Darkness falls

Ugh. I’ve already made my thoughts known about Rupert Murdoch’s acquisition of the Wall Street Journal, both here and in the Guardian. So I’ve really got nothing new to say now that he’s finally pulled it off. (Indeed, this has gone on so long that opinion-slingers like me have run through our ammo two or three times already.) But the Journal is well on its way from being a great, independent paper to a very good paper with a grasping, interfering owner.

I love Eric Alterman’s take in The Nation. Alterman argues that because the Journal’s news pages will be seen as less serious under Murdoch, so will its nutty right-wing editorial page. Alterman writes:

The silver lining of this takeover is that when Murdoch destroys the credibility of the Journal — as he must if it is to fit in with his business plan — he will be removing the primary pillar of the editorial page’s influence as well. In this regard his ownership is a kind of poisoned chalice.

Locally, meanwhile, let the outsourcing (and selling?) begin. Last week, the Globe’s Steve Bailey reported that Herald publisher Pat Purcell — who bought the Herald from Murdoch, his old mentor, in 1994 — would look to strike a deal for the Herald to be printed at a Dow Jones-owned plant in Chicopee should the Murdoch deal succeed. (Dow Jones is the Journal’s parent company.) Purcell confirmed his interest in a Herald story two days later the same day.

The Herald’s current property, next to the Southeast Expressway, is worth far more than its crumbling plant. A printing deal would presumably enable Purcell to sell the property and reduce his costs by vast sums, and might even ensure the long-term financial health of his paper.

Today the Globe reports that the Globe itself is in negotiations to print the Patriot Ledger of Quincy and the Enterprise of Brockton.

Now, follow the bouncing newspaper owners:

  • The Globe, of course, is owned by the New York Times Co., and Murdoch’s Journal is likely to emerge as the Times’ principal competitor nationally. If the Globe’s main print rival, the Herald, is getting help from Murdoch — well, I have no idea what to say except that it’s interesting.
  • Dow Jones, Purcell’s possible savior, owns several community dailies in the area through its Ottaway division, including the Standard-Times of New Bedford, the Cape Cod Times and the Portsmouth Herald. The Patriot Ledger and the Enterprise are owned by GateHouse Media, which also owns about 100 papers, mostly weeklies, in Eastern Massachusetts. So there’s an additional rivalry.
  • Except that Murdoch might sell off his community papers, which don’t seem to fit any grand strategy. And the most likely buyer would be GateHouse. Does it matter that James Ottaway positioned himself as Murdoch’s not-so-mortal enemy? Damned if I know.
  • Which would leave Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. (CNHI), better known as the Alabama state teachers’ pension fund, isolated and alone on the North Shore and in the Merrimack Valley. CNHI owns the Eagle-Tribune of Lawrence, the Salem News, the Gloucester Daily Times and the Daily News of Newburyport. And guess what? Michael Reed, chief executive of GateHouse, used to be chief executive of CNHI.

Murdoch’s victory could be just the beginning for local newspaper readers.

Oh, my. Jim Cramer, the screaming loon of CNBC, hopes Murdoch will push the Journal so that it finally matches the relevance of, yes, the New York Post business pages. By the way, the Post’s business coverage is quite good. But come on.

Thinking about Murdoch

My latest commentary for the Guardian is online. I describe my first direct encounter, in the late 1980s, with Rupert Murdoch’s highly personal brand of journalism.

NECN today

I’ll be on NECN’s “New England Business Day” at 6:30 p.m. to talk about Rupert Murdoch’s impending takeover of Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal.

The Bancrofts and the Benjamins

Barring a miracle, Rupert Murdoch will take over the Wall Street Journal later this week, when his latest offer is presented to the Bancroft family. (Journal coverage here; New York Times coverage here.)

For all the disingenuous talk about the Bancrofts’ holding out because of their deep, deep concern for journalistic integrity, it all comes down, as usual, to the Benjamins. The Washington Post’s Frank Ahrens reports:

Dow Jones had pushed for Murdoch to raise his $60-per-share bid by $2 to $3 per share, an amount that had come to be known as a “tip” to help placate the Bancrofts, the family that controls Dow Jones. The majority of them instantly rejected Murdoch’s bid when it became public.

A tip. Well, here’s another tip — the editorial independence agreement that has been worked out over the past few weeks will prove not to be worth the paper it’s written on.

The Journal will probably continue to be an excellent newspaper, although it may cease to be great. This isn’t about ideology — its nutty editorial page may actually move slightly to the left, as Murdoch is far more interested in power than in politics. Rather, this is about a profit-crazed, meddling shark smelling blood in the water and moving in for the kill.

Here’s a roundup of commentaries by Jack Shafer of Slate, who’s been particularly good on this subject. I especially like “Murdoch: The Filth and the Fury,” an overview of how he destroyed the New York Post despite making explicit promises not to.

Murdoch is a good steward only in the sense that he’s not overly concerned with cost-cutting — he’s far more likely to subsidize the Journal so that it will remain a suitable adjunct to his Fox Business Channel, set to debut on Oct. 15.

I don’t mean to be too nostalgic. Obviously the news business is falling apart, and we’re going to witness all kinds of unimaginable events before someone figures out how to put together a new, very different model.

But this is a sad day for journalism. At the very least, if managing editor Marcus Brauchli has any tough stories on China in the can, he’d better run them in the next day or two.

Photo (cc) by Paolo! Some rights reserved.