Murdoch's News Corp. Bid for Dow Jones Rejected

The family that controls the company said it would oppose the deal.

February 09, 2009, 4:58 PM

May 1, 2007 &#151; -- Just hours after Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. made an unsolicited offer Tuesday to buy Dow Jones & Co., publisher of The Wall Street Journal, the family that controls Dow Jones announced that it had rejected the bid.

The Bancroft family controls a little more than 50 percent of the votes at Dow Jones and announced after the stock market closed that it would reject the proposed bid.

The family did not comment on whether or not it would accept any other offer -- from Murdoch or somebody else. The family said only that it was rejecting the current bid.

Throughout the day, the possible sale of the nation's second-largest newspaper worried some.

News Corp. owns Fox News, the New York Post, TV Guide, MySpace and numerous other media outlets along with movie company 20th Century Fox.

The company offered to buy all outstanding Dow Jones stock for $60 a share -- or about $5 billion.

The proposed sale price is significantly higher than the market value of Dow Jones before the offer was made public.

Shares of the media company opened Tuesday morning at $37.12 and jumped to just above $57.28 before trading was temporarily halted. It closed at $56.20. The company had traded between $32 and $40 a share over the last year.

The move comes just as News Corp. is gearing up to launch its own cable business channel this fall, which is expected to compete head-to-head with CNBC.

"This is the greatest newspaper in America," Murdoch said Tuesday afternoon on his Fox News Channel. "It needs to be part of a bigger organization to be taken further."

Murdoch has long eyed Dow Jones and said he hopes to find millions of new readers around the world online. He said financial news is one of the few news items that companies can charge for.

Talking about his cable business network in February, Murdoch said he "long considered the business television market to be underserved."

Fox Business Channel will start with at least 30 million subscribers after getting distribution deals with Time Warner, Comcast, Charter and DirecTV.

One major stumbling block might be the contract CNBC has until 2012 with The Wall Street Journal to have its reporters appear on the competing cable business network.

"There are a lot of other things in The Journal, and their editors appear on Fox every Sunday," Murdoch said Tuesday when asked about that deal.

The Wall Street Journal's influence goes well beyond its readers.

The news on the front page of the nation's major newspapers often drives coverage at other papers and TV stations across the country.

When asked if another company might try a higher bid, such as Bloomberg, Murdoch said, "We're paying a very, very high premium that I don't think they could reach."

USA Today sold 2.28 million newspapers a day as of March 31, according to preliminary figures filed with the Audit Bureau of Circulations. The Wall Street Journal followed, with 2.06 million readers and The New York Times had 1.22 million. No other paper in the country tops 1 million readers a day.

Steve Yount, president of the union and representing 2,000 reporters and other employees at Dow Jones, called ownership by Murdoch "a disaster," particularly for The Wall Street Journal.

"This is a premier publication, and everything that News Corp. brings to the table runs the risk of tarnishing that reputation," said Yount.

News Corp. has "not been labor friendly," Yount said, but "honest to God, that is a secondary concern for me."

In The Wall Street Journal newsroom there was a lot of surprise and uncertainty, with the staff learning about the bid through various media reports, sources told ABC News.

The news comes just days after Marcus Brauchli was named managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, replacing Paul Steiger, who has held the top job in the newsroom since 1991.

Neil Henry, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley's graduate school of journalism, said that Murdoch in the past has interfered in the news-gathering role of his media outlets.

"The Wall Street Journal is just a truly wonderful, independent newspaper, and for it to be in the hands of a media titan like Rupert Murdoch does not excite me," Henry said. "I don't believe that media consolidation is good for democracy. You are essentially limiting the number of people and powers that control the news in society. And News Corp. in particular is just a huge, giant of a corporation."

The Bancroft family has a special class of shares that prevents the company from being taken over without its consent. The New York Times, the nation's third-largest newspaper behind The Wall Street Journal and USA Today, has a similar ownership structure.

Shareholders of The New York Times Co. have recently rallied to try to dilute the Sulzberger family's control over the company.

"The Bancroft family … has made it very clear over the years that they treasure the institution that the family has built: the independence, the integrity, the unquestioned quality and commitment to fair and unbiased reporting," Yount said.

Shares of News Corp. fell more than 4 percent Tuesday, closing at $23.10.

Spencer Wang, a research analyst at Bear Stearns, issued a note saying the acquisition is bad for News Corp. because it would increase the company's "exposure to slower growth print assets."

Jennifer Saba, associate editor of Editor & Publisher, said Murdoch "clearly has been wanting this paper for a long time and the question is if the Bancrofts will allow him to have it."

Saba said new owners typically like to make changes, but it is too early to say what, if anything, Murdoch would do.

"If he were smart, he would probably just let it run the way it is running at the moment," she said. "They made a lot of changes, doing deeper analysis with their print edition and breaking a lot of stuff online. They're really on the forefront of online journalism and advertising."

Since 1947, The Wall Street Journal has earned 33 Pulitzer Prizes, journalism's top award. It just won two this year, one for last year's series exposing stock option backdating, and the other for its reporting on China's growing economy.

Besides The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones owns Barron's, MarketWatch, Factiva, Dow Jones Newswires and local newspapers in Cape Cod, Nantucket, Oregon and elsewhere.

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