More Groundless Journalistic Handwringing Over Murdoch And Dow Jones

Posted by: Jon Fine on July 10, 2007

The more CJR’s Dean Starkman fulminates and tut-tuts about the prospect of a Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal, the more I become convinced the deal will actually go through.

But never mind that. Today Starkman’s once again on a tear:

This New York Times piece from Monday says an unnamed person connected to Dow Jones management and unnamed senior editors at The Wall Street Journal are promising job cuts if the News Corp. offer isn’t accepted.

(snip)

I know it’s subtle, but let me translate: Newsroom, stop opposing the sale or you’ll lose your jobs, and then where will you be? Without a job. And then how will you feel? Bad, right?

Uhm — what?

Do members of the newsroom have a few board votes that no one knows about?

Does Starkman, or anyone, actually believe for a second that newsroom opposition might have any bearing on whether or not a Dow Jones deal gets done?

The Wall Street Journal (while fabulous and beloved, etc.) was, at best, very marginally profitable last year—we’re talking supermarket-esque profit margins at a publicly traded newspaper company, one that would margins at a sector laggard like the New York Times Co. look like Gannett’s. Sorry to self-quote, but this is from a recent column:

(The consumer media unit, for which a Deutsche Bank (DB ) analyst estimates the Wall Street Journal supplies around 80% of revenue, posted profit margins of 3% in ‘06. It lost money in ‘05.)

In ‘02, the segment housing the Journal lost money as well.

Correct me if I’m wrong, bu when your costs start to match or, worse, outweigh your revenue, you have to do something. What, management’s just supposed to sit and twiddle thumbs, just because the Journal’s a gorgeous bit of print journalism?

Puhleeze.

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Reader Comments

Gary Arthur

July 10, 2007 06:01 PM

Jon: The reporters and editors at WSJ don't have any seats on the board, but they sure do have a bully pulpit. I am sure that those trying to smooth the way for the Bancroft-to-Murdoch transfer don't want a scene a la LA Times where management is hammered as sellouts, corporate shills, and hayseeds. The Journal has its reputation to protect. It's one thing to bend the war news on Fox. It's another thing to have readers thinking you might be twisting the agenda on their investments.

Bob Henkel

July 11, 2007 03:04 PM

You might be a clever columnist, Mr. Fine, but you sure ain't no reporter, my friend. Having spent many, many years as a reporter and editor at The Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek, I can't believe that the Journal edit staff has no say here, even if it doesn't have many shares. If Murdoch and the family ignore the working stiffs there, they will be launching this newspaper into oblivion. And the Journal I know and love will turn into a publication that I will stop reading after 50 years.

Jon Fine

July 11, 2007 04:38 PM

Believe it, Bob.

I am reminded of a lovely story about journalists’ self-importance, from a hilarious and rollicking article Mark Jacobson wrote about the Village Voice for New York magazine recently. Here he’s putting the friction in the newsroom’s initial meeting with the newest owners in some perspective:

>>> Nothing iconic happened as [it did] the 1974 [Clay] Felker takeover, when star writer Ron Rosenbaum ripped up his (meager) paycheck in the New York editor’s face, saying there was “no amount of money” that could make him work for “the piece of shit” the Voice was certain to become. Rosenbaum then stormed out, a dramatic gesture, topped only by Felker’s puzzled reaction: “Who was that?” >>>

(The article's well worth reading in general, and you can find it here: http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/media/features/14987/)

Businessmen buy assets. Businessmen buy brands. Unless everyone journalist at the Journal quits and walks out tomorrow, I doubt very strongly the opinions of certain precincts of its newsroom matter much to Murdoch, or to the shareholders who will decide the matter. (And, yes, I am including the Bancrofts in this.)

I am a reporter and I do not write this with any kind of joy, but it’s true.

For that matter, I’m not sure Murdoch would give up on his bid even if everyone did quit. What did the man himself say in that Time cover story?:

>>> "What if, at the Journal, we spent $100 million a year hiring all the best business journalists in the world? Say 200 of them. And spent some money on establishing the brand but went global — a great, great newspaper with big, iconic names, outstanding writers, reporters, experts. And then you make it free, online only. No printing plants, no paper, no trucks. How long would it take for the advertising to come? It would be successful, it would work and you'd make ... a little bit of money. Then again, the Journal and the Times make very little money now." >>>

JBF

July 12, 2007 10:14 AM

Talk about missing the point! No offense, but Dean wasn't saying that the newsroom could scuttle the merger, he was merely saying that if it doesn't happen, they'll all be toast, which is probably true. I may disagree with Dean on some of his issues with Murdoch, but management's agenda in that story was crystal clear to most, but apparently not all.

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The media, entertainment and marketing worlds continue to shapeshift on a near-daily basis, as new forms arise and old assumptions erode. Where is it all going? No one really knows. But on this blog BusinessWeek’s media writers Tom Lowry and Ron Grover promise to provide ample helpings of scoop, provocation, and sharp analysis as they track and annotate this constantly changing terrain.

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