox and now oversees IAC/Interactive. "It's not like he's adding toys. This is oxygen to him."

In almost every case, Murdoch endured years of losses to put new offerings like Sky Television in England and the Fox News Channel in the United States on the map.

There is scant evidence of Murdoch's envelope-pushing imprimatur at the studio that is the center of it all, just as it is less in evidence at the large quality newspapers he owns, including The Times of London and The Australian.

Murdoch's long-held desire to own The Journal fits into a similar grand plan: to revitalize if not save the original business on which he built his empire: newspapers. His vision is to unite the far-flung news businesses he owns into a seamless digital platform anchored by the Web-oriented Journal and, in the process, reinvent the newspaper industry that his company was built on.

"We are a relatively old company deeply rooted in print journalism," Murdoch told his top news executives in his Australian drawl a few days after the "Idol" party. "Now, we have to make a huge leap into a completely different world."

A couple of days embedded in the Murdoch camp yielded a few clues about what makes Rupert run and why. At the age of 76, he appears to be in his strongest position in years - with his company's share price up nearly 50 percent in the past two years and his grip over his company finally secure.

Murdoch's many critics over the years have accused him of a cynical world view that appeals to the lowest common denominator. In sum, they say, he is willing to sacrifice principle for profit.

"His business is privatized, government propaganda - that's all the company essentially does," says Bruce Page, a journalist who worked at The Sunday Times of London before Murdoch owned it and is among his toughest critics. Page's 2003 book, "The Murdoch Archipelago," portrayed him as nothing less than a threat to democracy.

"It isn't that Murdoch's particularly wicked," he wrote. "He's not a fearsome, warriorlike figure. He's Falstaff. He has absolutely no concept of honor."

Because honor resides in putting out unpopular anti-government propaganda like the dying portions of the media?

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 13, 2007 8:50 AM

Why do articles like this feel the need to get input from someone's "toughest critics"? I suppose if Murdoch were black, they could get some Klansman to comment on what was wrong with him.

Posted by: RC at May 13, 2007 11:02 AM

And honor requires J-School graduates to never, ever admit what they put out is "unpopular anti-government propaganda", even viciously attack those who'd dare suggest they are just like everyone else in having biases.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at May 13, 2007 11:07 AM

Given what has happened to James Lileks and some of his fellow columnists at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune over the past week, the WSJ's union needs to reconsider their reflexive opposition to Murdoch. Would you rather have the chance to take your talent across multiple platforms (Fox Business Channel and MySpace), or would you rather have your "honor" and watch your business slowly die?

Posted by: Brad S at May 13, 2007 11:34 AM

Given what the departing deputy editor of the Star-Tribune said about being forced to add a conservative columnist to the editorial page, then Murdoch is what the press needs. A person less concerned with 'making a difference' than with putting forth a product that the public wishes to buy.

Funny; two of the professions you have people entering stating they wish to make a difference are the law and journalism. And we know how 'make a difference' lawyers turn out; is it any surprise that is how make a difference journalists turn out?

Posted by: Mikey [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 13, 2007 12:44 PM

By "pro-government" he means something like "pro-Administration." The non-Murdoch papers, e.g. the NYTimes, tend to be pro-government in the more general sense, more like "pro-bureaucracy."

Posted by: Bob Hawkins at May 13, 2007 3:33 PM

More like pro the people's choice. The media opposes the people and then wonders at their own unpopularity.

Posted by: oj at May 13, 2007 6:32 PM