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Tears: Real and Crocodile

Like most dotCommonweal readers, I try to practice the Catholic principle  of "both/and" (or, on alternate days, yin and yang). Hence I subscribe to both Commonweal and First Things; both the NYT and the WSJ.

In my view, the Journal actually shows a greater differentiation between its news reporting and its editorial analysis than does the Times.

In any case, the drama, turned soap opera, of the battle for control of the Journal has seemingly reached its denouement with the agreement by the Bancroft family to accept Rupert Murdoch's offer-that-couldn't-be-refused.

The editorial in today's Journal says in part:

Both the New York Times and the Financial Times have been especially aggressive in assailing the potential News Corp. purchase of the Journal. These also happen to be the two publications that Mr. Murdoch has explicitly said he might invest more to compete against. Readers can judge if the tears these papers and their writers claim to shed for the Journal's future are real, or of the crocodile variety.

The nastiest attacks have come from our friends on the political left. They can't decide whose views they hate most--ours, or Mr. Murdoch's. We're especially amused by those who say Mr. Murdoch might tug us to the political left. Don't count on it. More than one liberal commentator has actually rejoiced at the takeover bid, on the perverse grounds that this will ruin the Journal's news coverage, which in turn will reduce the audience for the editorial page. Don't count on that either.

Such an expectation overlooks that the principle of "free people and free markets" promoted in these columns has an appeal far beyond this newspaper. We fill a market niche for such commentary that is too little met by other newspapers and media outlets. But we have every confidence that if we vanished, or let our standards fall, the marketplace would find an alternative. What ultimately matters are the ideas, and their basic truth.

As for the Journal news coverage, the critics insult the standards and culture of our reporters and editors. They aren't potted plants who will abandon the habits of a lifetime because someone else owns Dow Jones. Yes, we all must adapt to the new ways in which readers want to receive business and political news. But to claim that the Journal will cease being a credible source of such news is to malign the integrity of 700 career professionals.

On this point, readers also shouldn't misinterpret the "editorial independence" agreement between Mr. Murdoch and the Bancrofts. This isn't intended to be some heat shield protecting Journal editors from their new owner. We know enough about capitalism to know that there is no separating ownership and control. We see the editorial agreement, instead, as an expression of Mr. Murdoch's intention to maintain the values and integrity of the Journal. His invitation to have a member of the Bancroft family join the News Corp. board is a similar gesture of good faith.

The ultimate verdict on the new Journal era will of course be rendered by you, our readers. We realize that skepticism about media today is rampant, and rightly so. In journalism, building trust is a daily and relentless business. For our part today, we can only say that we intend to stand for the same beliefs tomorrow and into the future as we have for a century

About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.



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I'm waiting to see what whether or not the WSJ runs their own version of Page Six.

Yawn. Rupert Murdoch buys another media outlet for his porno-conservatism. I don't see any reason to get worked up about all this. The editorial page of the WSJ is already considered a maelstrom of mediocrity and insanity, especially by the paper's own reporters. (That point in today's editorial about the "ruination" of the WSJ's news coverage is just blowing smoke: many of the Journal's best reporters have quit over the last few years, and many others have complained about their stories being re-written by the editorial board.) If it's any consolation, Murdoch's papers consistently lose money. Certainly, what Murdoch loses in money is more than offset by his political influence. But given the already pervasively poisonous effect of Fox, how much worse could things really get?

Interesting point.The WSJ news pages seem to have a reputation for integrity and high quality journalism among both liberals and conservatives, which accounts for a large measure of the brand's value.I wonder to what extent the very fact of Murdoch's ownership might undercut that parceived value.

Eugene -Everyone's newspapers are losing money. His are just losing less.However, Murdoch's NewsCorp has gone up in value about 35% over the last four years, while the NYT Corporation has plummeted by nearly 45% in stock value.Why do progressive's knickers get in such a twist whenever someone who disagrees with them gets a platform? Frankly, I don't think Murdoch is really all that conservative - he just knew there was a market for an alternative to the CB-NB-AB-CNN News.Why did we never hear about the poisonous and pervasive political influence of Ted Turner or Bill Bradley?Let people read and decide for themselves - like most things it will rise or fall on its merits and appeal.

The post includes a long excerpt from the WSJs editorial. Jack Shafer, Slate's media critic, is much less optimistic. His recent series on Murdochs bid for the Journal can be found at ttp:// The headlines for two of the articles in the series were "Can Murdoch Pass the Stink Test? Assessing the mogul against the standards of the Dow Jones code of conduct, and "Murdoch Lies to the Financial Times: Do we really want this guy owning the Wall Street Journal?" Heres an excerpt from Shafers latest piece ('ve predicted that Murdoch will be a bad Wall Street Journal owner because of his instinct to foul every journalism nest in which he roosts. I need to reiterate my view that Murdoch fouls his nests not because he's a bad news man but because he's no sort of a news man. He's an impresario, a politician, and empire builder who pushes the truth only when it serves his business interests. Today's Wall Street Journal moves financial markets with its news accounts because readers believerightlythat the paper serves no master but the reader. Even the slightest tinkering by Murdoch will shatter the trust relationship the paper has with its readers, who are a thousand times more discerning and a thousand times less forgiving than the tabloid readers and viewers Murdoch has made his money on. Will readers be able to trust the Murdoch Journal's coverage of television? Of cable? Of publishing? Of China? Of the Internet? Of any place Murdoch holds a business interest? What of his promises of "editorial independence" for the paper? I'm glad you asked. Murdoch loves to make promises but loves even more to break them. The day will come that Murdoch decides that the newspaper and its parent company no longer fit in the colossus' ever-shifting plan to straddle all the world's media. After extracting a bit of the Journal's prestige value for his forthcoming cable business news channel, I predict he'll grow tired of the criticisms and sell it off. Will he have permanently crippled it? I suspect so. It takes decades for a newspaper to establish its good reputation. Murdoch will show the world how little time it takes to trash it.

Sean,The New York Times is profitable The New York Post loses millions year after year.Comparing NewsCorp to The New York Times Corporation is comparing apples and oranges

I find this bit interesting: "As for the Journal news coverage, the critics insult the standards and culture of our reporters and editors. They aren't potted plants who will abandon the habits of a lifetime because someone else owns Dow Jones."No, reporters aren't potted plants, but will that "don't diddle with the editorial content" claus prevent him from replacing the foliage, as it were? And how many reporters might leave just because they don't want to work for Murdoch?What I find insidious about Murdoch is not his politics, as Sean H. suggests, but his methods. I find the WSJ too conservative for my taste, but I wouldn't deny the quality of their reporting. Murdoch's papers replace issues of national import with crime dramas, true confessions and celebrity gossip. Once you've dumbed down your readers with this stuff, it's a lot easier to lead them around to your way of thinking with editorials that contain a lot of sturm und drang.

David,The NYT is only profitable now because it is spending less money, not because it is growing or becoming more influential. In fact, some of the complaint about the Times is that they are spending less and less on news reporting. Didnt they fire a huge part of their printing and shipping staff last year as well? Most of their recent profitability is related to major restructuring, their circulation and revenues are down. The only way for profitability to increase while revenues are down is to spend less or save more. Once these moves have run their course, unless they can increase revenue, they are in real trouble.All newspapers are.My point about NewsCorp was not that it is the same as NTY Corp., but that to counter the implication that Murdoch somehow doesnt know what hes doing. While the news business generally has been hemorrhaging in recent years, he has made money despite the Posts losses.Dont get my wrong, I dont regularly read either paper I dont care how they do I dont even worry too much about how the WSJ does. But I do agree with the posts suggestion that the whole sturm und drang about this is a little much.It all centers around this myth of journalistic objectivity and professionalism that simply doesnt exists. In fact, that is what many, like me object to. I dont care if we have liberal newspapers, but what I dont like is liberal newspapers that say they are not liberal. The more voices, the better, I say.Crocodile tears for sure.

The New York Review of Books has an excellent review by Russell Baker of two books on state of the press: piece speaks to several points raised in this thread. On Murdoch:"Rupert Murdoch of course has long spread melancholy in newsrooms around the world, but it was the disclosure in May that the Bancroft family, which controls The Wall Street Journal, might be ready to sell him their paper for five billion dollars that really struck at journalism's soul. The sale of another newspaper is common enough these days, but The Wall Street Journal is not another newspaper. It is one of the proudest pillars of American journalism. Like The New York Times and The Washington Post, it has for generations been controlled by descendants of a founding patriarch."Family control has sheltered all three newspapers from Wall Street's most insistent demands, allowing them to do high-qualityand high costjournalism. It was said, and widely believed, that the controlling families were animated by a high-minded sense that their papers were quasi-public institutions. Of course profit was essential to their survival, but it was not the primary purpose of their existence. That one of these families might finally take the money and clear out heightens fears that no newspaper is so valuable to the republic that it cannot be knocked down at market for a nice price. Murdoch at the Journal is a dark omen for journalists everywhere. When the sign in the shop window says 'Everything For Sale,' it is often followed by 'Going Out Of Business.'"An enormous shift in the way newspapers are owned and controlled is taking place. John Carroll, former editor of L.A. Times, features in Baker's piece. In 2000, the Tribune Company bought the L.A. Times from the family that had controlled the paper since it was founded in 1882. Carroll finally resigned after the Tribune Company asked for one too many rounds of cuts to the editorial staff. Baker quotes Carroll: "We have seen a narrowing of the purpose of the newspaper in the eyes of its owner. Under the old local owners, a newspaper's capacity for making money was only part of its value. Today, it is everything. Gone is the notion that a newspaper should lead, that it has an obligation to its community, that it is beholden to the public.... " Someday, I suspect, when we look back on these forty years, we will wonder how we allowed the public good to be so deeply subordinated to private gain.... "What do the current owners want from their newspapers?the answer could not be simpler: Money. That's it."

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