On Dec. 6, Richard F. Zannino, CEO of Dow Jones and a chief architect of its acquisition, announced he was leaving; the next day News Corp. said his title would go to longtime company hand Les Hinton, executive chairman at News International.
"News Corp.'s a great company, but Rupert runs News Corp. and has a great team," Mr. Zannino told Ad Age last week. "Dow Jones was going to be a small part of that -- and Rupert's going to be very active in running Dow Jones."
By week's end, the suspense ended around L. Gordon Crovitz, the well-liked publisher of The Wall Street Journal; News Corp. said it will install Robert Thomson, the top editor of News Corp.'s Times of London, as publisher of both the Journal and Dow Jones. Joe Stern, exec VP-general counsel at Dow Jones, is also out the door.
If there is any doubt left, drop it. Big changes are coming quicker than seems possible. The next top executives expected to leave, probably before this week's vote, are Bill Plummer, exec VP-CFO, and Linda Dunbar, VP-corporate communications. Ms. Dunbar did not respond to a message left seeking comment on her or Mr. Plummer's status.
Expect still more departures to follow quickly so Dow Jones can get them on the books before the new year begins. There are at least three high-ranking executives in the consumer-media group whose fates now depend on Mr. Hinton: Ann Marks, CMO; Michael Rooney, chief revenue officer; and Todd Larsen, chief operating officer. (None responded to calls for comment, and a WSJ spokesman also declined to comment.)
Protecting coveted audience
Whoever holds the CMO title under News Corp. will be charged with shepherding the Journal's brand reputation through a period of broadening both its coverage and its audience, particularly online, where Mr. Murdoch has said he plans to tear down the paid-access gates. The challenge will be protecting the quality -- and the perception of the quality -- of its audience, which advertisers now covet for its affluence and influence.
That won't be an easy feat, however fired up the Murdoch arrivals may be. "A busy businessperson needs perspective and context above all else," said Karen Elliott House, the print Journal's former publisher -- and someone who believes Mr. Murdoch will be good for the Journal. "It's 'lighthouse' journalism as opposed to 'streetlight' journalism. It's forward looking. If the Journal keeps it up, it will continue to be essential reading."
"If they get caught up matching the [Financial Times], The New York Times and The Washington Post," Ms. House added, "it'll cease to be essential reading."
Amid the cyclone of News Corp.'s arrival, rumor even had Larry Kramer, the founder of MarketWatch, returning to take control of all Dow Jones sites. Mr. Kramer said he'd heard no such thing and likes his gig with private equity.
But Mr. Kramer also likes the new crew. "I love Les Hinton," he said, calling him a warm, interesting, smart manager who respects editorial talent and seems to inspire loyalty. He called Mr. Thomson a seemingly quiet guy with a dry sense of humor, as much of a listener as any good reporter, but sometimes more prone to taking chances than his laid-back demeanor suggests.
"He's got a really interesting outlook on the future," Mr. Kramer said. "Even though he's been running a newspaper, he's been taking more chances that most traditional journalists would, and it paid off. Going tabloid had to be an interesting conversation."
Mr. Murdoch, who already has lunched with Mr. Kramer to talk about MarketWatch, soon will set his hands on just about every lever in Dow Jones. The chief promise -- for some, a concern -- is Mr. Murdoch's stated interest in dropping the pay walls around The Wall Street Journal Online.
"We'll continue to look hard at the model in terms of 'is it still the right model for us?'" Mr. Zannino said. "News Corp. is pushing us to look at it. News Corp. has probably a more aggressive risk profile than we do."
In a period of rapid overhaul for Dow Jones, that much at least is beyond doubt.