Rather than insist on a qualified nominee of their own choosing, the Bancrofts, poorly advised by expensive lawyers, gave in and dutifully began to nominate themselves, Portfolio says.

Michael Hill, a second cousin of Bancroft’s who had been active at Dow Jones; Elisabeth Chelberg, an equestrian cousin known for past activism against the company’s management; and [Natalie] Bancroft herself.

Hill came in first, Chelberg second and, as Portfolio unkindly notes:

[Natalie] Bancroft garnered two votes, hers and her father’s.

Sorry, Nat.

But then il destino —fate!—in the form of a powerful stranger, intervenes:

Though Murdoch was notified of the family’s choice, he never interviewed either Hill or Chelberg. Instead, he met with [our heroine] Bancroft privately, having been introduced by Andrew Steginsky, a News Corp. investor and a longtime Murdoch acquaintance who also happened to be friendly with Billy Cox III, Natalie’s second cousin.

Slowly, slowly, our heroine is drawn into this seductive web of intrigue. Soon, she is secretly entertaining overpriced lawyers and powerful directors in exotic foreign capitals, defying the wishes of the suffocating family that had always thwarted her most passionate desires!

In late October, unbeknownst to the rest of the family, Lon Jacobs, News Corp.’s general counsel and Viet Dinh, a News Corp. board member and head of the nominating committee, flew to London to vet Bancroft at Murdoch’s request. Jacobs and Dihn spent a morning with her, explaining the requirements of the job over breakfast. In a pro forma follow up, Bancroft sat down with representatives of Willkie Farr & Gallagher, News Corp.’s outside legal counsel, to fill out a questionnaire to evaluate her fitness as an independent board member.

The family is then informed after the fact:

In November, Steele [a family member] and a family lawyer broke the news of Bancroft’s selection to the clan in a painfully straight-faced email later published in the Journal. It read, in part, “While News Corp. is aware that other members of the family received more support from within the family, News Corp. has interviewed Natalie and elected to nominate her. We trust that Natalie will endeavor to represent effectively the family’s interests on the News Corp. board.”

Banay’s piece includes an interview with the new director and includes a few subtle daggers:

Is she planning to get an M.B.A. to help prepare for the position?

“In journalism?” she asks.

The photos don’t help.

She will earn $195,000 a year from the directorship, which should pay for plenty of those Viking helmets and breastplates.

In fact and in fairness, Natalie Bancroft comes across in the Portfolio piece as a bright and poised, if a bit willful and wildly inexperienced, then-twenty-seven-year-old—basically, your average daughter of a Dutch-Brazilian model and Formula II race car driver.

“There were better candidates than me by far, but they weren’t in the running,” she says. “I wouldn’t say I was excited. There were so many negotiations going on, and the family was screwing it up right and left. My focus was more on, Jesus Christ, how am I related to these people?”

Actually, though, both her elder relatives were certainly better candidates, and that’s putting it mildly. Chelberg (then named Goth) had been among the few members of a very reticent family brave enough to speak up in 1997 when Dow Jones really needed a new direction. (1) The Hills, including Michael, an environmental scientist, had also been involved for years in efforts to fix the company.

On the other hand, I suppose there were worse choices for the seat. It could have gone to David Li.

If this were just another corporate battle for power, fine. But this is about the fall of one form of journalism and the rise of another, the subject of a post to come.

The lesson is: it really does matter who your leaders are.

1.”Attention, Dow Jones: Ms. Goth Wants Results Now! Her rebellion has spurred the company into action. Now it’s showtime.”
Joseph Nocera;
Reporter Associate Maria Atanasov
2 March 1998

If you'd like to get email from CJR writers and editors, add your email address to our newsletter roll and we'll be in touch.

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.