Rupert Murdoch wanted to get into the Internet. And what’s interesting to me about the way he did it is that it was very entrepreneurial, very opportunistic. He had a list of all these things he wanted. MySpace wasn’t on that list! But MySpace was available—and he knew he had to move fast. One thing that Rupert Murdoch has consistently proven (the exception being his purchase of the Wall Street Journal) is that he has a great sense of timing.
Did you feel any discomfort writing about Murdoch, since he’s ultimately your boss at the Journal?
I knew we were going to get to that question. What’s so strange is that when I left the Journal for book leave, I was the News Corp. beat reporter. All I did was write articles about Rupert Murdoch that he generally wouldn’t like. I left to do the book, and I had no idea this bid was coming (which probably makes me a bad reporter). He wasn’t my boss when I left! Then he bought the paper, and I thought, “Oh, dear.” I had a lot of conversations with people when I returned from book leave, and everybody has been really nice. Mostly because what he’s done with the Journal is very similar to what he did with MySpace—he put one new person at the top, but everybody else is still there, all my old colleagues. There has not been a huge overhaul of management.
So it was basically okay.
So far. The book isn’t out yet.
It doesn’t sound like News Corp. cooperated with the project, aside from giving you a book leave.
They were very sweet about not cooperating. They weren’t against the book, but since MySpace wasn’t participating, they couldn’t either. So we’ll see. The Journal said it would run an excerpt from the book—they do that for all Journal reporters—but I’ll be interested to see if that happens.
At the time you completed the book in April 2008, you wrote: “MySpace remains the dominant social networking website, with seventy-two million monthly visitors in the United States.” As I’m sure you know, that is no longer the case. Facebook has taken the lead.
No, you’re incorrect. What’s actually happened is that Facebook has surpassed them worldwide, but in the U.S., MySpace is still ahead, with 75 million monthly uniques, versus 57 million for Facebook.
That always depends on where you’re getting the numbers. [Angwin’s numbers are confirmed by comScore. However, statistics from Compete and Nielsen Online tell a different story, with the latter site pegging Facebook at 62.4 million uniques in January 2009, versus 60.6 million for MySpace.]
Right, but I’m sticking with comScore. Again, MySpace is out ahead, but stagnating. It’s like AOL: when you’re that big, it takes a long time to fall.
So what do you see in the site’s future?
I think MySpace is in a difficult position. [Former News Corp. president] Peter Chernin has left, and he was actually very involved. The COO and the two top engineers also just left. And Tom and Chris—well, their contracts are up in the fall. There’s no question that they have to innovate. But I see people leaving, and I see them launching a celebrity news site, which is not what they need to be focusing on. So the prospects aren’t great. On the other hand, you never know.
After all, the whole phenomenon is only five years old.
Absolutely. It’s all so new. When I was working on the book, I don’t think I even thought about Twitter. And now it’s taking over the world!
Let me bring the conversation back to your own experience for a moment. Putting aside the drama of corporate mergers, how have the new media affected your own work as a journalist?