Murdoch Fires Back at the Times

The Wall Street Journal fired back at The New York Times story yesterday about Murdoch’s newspaper affinity dragging down News Corporation shares.

We thought it was a nicely done piece, but the Journal (or its chief marketing officer, anyway) says it had several flaws. It’s most irritated, of course, by the Times’s assertion that the WSJ is holding its circulation steady in part by heavily discounting subscriptions.

Like most subscription newspapers, the Journal uses discounted offers to attract new subscribers. However, in 2008 the Journal moved away from deep discounting and raised the introductory offer and newsstand pricing by nearly 40%. Even with higher prices across the board, Individually Paid Circulation continues to grow in an industry that is largely shrinking. Print circulation revenue for the most recent quarter was up by nearly 9% over the year prior.

And here’s some trademark Murdoch (emphasis mine):

“The New York Times may choose to speculate and offer its opinions in its business coverage, and there were many erroneous assumptions and speculations made in the story. However, regarding our circulation strategy and recent strong success, the Times simply got it wrong today,” said Paul Bascobert, chief marketing officer for Dow Jones & Company and The Wall Street Journal.

But this doesn’t say what the Times actually got wrong. The NYT was quoting the Journal’s own filing with the Audit Bureau of Circulations, and it quoted hard numbers. If the Journal wants to dispute that, it should give us its own hard numbers.

I know firsthand that the Journal is giving out serious discounts (or at least was as late as September). I got a year’s subscription to the paper and the Web site for $100, far below the list prices. The Times gets that much out of me every three months just for the paper.

And so far the NYT hasn’t corrected its story. I don’t blame them. Until the Journal spells out exactly what the Gray Lady got wrong, it looks like Rupert’s just blowing smoke (maybe from being heated about having to apologize for the Post’s chimp cartoon).

(hat tip: Chris Roush)

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.