MediaFile

Murdoch in good times and bad

By Sir Harold Evans
The views expressed are his own.

There is a clear connecting thread between the events I describe in “Good Times, Bad Times” and the dramas that led so many years later to Rupert Murdoch’s “most humble day of my life.” I was seated within a few feet of him in London on July 19, 2011, during his testimony to a select committee of MPs with his son James at his side. Not many more than a score of observers were allowed into the small room at Parliament’s Portcullis House, across the road from the House of Commons and Big Ben. A portcullis is a defensive latticed iron grating hung over the entrance to a fortified castle, the perfect metaphor for News International, which perpetually sees itself as beset by enemies.

Murdoch, as chairman and only begetter of the giant multi-media enterprise News International (NI), was called on to defend his castle and himself as best he could for the outrages of hacking and police bribery inflicted on the British public by his News of the World and the cover-up that he and his company conducted over nearly five years. The paper Murdoch most affects to despise, the Guardian, was the instrument of his undoing.

It persisted with the unraveling story almost alone in the face of repeated denials, defamation and threats and the sloppy exonerations of News International by Scotland Yard and the Press Complaints Commission. Among those waiting patiently – one might say humbly – for admission to the Portcullis House committee room was Nick Davies, the back-packing Guardian reporter, who led the paper’s investigation courageously sustained by his editor Alan Rusbridger. It was cheering to think of the impetus for good contained in Davies’ little notebook as he assiduously scribbled away during the hearing.

Murdoch had begun badly on jetting into London, all smiles in a jaunty Panama hat and embracing his ex-editor and CEO Rebekah Brooks whom he called his “first priority”; she was arrested days later. He quickly sensed the vengeful public mood and made a well-publicized consoling visit to the family of Milly Dowler, the murdered schoolgirl. He apologized profusely enough for his soon-to-be-shuttered paper’s most outrageous invasion of privacy, the hacking into voice mails left for Milly, and the hacker’s erasure of messages to make room for more that the News of the World could milk for despicable “exclusives.”

Observers in the Portcullis room were divided on the efficacy of Rupert Murdoch’s testimony. Some thought his answers revealed a doddery, amnesiac jet-lagged octogenarian. He cupped his ear occasionally to ask for a question to be repeated; at one moment he referred to the Prime Minister David Cameron when he meant Alastair Campbell, Prime Minister Blair’s press adviser. Others saw the testimony as a guileful imitation of “Uncle Junior,” the ageing mentor to Tony, the capo in the Sopranos, who feigned slippered incompetence to escape retribution. I thought, on the contrary, that Murdoch was a good witness, more direct than his son James, who unnervingly sported a buzz cut reminiscent of Nixon’s chief of staff, Bob Haldeman. His father was as taciturn as James was loquacious. Murdoch père paused to run each answer through his shrewd mental calculations of the legal implications of his own words, occasionally smiting the tabletop in front in a kind of brutal authoritarian emphasis that began to make his wife Wendi Murdoch distinctly nervous. She leaned forward to restrain the militancy.

Top Rupert Murdoch adviser learns meaning of ‘deadline’

Top Rupert Murdoch adviser Gary Ginsberg is leaving News Corp after 11 years, the company said on Monday.

It must have hit New York Times reporter Tim Arango’s e-mail inbox first (his writeup appeared about five minutes before I got the press release).

Here is what he wrote about Ginsberg, 47, the second senior executive to leave News Corp in recent months, following Chief Operating Officer Peter Chernin:

Murdoch toys with idea of Kindle-like reader

Where will the mogul strike next? Doesn’t seem like he’s yearning right now for The New York Times, which is doing battle with a guild that doesn’t want to give up lifetime job guarantees of 190-odd Boston Globe staffers.

Instead, New York Post’s Peter Lauria reports, Rupert Murdoch has set his sights on building a Kindle-like device that will deliver content from News Corp publications like The Wall Street Journal, The Times of London and the NY Post. The device would also offer content from TV shows and movies that come from the News Corp stable. Murdoch sees it as a way of charging for content on the Web, rather than giving it away free as much of the publishing industry has (which, needless to say, is a big source of current troubles).

The global team assembled for this purpose consists of Murdoch himself, son James, Dow Jones CEO Les Hinton and News Corp’s new chief of digital operations, Jonathan Miller, the paper says.

More work, same pay at New York Post

New York Post newsroom staff are grumbling about a new work rule that essentially pays them the same amount of money, but for more work.

Two sources told MediaFile that Rupert Murdoch’s daily tabloid has told reporters that their work week is now 40 hours long. That’s no big deal to most working stiffs, but that’s a change from the earlier 37-1/2 hours.

The upshot is that overtime pay, which once started as the clock struck 37-1/2, now doesn’t begin until 2-1/2 hours later. As many journalists know, it’s hard to break news on your beat unless you’re willing to put up with stories — and events — that happen at any time and don’t fit well into normal working hours. That said, journalists who don’t like this move say it amounts to a 6 percent pay cut because it’s more work for the same pay.

Rough day for Murdoch. Or is it?

One has to wonder what today is like for a media chief as mogul-y as Rupert Murdoch, whose

News Corp has its hands in everything from publishing and newspapers to Internet, TV and movies. Today is the first day after News Corp President and COO Peter Chernin — who has been a critical force in News Corp’s success in movies and TV — said he was planning to leave the executive suite in June to make movies.

That leaves the 77-year-old Murdoch without his well-regarded No. 2 at a time when all media players are struggling with a dramatic advertising slowdown. That’s not good, right?

Murdoch wants newspapers, just not The New York Times

Michael Wolff, author of the recently published Rupert Murdoch tell-all, “The Man Who Owns the News,” says that the News Corp chief executive would love to buy The New York Times. The only thing standing in his way is the Ochs-Sulzberger family which controls the Times. If they’re anything like the Bancrofts, former controllers of Dow Jones/Wall Street Journal, only an insane amount of money might persuade them to let go of the prized but struggling newspaper publisher.

Or maybe Murdoch himself. Whatever the scuttlebutt is about Murdoch’s plans for the Times, he told reporters on Thursday that he’s not interested in buying it. Speaking on a conference call after the company reported dismal second-quarter results, he said it might not be good for his image:

“I’ve got no desire to be an even bigger public enemy.”

This, of course, refers to the charge leveled at him from London to New York to Hong Kong that he uses the papers and other media that he owns to advance his personal business interests.

How much are those front-page Times ads?

Don’t ask The New York Times how much its new front-page display ads cost. The paper won’t say. That didn’t stop the New York Post from asking ad buyers. Here’s the answer based on anonymous sources:

$75,000 on weekdays and $100,000 on Sundays.

Assuming that the Post counts Saturday as a weekday, and assuming no discounts or other special deals (and assuming this blog post is not written by a reporter who nearly failed at least one high school math class), this works out to $28.6 million a year: $23.4 million for 52 weeks of Monday through Saturday and $5.2 million for a year’s worth of Sundays.

Despite the TImes’s silence, the ad cost sounds about right. The Wall Street Journal charges $90,000 for its front-page ads, not counting special discounts. Other details sound similar too. Here’s the Post:

Watch Gannett layoffs in slow motion

It’s layoff week at Gannett — even the second N and T might be redundant.

The largest U.S. newspaper publisher and owner of USA Today, the nation’s biggest-selling daily paper, is slashing payroll just in time for the holidays. We read about layoffs everywhere these days, but if you want to see the slow-motion car crash version of how Gannett is doing it, look to Gannett Blog, run by former company reporter Jim Hopkins.

With no newspaper job to keep him busy, Hopkins chronicles nearly every event that he hears about Gannett. That includes a dose of rumor, but much of what he reports is more right than wrong.

Murdoch kills Newsday bid

murdoch-frowns.jpgWhen Rupert Murdoch said the other day that he wasn’t investing in newspapers anymore, we assumed that he was being ironic, especially as it came in the same telephone conference call with News Corp analysts and reporters in which he said that he thought his agreement to buy Newsday from Tribune Co was all but sewn up .

That goes to show you what they say about assuming things.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday , and we subsequently confirmed , that News Corp isn’t going to chase Newsday after all. Instead, it’s pulling its $580 million bid, paving the way for Cablevision to likely take over its fellow Long Island media outlet. New York Daily News owner Mortimer Zuckerman is in the race still as far as we know, but it’s hard to see how Tribune will take his $580 million bid when Cablevision has a $70 million sweetener on top of that.

Why? Apparently the economics were unjustifiable. What could that mean? The short list: Tribune’s quarterly financial results, which came out late Friday, show the company continuing to lose advertising revenue at its newspapers; media ownership laws might make it tough for Murdoch to take the paper yet keep his New York-area television broadcast licenses; and finally, a bid higher than $650 million is already a higher valuation for a newspaper than most sensible financial folks see as feasible.

Cablevision sweet on Newsday; suitors circling

madison-square-garden.jpgWho says the newspaper business is doomed? Circulation and advertising may be in the dumps, sure, but judging from the bidders lining up to buy Newsday there are plenty of moguls still keen on newspapers.

The latest development: The Wall Street Journal reports that Cablevision is planning to bid as much as $650 million for the Long Island daily, which likely catapults it ahead of other bidders like News Corp, which owns the New York Post, and Mortimer Zuckerman, who owns the Daily News.

Cablevision’s bid could come within two days, the report said, adding that it was unclear whether whether Cablevision is working with New York Observer owner Jared Kushner in its offer. Beyond Cablevision’s cable assets, it owns the New York Knicks, the New York Rangers, Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall.