News Corp, Breakingviews, and the FT

June 6, 2008

rtrdc25_comp.jpgReuters’ Robert MacMillan was the first to report that the Wall Street Journal plans to drop a daily opinion column from, the financial commentary and news service founded by financial journalist Hugo Dixon. But as Portfolio’s Felix Salmon notes, the move may have a lot to do with the Financial Times.

With all of the coverage about Murdoch’s desire to use the Journal to take on the New York Times, it’s easy to forget that News Corp’s acquisition also puts the FT squarely in its sights. Salmon posits that Journal editor Robert Thomson is preparing a direct assault on the FT’s lucrative Lex column, which the pink-hued paper considers to be such a draw that it charges a hefty premium for access.

On the same day that Breakingviews was dropped, the Journal also poached Thorold Barker and Liam Denning from Lex. Their likely destination: The Journal’s rival “Heard on the Street” column, which unlike Lex is free online.

“We have a license to hire great journalists from around the world and hire we will,” Thomson said in a statement. Not coincidentally, he is a former Financial Times editor who spearheaded the paper’s U.S. edition.

Salmon writes:

The FT and the WSJ will now have directly competing financial-opinion columns – but the key difference between them is that while the WSJ’s column will land on 2 million desks each day, the FT’s will still be stuck behind those idiotic firewalls.

This is clearly a move by Robert Thomson to move the Journal in a British direction, and to turn it into a media outlet unafraid of having its own opinion.

Dow Jones still owns 6 percent of Breakingviews, although a source with the matter said it may try to sell the stake. Dixon — who is, yep, a former FT staffer who ran Lex for five years — said that leaving the Journal would free up the service to seek new partners online, in print and in television. It claims about 15,000 direct subscribers, including several bulk subscriptions at investment banks, and a 95 percent annual subscriber renewal rate.

“We think there’s a lot of interest in our brand of independent financial insight,” he told Reuters.

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