Nocera: Murdoch Will Break Promise and Meddle In 'WSJ'

By: E&P Staff In his Saturday business column for The New York Times -- behind its pay wall -- Joseph Nocera offered an incisive look at what he sees as an inevitable Rupert Murdoch takeover of Dow Jones and what might happen after that.

Word has emerged that Murdoch may meet with the Bancroft family, which controls the company, on Monday.

Murdoch has promised to set up a board to oversee an independent news operation at the Wall Street Journal, but Nocera doubts that would last long. He recalls when Newhouse bought The New Yorker and made all sorts of promises along those lines. In short order, they were broken -- but the magazine today, under David Remnick, though more "commercial," is quite a bit better, he adds.

An excerpt follows. The entire column is available at via TimesSelect.

He?s wanted it forever. He?ll promise just about anything to get his hands on it, including setting up a special editorial board that will protect the paper?s independence and integrity. But once he gets it, all bets are off. Of course he?s going to meddle ? he?ll be the owner, for crying out loud, and he has very clear ideas about how a newspaper should look and feel and smell.

This is not to say that Dow Jones won?t vastly improve under his stewardship. I can guarantee you that it will. The reason Dow Jones is going to be sold to someone almost no one connected to the company wants to sell it to is precisely because it has been so poorly run over the past quarter-century. If there is one thing Mr. Murdoch knows how to do, it?s run a media company. It?s just sad that it?s come to this, that?s all....

Within The Wall Street Journal, there is a palpable sense of sadness, a feeling that a glorious era of journalism is coming to an end. One reporter talked to me about how wonderful The Journal had been when Norman Pearlstine had been the managing editor and James B. Stewart, the Pulitzer Prize winner now at The New Yorker, had been the Page 1 editor. ?Murdoch has already said that he wants shorter stories,? this reporter said. ?Those great long stories we used to do, the stories that made us special, will be gone.? (Like everyone at The Journal I spoke to, he declined to speak on the record about his prospective new boss.)

Others worried that linking The Journal with Mr. Murdoch?s coming new Fox business channel would be ruinous. After all, Fox has already said its channel is going to be more business-friendly than CNBC (though it is difficult to imagine that such a thing is possible). Surely, they felt, using Journal reporters to bolster the channel would harm The Journal?s well-deserved reputation for writing tough, smart stories. Still others feared that Mr. Murdoch would interfere in the paper?s political coverage or that he would dumb-down the paper, that he would act like the heathen they all think he is.

I have no idea whether these fears are overblown. The Murdoch side insists that he has no intention of mucking with The Journal. ?The currency of The Journal is its credibility,? a Murdoch spokesman told me. ?He?s not going to pay $5 billion just to gut it.?

(I did get a sense, by the way, that not everybody at The Journal is upset about the prospect of getting a paycheck from Mr. Murdoch. The folks on the editorial page, though they won?t say so publicly, are rooting for him. And it?s worth pointing out that in the immediate aftermath of the News Corporation offer, when the stock jumped from the mid-$30s to $60 a share, over a million stock options were sold by insiders. Clearly, some of the same reporters who are bemoaning the prospect of working for Rupert Murdoch are perfectly willing to take advantage of his offer.)


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