Murdoch Would Be Good for WSJ and for Advertisers -- Wanna Bet?

Why My Money Is on the News Corp. Boss

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Rupert Murdoch is used to getting his own way. He once tried to bet me $1 million that I couldn't name the source for our story that his TV Guide was up for sale.
It just doesn't make sense that Rupert Murdoch would dumb down the Journal, says Rance Crain. | Do you agree? Comment on this column in the 'Your Opinion' box below.
It just doesn't make sense that Rupert Murdoch would dumb down the Journal, says Rance Crain. | Do you agree? Comment on this column in the 'Your Opinion' box below. Credit: AP

That's why I'm betting on Rupert to prevail in his takeover bid for Dow Jones, publisher of The Wall Street Journal. Moreover, I will submit that Mr. Murdoch will be good for the Journal. Dow Jones is in a cost-cutting mode; News Corp., his $25 billion media goliath, never is.

It just doesn't make sense that he would dumb down the Journal. And it also doesn't make sense that readers and advertisers would abandon the paper just because he bought it.

On the contrary, Mr. Murdoch will no doubt overspend to show people he can be trusted with the world's most authoritative newspaper. Crain's New York Business said observers of News Corp. foresee "a reinvigorated Dow Jones brand that will combine with News Corp.'s global assets to create the foremost financial news and information provider."

News Corp. could also offer advertisers an enticing package -- Fox News, the new Fox business channel, the Fox TV Network -- to go with their ads in The Journal and Barron's.

The $5 billion that News Corp. has offered is worth it if only to align the Fox business channel with the Journal and put CNBC at a disadvantage. (With whom would CNBC partner if the Journal departs?)

Mr. Murdoch has said his channel will be more business-friendly than CNBC, which he accused of jumping on every scandal. I think that's just Rupert trying to forge a competitive advantage. After all, scandals move markets, and I don't think News Corp. would want viewers to wonder why a particular company's stock was going down when over at CNBC they were explaining that a stock back-dating scheme under investigation was hammering the shares of the company in question.

I don't see Mr. Murdoch wasting his time on unworkable projects. Back in 1990, when he tried to get me to name our source on the TV Guide story for $1 million, he was intense.

He had paid $3 billion two years earlier for TV Guide, and things weren't going so well. He, to put it mildly, didn't take kindly to our front-page story, which his general counsel depicted as "a blatant fabrication."

I was sitting at my desk Monday morning when the phone rang. "This is Rupert Murdoch, and you've done it to me again," came a disembodied voice that sounded like it was coming from somewhere over Australia. He said we never called him to confirm our story (we did, but he was unavailable). We quoted a spokesman saying our report was "ridiculous and silly."

I told Mr. Murdoch that we did not rush into print with our story. Joe Cappo, Ad Age's publisher at the time (now retired), got the original tip, but it took reporter Scott Donaton three weeks to pin it down.

The proposed $1 million bet got big play in the press, which was taking the whole thing as a joke. But it's still very clear in my mind that Mr. Murdoch didn't see it that way.

Despite the dust-up, the Murdoch organization hired our reporter to be the editor of TV Guide online (maybe Rupert was just mad at me). Scott, who returned to us after a brief stint, has done pretty well for himself in the intervening years. He served as editor and now runs the joint as publisher.

While he was at TV Guide, his colleagues would periodically say, "C'mon, now that you're over here, who was your source on that story?" "I, of course, never caved," Scott told me.

Mr. Murdoch was never able to find a buyer for TV Guide, but he merged the magazine into Gemstar, which created the interactive TV guides for cable. Gemstar's stock was once selling for more than $100 a share, but News Corp. eventually had to take a $6 billion write-off on Gemstar -- TV Guide International.

I've always thought his proposed $1 million bet with me was Rupert's way of drumming up buyers for TV Guide. But alas, there were never any takers.
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