If It's Murdoch's Wall Street Journal, Is It Still the Journal?

The News Corp. Chairman's $5 Billion Bet to Buy Credibility

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- If Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. succeeds in buying Dow Jones & Co., the biggest prize will be The Wall Street Journal, one of the country's most
Skeptics say Rupert Murdoch's acquisition of The Wall Street Journal could make that publication less credible to much of its audience.
Skeptics say Rupert Murdoch's acquisition of The Wall Street Journal could make that publication less credible to much of its audience. Credit: AP
respected and credible news brands. But he is offering such a premium -- at $60 a share, 67% more than the stock price at the time of the offer -- that Mr. Murdoch would be wise to consider whether a successful deal would, instantly and ironically, push the brand's value below what it's worth today.

The risk is that putting Mr. Murdoch's name over the door would let skeptics, not to mention his critics, build a sense that the Journal isn't the independent newspaper we know now.

Will trust be undermined?
"Trust is the element that allows the Journal to sell advertising at extremely expensive rates," said one close observer of the paper. "It's that trust that advertisers mention most often as the reason they want to be in the Wall Street Journal. If any of that trust is undermined it would have a negative impact on advertising."

In 2006, the Journal took in $1.25 billion in ad revenue, according to TNS Media Intelligence. Some of its biggest advertisers in 2006, also according to TNS, included Ford Motor Co. ($26.8 million) Verizon Communications ($25.6 million), AT&T ($24.6 million) and Sprint Nextel ($22.6 million).

"People would perceive that Rupert Murdoch had influence," the observer added. "They would take anything that might ordinarily appear in the paper, if it was something that Murdoch supports, as proof."

It's not that he's necessarily different from any other media owners, most not averse to ringing up the editors on their payrolls with suggestions. It's just that the Journal would suddenly find itself the property of a powerful and high-profile professional mogul. Already this year, countless news stories have been devoted to trying to figure out whether Mr. Murdoch has morphed into a Hillary Clinton supporter -- and whether his leanings can be seen in the coverage of the New York Post, a perceived right-leaning daily that's part of his News Corp. empire.

Would have to protect WSJ
Others -- on the outside and inside -- said Mr. Murdoch would realize he had to protect the Journal, even if that meant shielding it from himself to some degree.

"First and foremost, Mr. Murdoch is a businessman," said Mark Fratrick, a VP at the media-consulting firm BIA Financial Network. "Whether or not he has political leanings or thoughts, I think he cares about the value of his assets, growing them and growing his company. I cannot believe that he would put that in jeopardy.

"What the Wall Street Journal delivers in terms of its targeted demographic group every day is very significant," Mr. Fratrick added. "As long as it keeps up the high quality of focused reporting, I think it will continue to deliver that."

Eric Blankfein, senior VP-channel insights director, Horizon Media, said a News Corp. takeover of Dow Jones could affect the strength of brands such as the Journal or Barron's -- but probably would not.

Leveraging brands for digital
"Murdoch purchasing Dow Jones will only have an effect on the brands if the content integrity is seriously affected," he said. "As business institutions, I would think the Wall Street Journal and Barron's will not be altered much, but rather leveraged more within Murdoch's electronic properties."

And an insider said the very premium that Mr. Murdoch has offered provided powerful incentive not to screw up a good thing. "I think any media company that would pay a large premium for the Journal would have to understand its unique position in the market," the insider said. "This includes being viewed as authoritative and independent and nonpartisan in its news pages."
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