Murdoch Says He Just Wants More 'Urgency' in 'WSJ'

By: E&P Staff His Saturday business column for The New York Times (available online only via TimesSelect) mainly explores how the Bancroft family blew the deal with the News Corp. But Joseph Nocera closes it with a brief sit-down interview with new owner Rupert Murdoch at his headquarters in New York, just after the deal closes.

?The first road to freedom,? Murdoch explains, after (like Nocera) removing his tie and relaxing, ?is viability.? This refers to the Wall Street Journal making healthy profits again, thereby allowing it to remain editorial independent. There is no "or else" uttered but it may be implicit.

Here's the money quote, or quip, a reference to the liberal New York Times' publisher: ?I won?t meddle any more than Arthur Sulzberger does."

And: ?I just think The Journal needs a little more urgency.?

Here is an excerpt.

Was there ever a time he thought of pulling the offer? I asked. ?Yeah,? he replied. ?After they sent that letter. It was so insulting.? That was the letter in which the Bancrofts hoped to ensure editorial integrity by giving themselves the right to nominate News Corporation directors as well as a special editorial board for The Wall Street Journal. He swiftly rejected it, and eventually the Dow Jones board took over the negotiations that resulted in the creation of a small oversight board to protect the paper?s editorial independence.

Mr. Murdoch himself seemed unruffled by the need for such an agreement ? or even by the accusations that he runs roughshod over the newspapers he owns. ?I?m used to it,? he shrugged.....

My own view is that the chances of Mr. Murdoch wrecking The Journal are lower than you?d think; he needs a credible Journal for his own strategic purposes, and at 76, he surely must be thinking about his legacy. Besides, in The Journal?s cantankerous, provocative, deeply conservative editorial page, he already has the opinion page of his dreams, and one that packs enormous political clout.

Which is not to say he isn?t going to change The Journal. ?We have lots of decisions to make,? he said. ?How much should we really spend developing the Saturday paper? What should we do digitally? Should we remain subscription-based on the Web, or should we make it free? How much should we spend beefing up political and international coverage? I want it to be more competitive with The New York Times,? he added. ?But that will be expensive.?

He suddenly picked up a Wall Street Journal that was lying in front of him, and I could almost see the ink flowing through his veins. ?I would like to see real breaking news,? he said. ?I like A-heds? ? the famous less-than-serious feature that often runs down the middle of the front page, ?but I don?t like a whole page of A-heds.?

He scanned the front page up and down. Sometimes his expression suggested deep approval of what he was seeing; but sometimes he frowned, suggesting that he had a different idea of what ought to run on the front page of this great newspaper he would soon own.


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