What The Times Can Teach Us About Rupert Murdoch

Ivan Pollard From London

By Published on .

One of the interesting things about being over here is watching what's going on over there and learning from it. Occasionally, it happens the other way 'round -- like with Rupert Murdoch's bid for a prized part of your Fourth Estate.

Murdoch's $5 billion offer for Dow Jones has set off the same sort of tremors felt here in 1981, when the wily newspaperman made a similar move for one of the United Kingdom's treasures, Times Newspapers.
Ivan Pollard
Ivan Pollard is a partner at Naked Communications, a communications-strategy shop with offices in six countries.


Like The Wall Street Journal, The (London) Times was a newspaper of record, an influential organ, a generator of public policy and opinion. This potential annexing of power set eyebrows rising.

The parallels with what is happening with the WSJ are striking. The same questions are being asked about editorial integrity, journalistic freedom, possible interference from the proprietor and potential misuse of the paper's influence. The same guarantees of journalistic independence and integrity that are being made to the Journal were also made to The Times back then. So what happened?

The Times was in trouble when Murdoch bought it. Tough decisions had to be made, and Mr. Murdoch is a fine newspaperman who knew how to take those decisions and make them pay. He brought in computers, challenged the print unions, dismantled Fleet Street, fought cover-price wars and oversaw the steady rebuilding of a strong circulation.

But did Murdoch manipulate editorial for political gain? It is difficult to divine a definitive answer -- who is to say that a Thomson-owned paper would not have swung to Blair? Commentators would have you believe that Murdoch confined his influence to the business of the paper and, true to the promises he made at the time, left the content to the editor.

The Wall Street Journal is a big, burgeoning newspaper with online and overseas interests that rightly place it as one of the world's most prestigious and reliable sources of financial information. Fooling with politics through The Times is one thing, but using the financial artillery of Dow Jones to mess with the money markets is quite another matter.

It is a popular (and lazy) pastime to decry Murdoch, but I personally believe he has not abused his position as proprietor of Times Newspapers in this country, and I think he has been good for our newspaper market. Murdoch has a supreme understanding of the ecology of a newspaper and its editorial; he also has a finely tuned grasp of the etiology of influence in the digital world.
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