Dow Jones Sale Nearing Make-Or-Break Mark

By: E&P Staff

Board members representing the controlling shareholder Bancroft family are meeting Wednesday to assess the status of the sale of Dow Jones — and whether last-minute proposals from supermarket magnate Ron Burkle and Internet entrepreneur Brad Greenspan are viable alternatives to Rupert Murdoch’s $5 billion, $60-per-share offer.

Tuesday evening, the full Dow Jones board met with Burkle and Greenspan to hear their differing offers for the publisher of The Wall Street Journal.

The Street seemed unmoved by the reports, in early morning trading Wednesday sending Dow Jones stock (DJ:NYSE) down 5 cents, or 0.10%, to $57.64.

Burkle — who entered the sale negotiation at the suggestion of the union representing Wall Street Journal journalists — reportedly is suggesting a stock ownership plan. Greenspan, for his part, has said he is offering to purchase some of Dow Jones stock at $60 a share, while investing an additional $250 million to expand Internet capabilities.

The Journal, in a report Wednesday by Sarah Ellison, said the Bancroft family negotiators “are dubious about any proposal” from Burkle and Greenspan.

The paper also quotes former Dow Jones CEO Peter Kann as saying looking at any buyer but Murdoch’s News Corp. “makes little sense to me.” Kann has said he prefers Dow Jones remain independent — and reject Murdoch’s bid — but that Burkle and Greenspan “know nothing at all about journalism.”

Burkle’s Yucaipa Cos. is involved in the deal as an adviser, but not a buyer, according to Jeffrey M. Johnson, the former publisher of the Los Angeles Times. The union representing the Journal’s newsroom, the Independent Association of Publishers’ Employees (IAPE) has been looking for alternatives to ownership by Murdoch.

Burkle has been the bridesmaid but not the bride in two other big newspaper deals within the last year.

He emerged as a bidder for some of the Knight Ridder papers when the chain put itself up for sale last summer. He came into the bidding in a partnership with The Newspaper Guild.

Earlier this year, Burkle and Eli Broad vied unsuccessfully for Tribune Co., which ultimately went to Chicago real estate mogul Sam Zell who is taking the publisher of the Chicago Tribune private through an employee stock ownership plan in a deal expected to close soon after an Aug. 21 special meeting.

Burkle has a history with a Murdoch-owned newspaper. Last year, he accused a former freelance writer associated with The New York Post’s Page Six gossip column of trying to extort money from him to avoid negative publicity. After an investigation, no charges were made against the writer, Jared Paul Stern, who is suing Burkle for defamation.

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