Fast Company

Marketing Tuesday: Will Murdoch Dilute the WSJ Brand?

"Readers can rely on this: The same standards of accuracy, fairness and authority will apply to this publication, regardless of ownership. Our reporters and editors feel an especially strong obligation because the Journal, from the beginning, redefined financial and business journalism." Gordon Crovitz, Publisher, WSJ.

Rupert Murdoch's recent acquisition of the Journal has done nothing to put an end to rampant speculation about what is to become of the nation's second largest, and what many call its most prestigious, newspaper.

Murdoch's reputation as an unscrupulous media baron with less concern for quality than for advancing personal business interests precedes him. "The Journal is as good as it gets in terms of high-quality journalism… Mr. Murdoch is a tabloid king with a reputation for taking everything he buys downmarket," says The Economist.

Many seem to believe Murdoch's ownership could inflict damage -- The WSJ online reports that by the afternoon after New Corp's acquisition, 170 readers canceled their subscriptions in protest. Some have expressed concern based on Murdoch's seeming penchant for tabloids, and "trashy" publications. Just how worried should the defenders of journalistic integrity and fairness be?

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To give Murdoch his due, he couldn't have come this far without more than a shred of business acumen. Sure tabloids sell, but with the New York Post, News of the World and The Sun Murdoch already has a fair cut in the market for trashy sensationalism. Just because the 76 year old Aussie entrepreneur splashes the covers of these publications with bikini-clad (and often bikini-less) babes doesn’t mean he would dream of doing the same to the Journal. His $5 billion offer for Dow Jones has been criticized as $1 billion or perhaps even $2 billion too high, and Murdoch would not undercut his own interests by diluting a brand for which he has paid such a high price.

Perhaps a more pertinent concern is about the Journal's objectivity; the paper, although conservative, is hailed as a symbol of integrity and good journalistic practice. "The Journal is not really one newspaper but two- a newspaper and a highly opinionated conservative magazine. Hitherto it has succeeded it drawing a line between them. Will Mr. Murdoch resist allowing his own conservatives opinions to blur the line?" meditates The Economist.

And that is the crux. With the entrance of Murdoch, who has a notorious reputation for exercising his personal views over the media properties he owns, could the Journal become a right-wing mouthpiece for the news? Not easily according to some.

David Carr of The New York Times explains that the Journal’s editorial page editor, Paul A. Gigot, will retain significant authority -- to choose editorial board members, columnists, the editor of the op-ed section, the editors of the book review and other sections, and to have the final say over op-ed pieces as well as editorial positions.

If adhered to, this agreement will confer significantly less power upon Mr. Murdoch than the publishers of most other newspapers in the US. This is a big if however, as many claim that the Australian media mogul made similar assurances when he bought the Times of London in 1981, ones that he flouted soon after. If he does abide by the agreement then how much power he will actually exert, at least over the editorial page, boils down to how well Gigot chooses to stand his ground.

What's your take on how Murdoch's acquisition is going to affect the nature and content of the Wall Street Journal?

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