After the family said “we can see some reasonable combination for partnership,” I made a public statement then that said Dow Jones shareholders are blind to historical facts if we ignore Murdoch’s past easy promises, which he did not keep to the British government and editors of the Times of London and Sunday Times before he purchased them, or to the liberal New York Post. (As I said in the statement:) “It’s hard to imagine Rupert Murdoch publishing the New York Post in midtown Manhattan with all of his personal and political biases and business interests reflected every day, while publishing the WSJ in downtown Manhattan with no interference whatsoever in its editorial positions or news coverage….”
TA: Well, we’re coming to the moment of truth where it comes down to a binary decision—yes or no—the Bancrofts and the rest of the shareholders are probably going to be receiving a proposal. Say they all vote “no,” what does the Dow Jones do? What are the alternatives to News Corp.?
JO: One fear Murdoch is playing on is that he walks away and the stock drops. My answer is of course it will. It was at $36 before he dropped by with an offer, and it would go back to $36 to $40…My own financial advisers tell me that the stock would keep some of its premium because what used to be a speculative premium has now been proven in the real world: Somebody thinks this brand-name company is worth a lot more (than the stock market had valued it before the offer)…Also, the idea that the Bancrofts would never sell has been proven wrong. So I’m not worried about the stock going to $5 if Murdoch goes away; it would go down for sure, but I don’t think as much as that. If Murdoch withdraws, you’ve got this Greenspan offer to invest (5) in the company, buy out the unhappy shareholders, put some cash in. So I don’t think it’s a disaster if the company goes back where it started… I think it’s a viable company…It wasn’t for sale before; It doesn’t have to be now.
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…
TA: Are you?
JO: Not so much. I think he did a very good job with Dow Jones…turning the company around in the last six years. I don’t think he’s the black hat that the news side thinks he is. Of course, he had to cut back costs; $250 million dollars of expenses are not taken out of the company without making enemies. And that was a tough thing. But I think he did it with as much grace and good judgment and protection of the quality of the papers as possible. He even found ways to enhance it. I think the WSJ is a better newspaper today under this new format (with a greater emphasis on news analysis). I think (the ill will against him among family members was caused in part by) the way he presented the case to the board of directors. He’s being criticized for being too critical of Dow Jones…of his own strategic plans. (He over-emphasized) the concerns he has. So it may appear to some that he lost faith in what he’s doing.
TA: Ten years ago, News Corp. was not the player it is today. With the right management, could someone take Dow Jones to become a media powerhouse in ten years?
JO: I would be more modest in my ambitions. It could be a successful, viable, healthy, profitable, smaller, leaner company—smaller than Time Warner and News Corp. It had a good year last year. It was one of the only newspaper companies that had advertising-revenue increases, circulation increases, increases in the online edition, profit up 13 percent. It wasn’t in [the condition] of some other newspaper companies…because people like Rich and Peter Kann had been building the electronic businesses to the point where it was about 40 percent of the operating income of Dow Jones—far higher than electronic businesses of the New York Times or Washington Post. I’m afraid that it’s fear itself that’s driving the sale of the Bancroft family.
TA: With a shareholder vote all but inevitable, what do you say publicly to the Bancrofts?