Neuharth Predicts What's Next

USA Today Creator Says Murdoch's Reign at WSJ Will Be 'a Very Good Thing'

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The Wall Street Journal will soon be in the hands of Rupert Murdoch, and many expect him to put his efforts into taking on the other two national newspapers, The New York Times and USA Today. Al Neuharth, former Gannett Co. chairman-CEO, knows a thing or two about the national-newspaper market, having created it when he launched USA Today in 1982.
Al Neuharth
Photo: Dave Eggen

Al Neuharth

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Advertising Age: How will Rupert Murdoch change The Wall Street Journal itself?

Al Neuharth: Rupert will be hands-on for the Journal's remaking. He already publicly has criticized the Journal for stories that are too long. That means, among other things, that he will explain to Wall Street Journal reporters and editors the difference between in-depth and longwinded, which they need to learn anyway. He's also said he will put more general news in the Journal. My hunch is that he wants to do that to really target readers of USA Today and The New York Times, who have financial interests and general interests too. ... He won't go as far as USA Today has, and he won't go as far as he has with the New York Post. He's not going to piss off all the people at the Journal or all the longtime readers too much. He can't afford to do that. At the same time, he knows that dull and grey doesn't sell anymore. He will gradually move in the direction of attracting general-interest readers while holding core business-interest readers.

Ad Age: What will that mean for the broader market?

Mr. Neuharth: It'll be a very good thing for journalism in general. It will affect USA Today and The New York Times and maybe The Washington Post a little bit too. It will make them all take a look at whether they're as good as their editors think they are. ... Competition is a damn healthy thing.

Ad Age: Why does it seem like Rupert Murdoch is the last one on the planet trying to buy newspapers?

Mr. Neuharth: He knows a lot that a lot of the rest of us don't. My hunch is that he feels that the combined ownership of print, broadcast and the internet is the way to go. And he's a hell of a big player on the web. And he's a big player in TV. Now he'll be a bigger player in print. He looks at this as a troika if you will: internet, print and broadcast. With all the Dow Jones assets plus The Wall Street Journal, he is in one great position to play those three not against each other but with each other. A lot of other publishers are coming to that conclusion. He may be out a little bit ahead in seeing how strong the interaction can be between internet, print and broadcast. ... If there is an answer, it's to make the three work together.
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