MediaFile

Dow Jones cuts back on benefits

The Wall Street Journal has been making plenty of hay about its rising circulation and the growing number of people online who are using the site, but parent company News Corp is cutting costs as the whole media business suffers from the recession. To that end, here is Dow Jones Chief Executive Les Hinton’s Monday memo on some benefits cutbacks that the company is instituting.

Dear colleagues:

Many companies are resetting their benefits in reaction to the economic challenges of the moment. Dow Jones has felt these same challenges and our business is far from immune to them. Unlike other media companies we have been able to avoid making changes driven by short-term necessity.

What we have done over the past year-and-a-half is to undertake a deep review of our entire benefits program. That review is complete, and today we are announcing a major change in our retirement programs. We are modernizing our approach to retirement savings and aligning our program with the market, News Corp. and our view of the future for Dow Jones.

Key changes include:

The Money Purchase Plan will be frozen as of July 3, 2009. The 401(k) Savings Plan will be enhanced. The net effect will be a lower rate of company contributions.

The retiree healthcare subsidy will be curtailed for most employees effective Jan. 1, 2010. Current retirees or those employees who on Jan. 1, 2010, will be age 50 with at least 5 years of service or have 20 years of service regardless of age will continue to be eligible for a subsidy in a revised retiree healthcare plan.

The Wall Street Journal and the death of print

Now you know that the uncertain future about the survival of newspapers is news: The Wall Street Journal’s op-ed page features an editorial castigating Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry and others for supporting the notion of federal government aid or bailouts for the struggling business.

The Journal gives us a recap of some ideas that have been seeping their way into the public consciousness in recent months, including:

    Maryland Democratic Sen. Benjamin Cardin’s bill to allow newspapers to exist as non-profits. Sen. Kerry’s endorsement of a proposal by Montana Democratic Sen. Max Baucus’s and Maine Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe’s to let newspapers offset their net operating losses over five years instead of two. Sen. Kerry’s endorsement of some flexibility under the anti-trust laws, presumably in a way that would allow U.S. newspaper publishers to dream up some ways to force people to pay for the news they read online in a model similar to how the cable TV providers work with the people who provide the shows. We note that the editorial didn’t even cover Washington State’s tax break for newspapers, not to mention Connecticut legislators’ recent willingness to help rustle up buyers for some former Journal Register papers. But you might as well add them to the list of ideas.

The Journal’s answer? No! No! No! On what grounds?

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.

Pay old-media execs to help you charge for new media

Three of the traditional media world’s brightest stars have a bright idea: Start a consultancy to help old-media companies charge for their content online. (And announce the venture in an old-media publication.)

From The Wall Street Journal’s website on Tuesday afternoon:

A trio of media executives is starting a firm to guide efforts by newspapers and other publishers to charge for content posted on their Web sites as advertising revenue tumbles.

The venture, Journalism Online LLC, is being led by Steven Brill, the founder of the American Lawyer magazine and Court TV; Gordon Crovitz, a former publisher of The Wall Street Journal; and cable-television veteran Leo Hindery.

The media is hungry for corporate excess

Guess where the paparazzi are training their lenses these days? For those of you who missed it, The New York Times writes that gossip rags have all but abandoned Britney Spears for the thrill of capturing corporate excesses on camera. From the paper:

The tabloid media, of course, have always peered into the excesses of the rich and famous with a mix of puritan disapproval and voyeurism. But these outlets and other news organizations are now recording troubling uses of taxpayer money at country clubs, private airports and glamorous retreats and, in so doing, explicitly tapping into a fierce populist anger at corporate America, and even pressuring Congress to hold companies accountable.

Populist indignation apart, perhaps people also feel a sense of glee when watching or reading about the severe scaling back of corporate budgets that once supported lavish lifestyles. Gawker may have captured the glee best in this biting account of The Wall Street Journal story on Goldman Sachs executives being asked to stay at Embassy Suites rather than the Ritz.

Wall Street Journal finds friend in Chicago

…And we’re not talking about Tribune Chief Executive Sam Zell. We Mean Coleen Davison, private citizen, and resident of Chicago, Illinois.

The Wall Street Journal turned a letter from Davison, a former Chicago Tribune subscriber, into an advertisement — that it tried to run in the Trib. Trouble is, that paper declined to run the ad. Now, it’s running in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Trib’s rival.

Here’s some of her letter:

Our growing discontent with the Tribune’s diminishing quality became intolerable after their redesign last fall, and led us to explore other news options. We settled on the WSJ after perusing several different newspapers, even though neither my husband nor I are particularly involved in the financial world. … While the focus is obviously on the business sector, there is so much to be gleaned about our world from your reporting. Your journalists/contributors clearly know their subjects. Articles are presented articulately and coherently. Your coverage of world news and your human interest pieces are insightful, engaging and thought provoking. And I LOVE your editorial pages-just when I had begun to think common sense was a lost art, I’ve discovered the WSJ!

Chernin parachutes, Murdoch keeps flying

News Corp President and Chief Operating Officer Peter Chernin’s perks after he leaves News Corp at the end of June are basic compared with some legendary golden parachutes, though they’re still worth more money than I make in a year. Or 10 years for that matter.

In addition to his Fox studios production deal, Chernin’s creature comforts include 50 hours on News Corp’s jet ($1.65 million value), corporate car ($210,000 value) and possibly personal secretary services ($1.05 million value). See the proxy statement for more details.

That might not send the image of a cost-cutting corporate culture at a time when News Corp’s stock is down 70 percent and the bottom looks further away as its most can-do executive quits. Then again, maybe Chernin’s doing the right thing, all things considered. Check out this little-noticed excerpt from Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch’s memo to employees:

iPhone App Store rings up 300 million downloads

For those Apple iPhone devotees out there, this may fall in the category of “duh,” but let’s just make it official: apps are popular. The company said Friday 300 million apps have been downloaded from its App Store, which only opened for business in July.

And it was Just a little while ago, on Oct. 21, that Apple reported 200 million app downloads, so iPhone users have been very busy since then.

App developers have also been busy, it seems. The App Store now offers many, many offerings – many useful, some just for yuks. The app count has pushed past the 10,000 mark, up from 5,500 in October and 500 in July.

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."

Wolff opines on Murdoch… again

Can you tell it’s book-flacking time?

Vanity Fair is running the second excerpt from the forthcoming book that Michael Wolff wrote about News Corp chief Rupert Murdoch (this one centers on his family), and Wolff is making the rounds this week to talk about it. He was on CNBC moments ago, engaging in everyone’s favorite media parlor game: Parsing Murdoch’s every move like a multi-clause sentence. Friday’s appearance follows a panel discussion at a PaidContent.org conference earlier this week where he made similar remarks. Here’s what he said on CNBC.

What will Murdoch do after buying The Wall Street Journal? What’s his next move?

“I’m not sure that he exactly knows. One of the problems here is that he bought a newspaper and not only did he buy a newspaper, but if he had only waited six months to buy that newspaper he would have saved a billion and a half dollars.” (Nothing like hindsight, is there?)