Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Murdoch's Hearts and Flowers for Dow Jones Spurned - Thus Far

The Wall Street Journal reports on NewsCorp CEO Rupert Murdoch's attempts to have conversations with the Bancroft family and other majority shareholders of Dow Jones - efforts that seem to have been spurned so far in spite of promises of editorial independence and limited control over hiring and firing. The article cites a Bancroft family member who saw Murdoch's offer as "the usual stuff" (one wonders what other "usual stuff" has been offered to Dow Jones in recent months). It's understandable that a company with the heritage of Dow Jones would balk at an offer that looks more like a hunt for a trophy wife on the surface than a well-planned merger, but in the details of Murdoch's offer is plenty of evidence that there may be some strong vision at work here.

Specifically of interest is Murdoch's willingness to invest in political and global economic coverage that would make The Wall Street Journal a more attractive international journal of record for business-minded people. In an increasingly global economy Murdoch sees no doubt in Dow Jones the core of an editorial and production team that has the ability to muscle into a more pronounced global leadership role in business media through localized print and online content. WSJ's readership is broad but not broad enough to allow Dow Jones to invest in a major global push effectively. It would be hard to imagine someone other than Murdoch who would have the cash, the influence and the market presence that would allow Dow Jones' brands to thrive in international markets to the extent that his tutelage would allow.

It's understandable that a proudly American brand like Dow Jones would resist Murdoch's advances but the sad fact of the matter is that U.S.-based business media services aimed at mass markets are not going to thrive in the years ahead unless they're more effective on a global scale. U.S. markets for business information are becoming far more data-intensive than overseas markets thanks to both the U.S. regulatory environment and the automated trading capabilities fed by that data. The in-depth journalism that is the specialty of Dow Jones will be focused more effectively on more opaque markets where insights beyond the reach of fair disclosure are needed more urgently. Other offers that are beyond this "usual stuff" may come along at some point but one wonders whether Dow Jones will have the market leverage at such an undetermined point in time to leverage its brand's strength as effectively as it can today. They may not like the suitor but Murdoch is leading with a strong suit that should be considered with a hard-nosed look at the spreadsheets as well as with a journalist's gut.
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