Monday, July 18, 2011

Removing the Taint of News of the World

     When it became public in 2007 that Rupert Murdoch's News Corp had taken over my one-time employer Dow Jones I was horrified. First because I used to work for Dow Jones. Second because I was then working for Financial News, which a year prior had been taken over by Dow Jones, which meant I was now somehow working for Murdoch's evil empire. And third, because Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal were some of the last bastions of solid, honest financial news and I knew that Murdoch would damage that reputation. Luckily Murdoch's first move was to axe freelance budgets so I lost my Financial News gig. I was relieved not to have to watch from the inside as News Corp's culture slowly changed Dow Jones into a sensationalist stream of headlines; and the WSJ into USA Today with a fuzzy business angle.
     I was saddened but not surprised that the Bancrofts, the ruling family board of Dow Jones, would sell to such a notorious publisher as Murdoch. The original phone hacking scandal was out there in 2006, so the Bancrofts had to have known what kind of company News Corp was. But money is money, and that is what they wanted. This generation of Bancrofts had never been interested in the newspaper business, only that the share price remained stable so that their fortunes were safe. (One of my favorite tales of the Dow Jones Board came from a London sales VP who attended a meeting. She said that one Board member got so bored that she rolled up her cardigan to use as a pillow and went to sleep on the boardroom floor!)
     Some of my ex-colleagues at DJ were actually thrilled about News Corp, simply because they were hoping Murdoch would throw some money back into the company after years of the Bancrofts sucking it dry. I doubt that they are now so thrilled.The Bancrofts are now saying that they would not have sold to Murdoch if they had known about the extent of the phone hacking scandal. Murdoch's own senior executives who were in charge at the time claimed they didn't know either. This is absolute rubbish. I have never worked for an editor who was so bad as to not know where our stories came from - and I have worked for some clueless editors.
     It may be pure schadenfreude but I am pleased that News Corp's true colors are being shown. News Corp, The Sun, NOTW, and now even The Times give journalism a bad name.  There may yet be hope for the WSJ, since the Bancrofts’ agreement with News Corp included a clause to preserve the integrity not just of Dow Jones, but of all the company’s “publications and newsgathering services,”says the New York Times. A special Dow Jones committee, created to assuage concerns over News Corp tainting Dow Jones and the WSJ's journalistic integrity, is reportedly keeping an eye on the evolving phone hacking situation. But the committee, which inexplicably includes Nicholas Negroponte, co-founder of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is largely toothless. But the rest of the media world is not, and it is pissed off. I think Rupert Murdoch should be afraid, very afraid.

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