Wall Street Journal owners to meet Murdoch

The family that controls Dow Jones & Co, the publisher of The Wall Street Journal, has said it will consider a bid from Rupert Murdoch to buy the company, as well as other potential offers.

The Bancroft family said in a statement yesterday that it would meet Murdoch to discuss his bid, which became public in early May. The statement shows a softening of the position of the family members, who previously had indicated they intended to block Murdoch’s bid to buy the company.

The Bancrofts said the family “remains resolute in its commitment to preserve and protect the editorial independence and integrity of The Wall Street Journal”, but had also concluded that “the mission of Dow Jones may be better accomplished in combination or collaboration with another organisation, which may include News Corporation”.

Despite the Journal’s tremendous clout in the business world, Dow Jones remains a relatively small company compared with large media operations such as Murdoch’s News Corp. The £2.5 billion offer that Murdoch made for Dow Jones could easily be paid out of News Corp’scash stockpile.

Murdoch has said he would invest in the Journal and ensure its editorial independence, something that the Bancroft family as well as employees of Dow Jones say is paramount.

However, the union representing Journal employees has been steadfastly opposed to Murdoch’s overture, saying he would probably damage the paper’s quality and compromise its independence.

Jim Ottaway, a former board member who controls 5 per cent of the company’s voting power, said he was also opposed to Murdoch’s bid.

“We don’t believe the promises Murdoch has made can be trusted,” union leader Steven Yount said in a statement.

“Dow Jones must remain an independent company if it is to prosper both as business and a journalistic enterprise,” he said, adding that the union would do “everything in its power” to ensure Dow Jones remained an independent and trusted source of information.

Like several other newspaper publishers including The New York Times and The Washington Post, Dow Jones is a public company but remains controlled by a family through a special class of shares with powerful voting rights.

Family control, its advocates say, is intended to insulate newspapers from short-term financial demands from shareholders and to safeguard their independence and protect their mission of public service.

Murdoch, for his part, has said he also understands the importance of family stewardship, as his own company is controlled by him and family trusts, albeit to a lesser degree than the control exercised by the Bancrofts of Dow Jones, the New York Times’ Sulzbergers and the Grahams of The Washington Post.

Also, Dow Jones has an important difference from the Times and The Washington Post in that no family members are currently involved with the company’s day-to-day management.

The Bancrofts are also numerous and geographically diverse, with some three dozen adult family members spread out over the US.

News Corp spokesman Andrew Butcher said the company was “grateful to the Bancroft family for agreeing to our suggestion to have a meeting”.

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