The End of Dow Jones

Covering Your Own Downfall

What must it be like to write your own obituary? What must it be like to read it?

Reading the page-one story in The Wall Street Journal today about News Corp.’s offer to buy Dow Jones & Co., the Journal’s publisher, The Audit could only marvel at the competence with which the paper covers its own demise.

The story contains all the elements of what are proudly called, in-house, “a leder.” It had the news, the context, Rupert Murdoch’s strategy, sources close to the Dow Jones board and to the Bancroft family, who, we are told in a sidebar, are not the descendants of Clarence Barron, who bought the company in 1902, but of his wife, Jessie Waldron, who had two children from a previous marriage. Good detail.

Make no mistake: this is the end of Dow Jones. If it’s not the very end, it is certainly the beginning of the end. There is no way—no way—that the Bancroft family, which controls the majority of voting shares, can resist a $60 offer—a 67 percent premium to the recent market price of DJ shares. A 10 percent premium is considered respectable. Thirty percent is sky high. Sixty dollars is, well, “absolutely, insanely high,” says James H. Lowell II, who, until last fall, served as a financial adviser to the Bancroft trustees, as quoted in The New York Times.

Not only can the trustees not resist the wishes of public shareholders, it’s not clear they even want to.

So high was the offer that even The Audit, owner of 344 shares, made about $6,600 yesterday for doing nothing. We went to 60 Thomson for some $13 gimlets, then to Blue Ribbon for some sushi. We have about $6,400 left over.

And make no mistake: Tuesday was a black day for journalism, and an even blacker one for financial journalism. When this is over, there will be no independent publisher of the nation’s foremost—really only—watchdog of the capital markets, corporate behavior, and regulators’ conduct. Who’s going to cover News Corp.?

And if I’m sitting around the Bancroft map room, having a cuppa and some scones, I am not taking much heart in News Corp.’s promises about the future.

“We are a family company, too,” Rupert Murdoch said, the Journal reports. On the other hand, he said it on Fox News, a mutt of a network owned by News Corp.

Later, I’ll explain how we got here.

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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.