Wall Street Journal shake-up ahead of possible Murdoch takeover

A big shake-up is expected at the Wall Street Journal – even before a decision has been made whether to sell the financial daily to Rupert Murdoch.

The shake-up, according to the New York Times, is likely to affect the reassignment and replacement of several top editors and management officials,

In his bid to buy Dow Jones, which owns the WSJ, the head of News Corp had some critical comments about the way the paper covers the news – particularly its coverage of Washington. Implied was the suggestion that it was dull and fusty. In fact it was this that made many of the paper’s staff concerned about what Murdoch might do should he gain control of the paper.

Whether his comments have provoked the Bancroft Family, which is the main shareholder in the Journal, to make their own changes no one is saying. The Bancroft family, after their latest round of talks with Murdoch and other News Corp officials, is expected to make a new proposal for safeguarding the future of the WSJ later this week. The proposed new changes could all be part of a bargaining ploy.

Under the proposed changes – again according to the NY Times – the present managing editor of the Wall Street Journal Online will be promoted to deputy managing editor of the paper with responsibility for the news coverage in the paper itself as well as on the web. He will also oversee the paper’s domestic bureaus.

Other changes will involve the Journal’s senior deputy managing editor, who will be made editor of the paper’s European and Asian editions, based in Brussel. Some of the executives involved in the changes have not decided, it’s said, whether to accept.

Observers – both inside and outside the Journal – see the changes as a prelude to the ultimate sale of the paper to Rupert Murdoch.

Originally the Bancroft Family, which has owned The Journal for almost 100 years ago, dismissed the idea of selling America’s leading financial paper to Murdoch. But attitudes have changed – and softened. In fact the family has even considered ‘sweetening the pot’ – that is upping the amount of compensation top executives – as many as a hundred – might be paid in the event of a take-over

Still the biggest fear is that News Corp would turn the paper into another version of the New York Post – with a deliberate political slant and much more coverage of gossip and crime. Murdoch in his meetings with the Bancroft family has insisted that this is not his intention, and has even assured that he would set up some sort of controls such as the one he put in place when he took over The Times in the UK in 1981, although come critics have suggested the safeguards never seriously worked .

The Bancrofts are expected when they next meet News Corp officials – possibly as early as today – to call for a family-appointed board which would select both the paper’s managing editor and the editor of the paper’s editorial page, both of whom would have the power to fill and approve lower positions on the paper. The family has not indicated – again according to the NY Times – who it would suggest for these positions but they do have names in mind, mostly veteran members of the staff and not outsiders.

Meanwhile members of the WSJ staff – through their professional organisation – are still seeking alternative bidders, but so far without success, Several would-be bidders have taken a look at the paper’s financial records – but have passed.

As a result the Bancroft Family, which controls 64 per cent of the company shares, appear to have toned down their resistance to the Murdoch offer One result of the uncertainty over the future of the WSJ is that shares in Dow Jones, the parent company, have fallen to $59 – just below Murdoch’s original offer.

The next meeting of Murdoch and fellow News Corp officials is scheduled to take place in London on Thursday.

This just in: News Corp has announced it is putting the For Sale sign on nine of the 35 tv stations it owns in the US. They range in size and audience from a station in Cleveland, Ohio, the seventeenth largest in the US to a station in Grensboro. North Carolina which ranks No 47 Other stations are in Denver, St Louis, Kansas City,Milwaukee. Salt Lake City. Birmingham, Alabama. and Memphis.

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