Friday, August 03, 2007

Rupert The Pirate

#276 Rupert The Pirate’s Revenge

What if Murdoch doesn’t do anything to turn the Wall Street Journal into a radical right wing trade paper? That would be the ultimate revenge.

You can bet, now that the owners of the London Sun and the New York Post have become the owners of the WSJ, there will be the usual exit of the holier-than-thou that always accompanies a Murdoch buy.

Murray Kempton at the Post, Mike Royko at the Chicago Sun-Times. Countless anti-Fleet-Street-ers at the London Times. They go with great fanfare, falling on their swords all in tribute to the gods of journalistic purity.

The Journal’s purists will either form a government-in-exile or join one of the existing havens for disgruntled Dow Jones writers and editors at either Bloomberg News or Reuters.

Hard times have befallen the Journal, and none of it has been the doing of the Merry Pirate of Australia or his salty crew.

When the Barrons bought the thing in 1902, the idea was to make the paper into something the average investor could decipher, a way to democratize the monopoly of Wall Street insiders who had a lock on financial doings.

The Barrons did a pretty good job – exposing, for example, the original Ponzi scheme – the one that Ponzi himself concocted and ran in 1920s. Every once in awhile, they still scoop the real newspapers, but not often.

What they have become is a mouthpiece for the very professionals Clarence Barron was trying to circumvent. And a leading indicator (to borrow a biz term) of when the financial community’s thinking is headed.

But it is a trade paper. A big one, an important one, but still – a trade paper. Like Daily Variety, Women’s Wear Daily and Modern Grocer.

And as the Barron heirs, the Bancroft family must realize, it’s far less important than it used to be. After all, business news has become exciting, or at least interesting to general readers. And there are business pages or sections in every major and most minor “regular” papers in America, Europe and Asia.

There are magazines – some more reputable than others – that either report exclusively on business and finance, or feature regular departments with that stuff. There’s CNBC, Bloomberg radio and television, the soon-to-debut Fox Business Channel (also owned by Murdoch, but prohibited for now in using Journal reporters. (The Dow Jones contract with CNBC doesn’t expire until 2012 and there seems no movement at NBC to bail out.)

So while the Journal was once the most important publication of its kind, it’s now only the most self-important.

And there Bancroft family didn’t seem to know what to do with the thing – or didn’t have the will to make the kinds of changes Murdoch will make.

The paper’s editorial page already makes Murdoch’s Weekly Standard look like the Daily Worker. So there’ll be no fiddling there – unless you call un-stuffing the shirts, “fiddling.”

Rupert will have his hands full trying to wrest the right to populate the nation’s news agenda from its current duopoly, the New York Times and the ever-reactive Associated Press. It’s just not going to happen.

But what will happen is price reductions, expanded coverage, an infusion of cash, a whole bunch of new hires – some of them far more talented than the holy men and women who leave in protest.

And it will mean the paper will live to see another day, something under its family ownership, was never a sure bet.

In the meantime, the Bancrofts can sail away with about five billion dollars that came from the hold of Rupert’s pirate ship. Kind of a reverse plunder. So, which ship flies the Jolly Roger?

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

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