MediaFile

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.

As for newspapers themselves? He already owns a bunch, from the Journal (which was part of a $3 billion-plus writedown on Thursday’s earnings) to the New York Post ($185 million writedown Thursday) to The Times of London to The Australian. And he’s keeping them, by the sound of things:

“I’ve got great faith. If we continue the way we’re going, we may even get lucky and not have so much competition at the end of it all.”

Write this down: News Corp

News Corp is many things to many people. Its latest incarnation? Pinata.

Everyone is taking a whack at Rupert Murdoch’s international media empire these days as its stock languishes and it gets ready to report second-quarter financial results on Thursday. Newspaper advertising revenue is falling, the movie season hasn’t looked so hot so far, MySpace is unlikely to friend Facebook, the euro and the pound are hurting European operations, DVDs are dying and cable networks revenue doesn’t look like it will be able to compensate.

On top of all that, people are beginning to wonder if the company will announce a writedown, and how soon. My story, which ran on Friday, says the newspaper business looks ripe for a writedown, and quotes Pali Capital analyst RIch Greenfield saying that part of the company’s problem is Murdoch’s sentimental attachment to old media:

If Murdoch wants to keep the business healthy, it is time to make “hard decisions” and prune older media like papers, Pali Capital analyst Rich Greenfield said.

Newspapers: These are a few of my favorite playthings

The story of rich billionaires buying troubled newspapers is one that has been told before, but never with headlines that practically nod and wink at you like this one from the Financial Times: Playthings for rich men could be unsafe toys

Tell us about it!

The story by Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson explores the ups and downs of selling troubled, publicly traded newspaper companies to impossibly rich buyers. As he says, would-be press barons might find to their dismay that the old business model is dying. That means taking over a paper could be a reputation killer, not an enhancer.

The most interesting but sad item in the story is this tidbit:

The $5.6bn Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp paid in 2007 for Dow Jones, owner of the Wall Street Journal and several local papers, would now be sufficient to buy Gannett, the New York Times, McClatchy, Media General, Belo and Lee Enterprises, even at twice their current share prices.

Fox Business wants you on TV on Saturday

What are you doing Saturday? Nothing? Wrong! You’re going on the Fox Business Network and you’re going to ask them questions about your finances. Here are the relevant details from the press release:

FOX Business Network (FBN) will debut “Your Questions, Your Money Live,” a new weekly series presented every Saturday from 10 AM to 2 PM (ET) starting January 24, announced Kevin Magee, Executive Vice President, FOX News.

Hosted by FBN’s Dagen McDowell, “Your Questions, Your Money Live,” is a weekly four-hour live call-in show where viewers can talk to experts about the ongoing economic crisis and raise questions about personal finance issues.

Newspapers hock their bargain basements

Good newspaper reporters have a knack for timing. They spot trends and tell readers about them before anyone else does. Their publishers have a knack for timing too — the bad kind.

With stock prices spiraling toward zero, debt looming and their future in doubt, newspapers are looking for ways to keep the money coming in. Some of those ways sound good, but only on paper. Here’s the latest example, as detailed in an Associated Press story:

With revenue plunging as readers and advertisers flee to the Web, many newspaper companies have turned to selling off their buildings to raise money or save on costs. But now that option may be drying up too, as frozen credit markets make commercial real estate deals scarce.

from Summit Notebook:

WSJ reporters get, dig change

We and the rest of the media world that covered News Corp and Rupert Murdoch's acquisition of Dow Jones & Co had no shortage of reporters at The Wall Street Journal telling us how bad life was going to get. Among the complaints was the paper's increasing focus on politics and non-business news. Wasn't this "diluting the brand" as they say in mediaspeak?

Not so, according to Robert Thomson, the former Times of London editor who now edits the Journal and Dow Jones Newswires. Business news now is concentrated in the B section of the paper (B for Business, yes, it works.), and Journal reporters are not only with the program, they're showing a willingness to try things differently.

"It's been fascinating. There was a presumption that people would be unwilling to change," Thomson told us at the Reuters Media Summit. "There has been an innate enthusiasm to develop the paper, particularly to develop the relationship between the paper, WSJ.com, Dow Jones Newswires and Marketwatch."

It’s Midway or the highway for Redstone

Sumner Redstone is selling low — way low. Here’s The Wall Street Journal with the news:

In an effort to help resolve his debt problems, Sumner Redstone has sold his controlling stake in videogame company Midway Games Inc to a private investor.

Mr. Redstone’s holding company, National Amusements Inc., is expected to announce Monday that it sold its 87% stake in Midway to investor Mark Thomas, a move that represents a significant loss on the media mogul’s investment but secures a hefty tax benefit as he negotiates other asset sales.

How I Wolff’d down the Murdoch book

After nearly setting off my tilt mechanism at Thanksgiving dinner by eating twice my weight in food, I spent the earlier part of Friday gorging on as much of Michael Wolff’s new Rupert Murdoch biography as I could. I read just enough to think of some questions for Wolff that wouldn’t come off as sounding too stupid, and then we got on the phone.

First, a short reminder of why we care about Rupert Murdoch and want to read Wolff’s book, “The Man Who Owns the News,” which Broadway Books, an imprint of Random House’s Doubleday label, is releasing on Dec. 2 (after passing some copies around to people like me):

    Murdoch is the legendarily aggressive Australian businessman who built News Corp into an international media empire. He owns this crazy collection of stuff, from MySpace to the New York Post to Sky Italia to stakes in companies in countries you’ve never even heard of. He did it despite — and perhaps because of — his treatment by more well-heeled media contemporaries as a vulgar, Antipodean mutant form of themselves. He’s a big risk-taker, as evidenced by his $5.6 billion purchase of Dow Jones & Co and its crown jewel, The Wall Street Journal. That price was 65 percent more than the company was worth. His love life with the much younger Wendi Deng causes constant speculation about who will run his empire when he is gone. Some people think he uses his news outlets to advance his business interests, something that in utterly unremarkable in certain parts of the world.

Now for some Q&A with Michael Wolff. We moved one or two items out of chronological order to preserve a bit of continuity with the questions.

Hulu would love to expand — you know, sometime

Hulu is going global. Maybe.

The video website owned by News Corp and NBC Universal is apparently thinking of expanding to Britain, France, Germany and Japan. But don’t get too excited. Peter Smith, president of NBC Universal International, told a conference that while Hulu would love to push out its boundaries, there aren’t yet any concrete plans.

He didn’t say this, but it seems that given what’s happening with the global economy, this may not be the best time to expand a service that depends on advertising revenue. Speaking of which…

The Financial Times has a story out today that suggests Hulu could match Google’s YouTube in US revenue next year. The article cites Screen Digest, and certainly other researchers may disagree. Still, it’s interesting that Screen Digest figures both online video cites will bring in about $180 million. Should we interpret this as a Hulu success? Or a YouTube failure?

WSJ=Way Smarter Journalists

News Corp is realizing synergies, cross-promoting among its brands. Here’s the latest announcement:

NEW YORK (Nov. 10, 2008) – HarperCollins Publishers and The Wall Street Journal today announced the formation of a three-year publishing partnership to develop books written by the Journal’s expert editors and reporters across a variety of topics for a wide range of readers. Both HarperCollins and Dow Jones & Company, which publishes The Wall Street Journal, are owned by News Corp. The program will be overseen by Steve Ross, group president of the Collins Group, a division of Harper Collins, and Alan Murray, deputy managing editor at The Wall Street Journal, in conjunction with the Publishers and editorial teams from the Collins, Collins Business, Collins Living and Collins Design imprints.

That’s all fine, if a bit humdrum. You have to dig down past the usual canned quotes in the press release to get to the good stuff, which as always emanates from the pen of Wall Street Journal Managing Editor Robert Thomson: