Thursday, July 19, 2007

Headless Hedge Fund in Topless Takeover Bid

For once, the blogger is qualified to address one of the burning issues of the day. I subscribe to the Wall Street Journal. I used to work for Rupert Murdoch. Judging by commentary and reporting I see, I may be OVERqualified to comment on their shotgun marriage.

Let's begin by describing the most important part of the Murdoch experience to Journal employees. The checks clear. Always. Experience teaches anything else you get from a newspaper publisher is gravy- thin, thin, gravy.

This is the point where commentators bewail the fact Murdoch will impose his "agenda" on the Journal and ruin its integrity, and, oh, you know the drill. Forgive me for not joining in the misery chorus of the high-minded. There is not a single American newspaper that hasn't slanted its reporting to further its own interests at some point, and those held in highest repute usually were the most nefarious cases. The Globe's actions during the fight over Channel Five's license in the late '60s and early '70s were despicable. The New York Times' coverage of real estate in midtown Manhattan should be read with caution. That doesn't make them bad newspapers, or even especially corrupt ones. Institutions look out for themselves. Murdoch just doesn't bother to hide it.

The Journal staff and the journalism professors should save their anger for the Bancroft family who want to sell Murdoch the paper. Those lazy sods sat on their asses and cashed dividend checks while the management who gave them the dividends blundered their way into trashing what ought to have been a foolproof enterprise.

Will Murdoch "meddle"? Sure. I'm to Rupe's left by a good distance, but I'm enough of a capitalist to be offended at that verb. For $5 freakin' billion, a man's MORALLY entitled to run the show as he sees fit.

Unlike the inbred heirs who sold America's newspapers in the '90s, Murdoch likes the business. He enjoys newspapers. Why else would he lose $50 million a year running the New York Post? It can't be the prestige or influence, the Post has none of either. It has to the sheer fun of putting out that demented, gifted work of fiction every day.

For that matter, I am none too sure Murdoch WILL meddle, at least not as far as using the Journal to advance his personal business interests. That would be dumb, which he's not. It would also be dangerous.

Murdoch didn't do anything to the Herald sports section but let it hire more people, including yours truly, and give it more resources. Sports sell tabloids. They're also expensive to cover properly. Did he drive a hard bargain with the unions when he bought the Herald. Oh, my yes. But if it weren't for Murdoch, there wouldn't be a Herald. There wouldn't be "The Simpsons," either. There would be no yellow first down on your TV during football games. Fox News would have to suck a lot worse than it does, which would be impossible, to outweigh those positive contributions to American life.

As far as ideological interests go, Murdoch doesn't have to touch the Journal. It ain't exactly Mother Jones. The paper is aimed at well-to-do conservative business people. The scrupulously reported facts in the paper are presented in that worldview. It's not ideology, it's identity. Reporters tend to absorb what they cover. One veteran baseball writer of my acquaintance used to dip snuff. Same deal.

As far as business interests go, I will concede the point Murdoch would slant the news to make a buck or billion. I just don't see how he could without people noticing. Financial news is more like sports than it resembles political news. It has a scoreboard whose facts are hard to cover up.

In addition, the Journal's audience reads more carefully than, say, buyers of USA Today. For every one subscriber, like me, who enjoys its writing and reporting for their own sake, there are 1000 who get the Journal because reading it may help them make money that very day. Should those customers get the idea what they read is designed to help MURDOCH make money, they'll become ex-customers before their first morning meeting.

Oh, one more thing. People who put stories in the newspaper that aren't strictly true for personal financial gain can go to prison. Back in the '80s, that's what happened to the Journal's financial community gossip writer. Would New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer like to nail Murdoch's ass? I'm guessing yes.

In conclusion, the purchase of the Wall Street Journal by Rupert Murdoch shouldn't have too much effect on that paper's existence unless my former employer has gone soft, which I wouldn't bet on.

Cheer up, Journal newsroom. Publishers are all the same. Murdoch's outside their little club because he makes that fact too obvious.


Post a Comment

<< Home