The Bancroft Family met today with
Satan…er…Rupert Murdoch to discuss selling their soul…er…interest in Dow Jones. The meeting was a capitulation to an untrustworthy media baron whose word is about as reliable as a New York Post Page 6 columnist. At the meeting, Murdoch likely insisted that he has no intentions of interfering with editorial decisions at the Wall Street Journal, and he probably claimed that he has never done so with his other media properties. Of course, that would be a lie.
Representatives of the Bancrofts are wasting their time if they think that Murdoch will propose credible options for maintaining editorial independence. Even if he were to make a plausibly acceptable offer, he could hardly be counted on to uphold the agreement once the ink on the contract is dry.
The Independent Association of Publishers’ Employees, the union representing Dow Jones, is joining with the Newspaper Guild and the Communications Workers of America to seek out alternative buyers for the company. They have obtained the services of Ownership Associates, the same firm that tried to help steer the sale of Knight Ridder to a group headed by Ron Burkle. Wouldn’t it be ironic if Burkle emerged as the buyer for Dow Jones, stealing the property out from under the Murdoch banner whose New York Post slandered him and led to the Page 6 extortion scandal?
If the Bancrofts and/or the unions are listening, I have a suggestion for them. Why not create a non-profit consortium to purchase the company? Such an owner would provide the media assets of Dow Jones an unprecedented measure of independence and free them from the short-term concerns of shareholders. This idea is not new and has been advocated in many circles as a superior model for media ownership for quite some time. There is even an example of success in this regard in the Poynter Institute, a Florida journalism school, which is also the owner of the St. Petersburg Times of Florida and the Congressional Quarterly.
There could not be a better candidate for advancing this concept than the parent of the Wall Street Journal. The Journal is more than a daily newspaper. For better or worse, it is the clarion for business news and information worldwide. CEOs, investment managers, pensioners, and other citizens use it shape the financial status of their enterprises and families. Removing it from the constraints of for-profit management could promote a dedication to journalistic integrity and impartiality.
There is already a non-profit cooperative in the media realm that might be worth a look as a potential suitor for Dow Jones. The Associated Press is owned by the 1,500 daily newspapers that comprise its membership. It already functions as a syndicator of news content, as does Dow Jones (which also owns the DowJones Newswires). Pair it with an academic institution like Annenberg, and perhaps a mogul like Burkle, and you may have the basis for a White Knight that could rescue the Bancrofts from the Murdochs and serve as a new model for the future of an industry that is presently in decline.
Ordinarily, I’m not an advocate of more consolidation in media, which is already rampant. Just last month, Dow Jones competitor, Reuters, was acquired by Thomson Corp., a Canadian legal and business information publisher. This may be part of the reason that the Bancrofts feel the need to scale up. The AP, which also competes with Reuters, would benefit from the addition of Dow Jones as well. But while I prefer a more diverse media marketplace, the prospect of a Murdoch-controlled Wall Street Journal, and his likely merging of that with his upcoming cable business channel, is far more troubling than the sort of partnership I’ve outlined above. If Dow Jones investors are determined to sell the company, then every practical measure must be considered to keep it out of Murdoch’s hands. And the potential benefits of a non-profit/academic partnership may even be preferable to staying with the Bancrofts.
Update: The union now says they have approached Ron Burkle (and Warren Buffet) to discuss the potential of an alternative bid. There is no indication that this would be a not-for-profit proposition, but it would still be better than Murdoch.