A former Wall Street Journal reporter delivers a behind-the-scenes account of Rupert Murdoch’s takeover of the venerable publication.
From the beginning Murdoch was playing a larger game, larger even than the “mere” acquisition of Dow Jones & Co. By adding the nation’s premier business-news organization and its coveted crown jewel to his already vast News Corp. empire, he intended to displace the New York Times as the country’s news and opinion leader. To win over the Bancroft family—for 105 years the owners of the proudly independent Journal and without whom no transaction would be possible—and to calm the paper’s nervous newsroom, the shrewdly self-aware Murdoch knew that he had to overcome his reputation as a meddling owner who used his newspapers to advance his own business interests and political views. Of course, his stunning $5 billion, $60-per-share offer was a good start to negotiations. Ellison appears to have nailed down all aspects of the deal. A ten-year Journal veteran and thoroughly versed in the paper’s culture, the author capably describes the newsroom dynamic, both pre- and post-Murdoch, the shifting power centers and the transformation from a more contemplative, analytical form of journalism to the banner headline, breaking story, product of today. Ellison also excels at sorting out the 35 adult Bancrofts, exploring the family fissures Murdoch so adroitly exploited among a group who saw themselves as noble guardians of a fine tradition, but who come off here as thin-blooded, self-interested and no match for the Australian’s thorough preparation and nimble maneuvering. Their feckless attempt to impose on the media baron a deal structure assuring editorial independence for the Journal, even as they helped themselves to his billions, almost defines a stewardship ripe for termination. It’s a measure of Ellison’s evenhandedness that, while clearly no Murdoch fan, she candidly exposes the ownership and management deficiencies that made a journalistic icon so vulnerable to capture.
A gripping reconstruction of a media story whose implications have yet to fully unfold.