NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- Now what?
News agencies are reporting that Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. and Dow Jones & Co. have reached an agreement on editorial oversight at The Wall Street Journal, a sticking point since the companies launched negotiations months ago.
The two companies "basically agreed" to protect the editorial independence of Dow Jones' news operations, including the Journal and Dow Jones Newswires, Reuters noted on Tuesday. The Bancroft family, which controls Dow Jones, would be consulted on the decision.
News Corp. has offered $5 billion, or $60 a share, to acquire Dow Jones at a premium. The accord would let Murdoch boost the prospects for his upcoming Fox business channel.
Whether you love or loathe Murdoch, he thinks big. Once, it seemed far-fetched to believe he could acquire Dow Jones. Now he is on the verge of doing just that.
The question is what this means for the future of The Wall Street Journal, the most prestigious name in financial news. Dow Jones also owns MarketWatch, the publisher of this column, as well as other properties.
There are two schools of thought. Some journalists worry that Murdoch would ruin Dow Jones' jewel, the Journal, by making it his political and financial pawn and cheapening its reputation with tabloid flourishes. The other camp argues just as persuasively that Murdoch is simply too smart to lower the value of such a coveted property, and in fact could help the Journal become a genuine global brand.
I hate to spoil a perfectly good parlor game, but I'm more curious to ponder another raging issue -- whether News Corp.'s business channel will now have the juice to topple CNBC, which is owned by General Electric Co.
Since the news of the News Corp.-Dow Jones talks broke on May 1, I've been intrigued by the potential battle to come on cable television. News Corp. has maintained that it will roll out the business channel by the fourth quarter of this year.
I've suspected that Murdoch and his Fox chief, Roger Ailes, wanted to have Dow Jones on their side as a content driver by the middle of summer. That way, Fox could begin making serious decisions about programming. For the moment, Murdoch may have to deal with the Journal's history of providing content to CNBC.
Presumably, Fox is counting on The Wall Street Journal to show the world it can deliver serious and credible financial news. It's one thing for TV networks to report on Anna Nicole Smith and Paris Hilton, and another to win over the trust of investors.
The Journal reeks of respectability. The newspaper's great strength is its ability to apply the same high standards to a seemingly mundane earnings story to a front-page "leader." It approaches every pursuit with a quest for excellence, from its news sections to its online products. In a little more than a decade, the Journal's online component has amassed nearly 1 million subscribers.
So everyone is asking what will Murdoch do.
He has the vision and the resources to make the Journal a force all over the world, and can promote in daring ways. While the notion of having Dow Jones marketed on, say, "The O'Reilly Factor" or "American Idol" may dismay many journalists, there is no denying the power of Murdoch's brands.
For the media mogul, the goal is conferring the Journal's greatness on his News Corp. properties. The challenge, then, is keeping the Journal as great as ever.
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By Jon Friedman