After Five Hours, Murdoch and Bancrofts Agree to Keep Talking

Dow Jones Employees Union, Meanwhile, Looks for Own Bidder

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NEW YORK ( -- The Murdoch and Bancroft sit-down over the future of Dow Jones went long yesterday -- nearly five hours -- and ended amicably enough, with expectations for another get-together already high. Both sides termed the meet "constructive."
Rupert Murdoch may have to fend off other interested suitors in his bid to acquire Dow Jones.
Photo: Nancy Kaszerman

Rupert Murdoch

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Neither side was particularly wordy on its way out of the meeting. Later a Bancroft family spokesman said: "The parties had a constructive dialogue and have gone back to consider our positions."

No clear signs
But it wasn't clear whether Rupert Murdoch was able to convince the Bancrofts, who own the controlling shares in Dow Jones, that he would protect The Wall Street Journal from meddling by new management if his bid to buy the company succeeds. Although the Bancrofts are considered likely to consummate a deal at some point, a measure of face-saving has shaped up as a prerequisite just as important as a higher bid.

The Bancrofts are, of course, looking for concrete, strong and lasting mechanisms to ensure The Journal's editorial independence, but given the history of Mr. Murdoch and media owners at large, it is unlikely that any system to that end would continue to be effective for terribly long. The example of the Times of London and the Sunday Times, which Mr. Murdoch bought in 1981 and provided with an independent board to maintain editorial integrity, has come under fire because it didn't stop Mr. Murdoch from driving out editors such as Harry Evans.

In addition to Mr. Murdoch, participants in the meeting included his son James, CEO of News Corp. affiliate British Sky Broadcasting; David DeVoe, chief financial officer at News Corp.; Lawrence Jacobs, News Corp.'s general counsel; M. Peter McPherson, nonexecutive chairman, Dow Jones; Christopher Bancroft, a Dow Jones board member; two other Bancroft board members, Leslie Hill and Elizabeth Steele; Bancroft family lawyer Martin Lipton; and family trustee Michael Elefante.

Union seeks advice
Separately, the union representing many Dow Jones employees yesterday said it had retained Ownership Associates, a firm with experience in employee-stock-ownership plans, to help explore other options and potential buyers. Employee stock ownership is a crucial component of Sam Zell's $13 billion deal to take Tribune Co. private. Steven Yount, president of the Dow Jones union that hired Ownership Associates, today said Ron Burkle had already responded with interest. Mr. Burkle's Source Interlink Cos. agreed last month to pay $1.2 billion for for Primedia's enthusiast titles.

Price was not discussed at yesterday's meeting, according to news reports. Other contenders that have been suggested include high-net-worth individuals such as Maurice Greenberg -- but also Bloomberg, General Electric, Hearst, Pearson and Yahoo. With Dow Jones' share price exceeding $60 last week, more than Mr. Murdoch's offer, the Bancrofts, and the union, may be hoping someone steps up to offer more than $5 billion.
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