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Rupert Murdoch and the Last Newspaper Battle In America

I have been thinking of investing in newspaper companies so I have been reading up on them lately. I ran across a nice long-form journalism piece from The Atlantic covering Rupert Murdoch and his takeover of The Wall Street Journal. In Mr. Murdoch Goes to War, Mark Bowden sketches out Rupert Murdoch's final battle to decide the winner of America's newspaper market. Given how a day doesn't go without some newspaper on the verge of shutting down, this is a winner-takes-all battle. Murdoch is slightly altering the WSJ to battle directly against The New York Times, and whoever that wins will likely be the dominant voice of America--assuming print still exists and garners the respect it used to.

No one really knows what Rupert Murdoch is thinking but the article suggest some possibilities. The article is also quite good in tying in some of the history of the industry into Murdoch's present-day strategies.

(source: Mr. Murdoch Goes to War, by Mark Bowden. July/August 2008 Issue. The Atlantic.)

Murdoch is given credit for great business acumen, but he is less a pioneer and visionary than a wealthy and aggressive collector. He has vast resources and is constantly adding and subtracting companies to and from his empire. He identifies potential markets, and then, like a rich art buyer writing big checks for the work of artists who have already achieved critical recognition, he buys into companies that have demonstrated promise in reaching those markets...

When it comes to running a newspaper, this combination of traits—buccaneering and collecting—makes Murdoch a throwback to the great journalism pirates, William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, who reigned during the days when most major cities had multiple dailies duking it out on street corners for readers. Back then, the name of the game was street sales, and the way to outsell the other rags was to have something hot that they did not. Reporters vied to get out in front of a story, to be one step ahead of everyone else. The more sensational the scoop, the more copies you sold. Reporters weren’t so much writers as hustlers and con men. The very idea of serious social reform—or, perish the thought, literature!—was laughable. Reporting was about scooping the competition. Stories were to be written clearly and concisely. Sentences were short and simple, language plain. Editors prized the breaking front-page story that could be told without “jumping”—without forcing the reader to turn to an inside page.

This is how Murdoch understands journalism—as content, a word he uses all the time, rather than as a form of literature or public service, and as a commodity whose value largely derives from its instant retail malleability...

This means that, at a time when every big newspaper is tinkering with futuristic business models, Murdoch is doing so with both feet planted firmly in the past. His strategy for success in 2008 is to behave as though the year is 1908. So while his competitors retrench, Murdoch is going to war—by challenging The New York Times, in particular, to an old-fashioned newspaper battle. Except this time the stakes aren’t nickels in Times Square, but dominance in America, and the world.


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