Eat The Press


The fashionable criticism of Rupert Murdoch and his bid to obtain the Dow/Wall Street Journal properties breaks down into two, not necessarily mutually exclusive, camps. The first group is largely concerned that Murdoch will use those brands as a lever for his political agenda. The second group fears that Murdoch will turn the venerable institutions into some sort of Christopher Moltisanti-esque stock market chop shop, pimping junk and strongarming the investment conversation in order to enhance his personal wealth.

As for the former group, we say: Welcome. It's great that so many new people, circa now, are finally realizing that Murdoch's massive media holdings accord him a significantly outsized political megaphone.

As for the second group, we have questions with the entire premise. Certainly, it's well within the realm of possibility that Murdoch is just foolish enough to degrade the DOW/WSJ brands in pursuit of personal wealth. However, one has to similarly allow for the possibility that he is not. Helping to articulate a countering school of thought is Roger Lowenstein, writing for The New Republic:

"No doubt, [Rupert] Murdoch would bring change... But, thanks to the mass exodus of advertisers and readers to the Web, change, most often in the form of cost-cutting, has already hit the industry like a sledgehammer -- including at Dow Jones, which recently shrank the Journal's physical size. And it is extremely doubtful that, after spending $5 billion to acquire Dow Jones, Murdoch would take action to weaken the Journal's value, which derives from its position as the respected authority on U.S. business."

Emphasis ours, and with good reason. The fact of the matter is when the WSJ's brand was at its strongest, it readily billed itself out as the newspaper read by serious people, who wanted to make serious money. And if the WSJ brand is going to return to prominence (and let's remember that the critical ebb in value that has allowed Murdoch to be in the position to make the purchase happened on the suddenly much-celebrated Bancrofts' watch) it's fairly certain that it will have to recapture that semblence of being the essential tool for investors.

Therefore, if Rupert Murdoch were to take the helm at the Dow/WSJ, he would have to very quickly prove that he has the knack for making other people rich. If he fails to do so, readers would not likely hesitate to find alternatives to fill the vacuum - and then we'd see Murdoch's overall bottom line take a hit. We're not saying that this is a slam-dunk scenario by any means, only that Murdoch may be, in fact, aware of these possibilities.

So, potentially, the purchase transforms the old robber-baron into a modern day wealth-redistributionist! Beat that with a stick!

Paper Tigers [The New Republic]

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