And what of the opera singer?
You remember: Natalie Bancroft, the twenty-something aspiring diva who wound up on News Corp.’s board to represent the Bancrofts?
Oh, come on. The Bancrofts. Descendants of Clarence Barron—almost? Fine—descendants of Barron’s wife’s eldest daughter from a previous marriage. The Waldrons. Close enough.
These lucky few—a horsewoman, a retired airline pilot, a yachtsman or two —inherited the controlling Class B shares of Dow Jones & Co., The Wall Street Journal’s parent, entitling them to several hundred million dollars in dividends—free money!—that the company sorely needed for new products and technology.
If none of this rings a bell, it pays to go back to the good reporting, in the Journal itself and elsewhere, that described how, after agreeing to sell its birthright, the family then kicked away control of its own representative on News Corp.’s board rather than put a $60 a share offer at risk. Here’s the Journal headline from November:
Bancrofts Bicker, Miss a Deadline, Lose Board Choice
David Carr, writing in The New York Times this week, forthrightly pointed to the eerie silence with which Dow Jones and Wall Street Journal leaders have greeted the dismantling of the journalistic legacy to which they devoted their professional lives.
Carr rightly focuses on Marcus Brauchli, the managing editor who resigned in return for a rich payday rather than invoke the editorial protections painstakingly written into the deal when Rupert Murdoch’s company bought Dow Jones.
Carr compares Brauchli’s case to that of the Los Angeles Times’s John Carroll and Dean Baquet, but that’s not fair to Carroll and Baquet, top editors who resisted journalistic downgrades without benefit of special editorial committee created expressly for a scenario that promptly occurred.
Brauchli had the job guarantee but did not fight.
But the collapse of Dow Jones should be remembered for the speed and the unanimity with which leaders of all stripes—editors, executives, directors, and, yes, Class B shareholders—abandoned long-standing principles and treasured journalistic models in the face of a lucrative offer from an unsolicited buyer.
I haven’t seen this kind of money grab since I covered the Rhode Island Public Buildings Authority.
The special committee created to protect the managing editor’s prerogatives has said Brauchli’s resignation “failed to meet the letter and the spirit of the agreement” that created it.
What does Natalie Bancroft say about all this?
A News Corp. spokesman said she was traveling for work and couldn’t be reached for comment for this piece.
There’s a lesson in all this for both the Washington Post Co. and the New York Times Co., and I’ll get to it.
But first it’s more fun to recall how Journal readers—not to mention reporters— lost their best hope for a strong voice on News Corp.’s board and instead got Natalie, who, we learn from a deft profile by Sophia Banay in February’s Portfolio, was actually the family’s fifth choice for the seat.
Murdoch’s offer of a News Corp. board seat was part of his effort to woo the then-reluctant family early on. The matter gained urgency after the family agreed to a deal, in late July.
A series of emails posted on the Journal’s Web site shows that the family took the seat seriously. Family member Thomas Hill wrote on September 17:
There seems to be widespread recognition that this position is important to the family and the legacy of Dow Jones’ commitment to journalistic integrity and independence.
Candidates discussed by family members ranged from Paul Steiger, a longtime managing editor of the Journal, to John Carroll, the former editor of the Los Angeles Times. Murdoch was initially pulling for Bancroft family member Elizabeth Steele, who was in charge of the board-nomination process.
But neither Steiger nor Steele wished to be considered. News Corp. rejected Carroll, adding the stipulation that the representative should be a family member.
In the e-mails, the family comes across as divided, not terribly organized, and increasingly exasperated with one another. In short, pretty normal. Murdoch’s unilateral rejection of Carroll, under whom the LAT had won an astonishing thirteen Pulitzer Prizes in five years, galled family member Crawford Hill, who wrote on September 20:
“I can only say what a joke this episode has become This entire, sad and pathetic, final episode is a fiasco. No wonder we lost Dow Jones!!”