Murdoch finally owns Wall Street Journal

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Melbourne/New York, Dec 15: News Corporation Chairman Rupert Murdoch has achieved his long-held ambition of owning The Wall Street Journal, one of the world's great newspapers, ending over 100 years of ownership by the Bancroft family.

Murdoch, flanked by two trusted Australian lieutenants, new Dow Jones chief executive Les Hinton and new WSJ publisher Robert Thomson, reassured journalists about the company's future. While acknowledging that "change is often difficult", Murdoch, according to the WSJ, said the "tremendous values" of Dow Jones would be preserved.

"If anything, you will find us trying to set a higher bar," The Australian quoted him, as saying.

In an exclusive interview with Fox News -- which, along with The Australian, is owned by News Corp, Murdoch acknowledged past reservations among WSJ and Dow Jones staff about the new ownership, but said those were now dwindling.

"There was a little hostility ... But the great body of people there love to see someone coming in, saying: 'Hey, we want to develop this business, not break it up and sell it off or cut it down," he said.

Shareholders of The Journal's publisher, Dow Jones, gave their blessings to a takeover by Murdoch's global media empire, News Corp.

Shareholders accepted a 5.3 billion dollar offer that paid them far better for their holdings than anyone would have predicted just months ago, and that demonstrated once again Murdoch's charter membership in the distinct minority who are enthusiastic about the industry's future. The vote was 60.27 percent in favour.

The vote was the last act of ownership by the Bancroft family, a deeply private group that had held a controlling stake in Dow Jones for 105 years, but had ceded running the company to others since the Depression in the late 1920s and 30s.

Confirmation of Murdoch's successful takeover came after an historic, 30-minute shareholder meeting and vote at New York's Marriott Hotel -- appropriately located just near Wall Street on the southern tip of Manhattan Island.

"I'm sad we're no longer going to be involved as we had been, but I look forward to Rupert doing a great job in keeping Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal the quality organizations they have been," said Christopher Bancroft, a Dow Jones board member.

"I hope it doesn't change in a way that would cause it to lose the credibility it has had. I'm optimistic," the International Herald Tribune quoted him as saying further.

Murdoch has already set about transforming The Journal, seeking to expand its coverage of politics and national and international affairs, and has plans in motion to use the newspaper to lend material and credibility to other News Corp. properties, notably the new Fox Business Channel.

News Corporation embarked on an international advertising blitz to coincide with the Dow Jones vote.

The company bought advertisements for the Friday editions of many rival newspapers around the world, including the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times in the US and the Daily Telegraph and Guardian in Britain.

But the three-page advertisement -- headed "Free people, Free markets, Free thinking" -- was not taken by another major international publication -- the Financial Times.

A spokesman for the newspaper told the WSJ it objected to one sentence in the ad, which stated: "Today, the greatest brand in journalism joins up with the world's most restless global media company."

The spokesman said: "We would have been prepared to reconsider the decision if the ad could be amended."

Murdoch responded in the Fox News interview: "I think they're being a little over-sensitive. If I were them, I'd have taken the money."

The ad is running in The Weekend Australian and every Saturday edition of News Limited papers around Australia.

Murdoch used the Fox News interview to clarify some of his plans for change -- including the likelihood that the WSJ.com website might change from a subscription-based model to a free site reliant on advertising.

"It may take a year to get there, but we will get there," he said.

"We think, when it goes from one million subscribers to 20 million people watching it around the world, that there will be more than enough advertising to make up the difference."

But Mr Murdoch hinted that making money out of the non-subscription model for WSJ.com did not have to be a short-term project.

"We do these things for the long term. And we think this is a very, very great asset," he said.

He has also signalled broadening the appeal of the WSJ beyond its financial core.

"Already, there is a great deal of news from ... around the world in the Journal that is not strictly financial. We will expand that, but not at the cost of what we're doing with the financial community."

Murdoch has signalled strong co-operation between the WSJ and the new Fox Business Network -- despite contractual obligations that WSJ reporters have with rival business network CNBC.

 

ANI
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