Monday, June 25, 2007

What if Rupert Buys the Wall Street Journal?

The New Yorker has a look-see by Ken Auletta of ensuing consequences that might occur if the News Corp. takes over Dow Jones Inc. Although Auletta has a kind word or three:
Bruce Page, who left the Sunday Times before Murdoch took control, and who wrote the 2003 book “The Murdoch Archipelago,” said, "Rupert is a very kind man personally. He bailed out old war correspondents who have hit hard times. He has great charm, in a certain dry way. There’s a lot to be said for Rupert Murdoch the man. There’s nothing to be said for Rupert Murdoch the journalist."

Murdoch does deserve credit for modernizing England’s newspaper industry and weaning it from wasteful union work rules. When he took over the daily Times, it was losing money; it still is, yet he keeps it alive. The Times is not nearly the paper that it was in 1981—stories are increasingly cursory, there is more crime and celebrity news, and since 2004 it has been printed in tabloid format—but it is still a respectable newspaper, as is the Australian, which Murdoch launched as that country’s first national newspaper, in 1964, and which didn’t earn a profit for twenty years. Neither publication, though, can compare to the Wall Street Journal, one of the best newspapers in the world. And because the Australian and the Times are so unlike typical Murdoch newspapers—tabloids like the Post in New York and the Sun in London—neither really represents his dominant brand of journalism.

The overwhelming thrust of the long piece is an archeological excursion into setting up straw men and knocking them down, as Auletta avoids the journalistic integrity he simultaneously accuses Murdoch of avoiding.

But as much mud as Auletta throws against the wall, and leftist journalists have made careers out of snarking News Corp at the behest of their ideological paymasters, not much sticks. Everything Auletta says could be said of the NYT, Washington Post, or Los Angeles Times, more or less. What catches in Auletta's craw is that Murdoch is successful, and the NYT is in slo-mo free-fall as is the LAT and WaPo.

And here's vintage Auletta damned-if-you-do and vice-versa:
In the interview with Stecklow and Peers, published in its entirety on the Journal’s Web site, he said that he would consider making—one of the few successful subscription models (it has nine hundred thousand subscribers paying up to a hundred dollars annually)—free, because “you’d have ten times as many visitors and let’s say five times as much advertising.”

What's so bad about free access to the best journalism in the USA, Ken? While Pinch has an iron curtain that is asphyxiating his columnists behind a pay-to-play wall, the WSJ makes money doing the opposite with free access to better columnists. Only loons PAY for twitterings and squeaks from the moonbattery or Rich, Krugboy, or Dowd.

I do agree with Auletta on Murdoch's editorial weakness on the murderous slave-culture of Chinese business, and also his takeover may mean that the resolute WSJ stance against Clinton Inc may falter due to RM's softness on Hillary.

But bigger may mean better if the WSJ grows its bureaus in Washington and Asia. The only competitor in the world to the Financial Times could get bigger AND better if Murdoch ratchets down his hands-on editorial habits to a more remote supervisory mode.

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