Parsing the Anonymice at Dow Jones and the Journal

The Times lets unnamed "senior editors" and a "person close to Dow Jones management" nudge the Murdoch sale along

This New York Times piece from Monday says an unnamed person connected to Dow Jones management and unnamed senior editors at The Wall Street Journal are promising job cuts if the News Corp. offer isn’t accepted.

If the $5 billion bid by Mr. Murdoch’s News Corporation to buy Dow Jones & Company, which owns The Journal, falls through, declining advertising will mean significant cuts in The Journal’s newsroom staff, according to senior editors and a person close to Dow Jones management, who said they were told individually by company executives.

I know it’s subtle, but let me translate: Newsroom, stop opposing the sale or you’ll lose your jobs, and then where will you be? Without a job. And then how will you feel? Bad, right?

Is it true?

The Audit says: So what if it is? The Journal has already had at least three rounds of job cuts by my count, so what’s one more? (One thing’s for sure: none of the sources for the Times story came from any of the Journal’s Canadian bureaus.)

These anonymice think a sale to News Corp. is some kind of solution to job cuts?

Maybe I have a migraine; I’m going to blow my head off?

Audit Readers, remember what I told you: Top DJ executives and editors now have powerful incentives to favor the sale. Readers interested in the long-term health of the business press shouldn’t care about executive severance packages, editors’ guaranteed jobs, reporters’ unguaranteed jobs, the value of options enhanced by the Murdoch offer—or anything, really, other than how best to preserve a vital information source.

Also, we already know that Rich Zannino, Dow Jones’s CEO, has received a vote of confidence from Murdoch and will get a rich package if he is severed after the deal closes. We also know that he is in hot water with some members of the Bancroft family, who currently control the company, as James Ottaway, the former director and major shareholder, makes clear in an interview with The Audit.

Damage has been done, though. Damage has been done. There are going to be great questions about the management people who seemed to have been open to, if not anxious for, a Murdoch takeover. Some Bancroft family members are very upset with (current Dow Jones CEO) Rich Zannino.

Zannino seemed to some, Ottaway says, too eager to sell. Where does he stand if the News Corp. bid fails?

Also, while I’m at it, there are three senior editors with guaranteed jobs under the agreement in principle reached between Dow Jones and News Corp. in the event of a takeover.

N Corp agrees that the following persons will be retained on their positions following closing, Marcus Brauchli (WSJ managing editor), Paul Gigot (WSJ editorial page editor) and Neal Lipschutz (Newswires managing editor)

I’m not suggesting any of these people are the source for the Times story. I’m suggesting that business-press readers should beware of people “close to” and “familiar with” and unnamed senior—though not particularly forthright—editors with agendas that are not especially visible.

The Times, by the way, should offer readers more guidance when relying on unnamed sources. You shouldn’t need The Audit for this.

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Dean Starkman Dean Starkman runs The Audit, CJR's business section, and is the author of The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism (Columbia University Press, January 2014). Follow Dean on Twitter: @deanstarkman.