Much ado about Murdoch

“It’s a sad, sad day for journalism.” That’s what everyone’s saying now that Rupert Murdoch has proven successful in his bid to buy the Wall Street Journal. But what if it’s not? What if it’s, well, just another day? Everyone’s biggest worry seems to be that Murdoch will force the WSJ to espouse his personal ...

600226_Murdoch5.jpg
600226_Murdoch5.jpg

"It's a sad, sad day for journalism."

That's what everyone's saying now that Rupert Murdoch has proven successful in his bid to buy the Wall Street Journal. But what if it's not? What if it's, well, just another day?

Everyone's biggest worry seems to be that Murdoch will force the WSJ to espouse his personal ideological viewpoint. There has always been a very thick wall between the editorial pages (which, frankly, are already far more ideologically conservative than Murdoch) and the rest of the paper. There's no reason to think that wall won't continue to stand. Managing Editor Marcus Brauchli is one of the most respected newsmen in all of media, and Murdoch has promised to leave him at the helm. In a memo to WSJ staffers, Brauchli vows he'll hold on to that independence, and if there's anyone who will stick to that promise, it's Brauchli. Plus, with so much attention over the past three months, Murdoch has become accountable to the media at large, not just to WSJ staffers.

“It’s a sad, sad day for journalism.”

That’s what everyone’s saying now that Rupert Murdoch has proven successful in his bid to buy the Wall Street Journal. But what if it’s not? What if it’s, well, just another day?

Everyone’s biggest worry seems to be that Murdoch will force the WSJ to espouse his personal ideological viewpoint. There has always been a very thick wall between the editorial pages (which, frankly, are already far more ideologically conservative than Murdoch) and the rest of the paper. There’s no reason to think that wall won’t continue to stand. Managing Editor Marcus Brauchli is one of the most respected newsmen in all of media, and Murdoch has promised to leave him at the helm. In a memo to WSJ staffers, Brauchli vows he’ll hold on to that independence, and if there’s anyone who will stick to that promise, it’s Brauchli. Plus, with so much attention over the past three months, Murdoch has become accountable to the media at large, not just to WSJ staffers.

But let’s look at the bigger picture. While Murdoch’s purchase may strike fear into the hearts of journalists who work inside, it’s not necessarily a sad day for journalism in general. Murdoch may want the WSJ to focus less on business and more on general news. Is that so terrible? With newspapers folding left and right, maybe it’s good to have goosed-up competition for the New York Times and the Washington Post. It’s also a good opportunity for other business publications, whether they be newspapers or magazines or newer online outlets like dealbreaker.com or valleywag.com, to step up their reporting. And if WSJ reporters want to flee News Corp, it’s a good time for other publications to poach some first-class talent. 

In many ways, Murdoch’s purchase of the WSJ is a throwback to times gone by. After all, who wants to buy print? A 76-year-old, that’s who. Even if Murdoch does have nefarious intentions for the WSJ, he can’t live forever. Any of his likely successors, whether it be News Corp President Peter Chernin or one of Murdoch’s kids, have proven to be less ideological and more pragmatic. Ultimately, as Rik Kirkland wrote in a Think Again: Rupert Murdoch piece for FP earlier this year, Murdoch simply isn’t as powerful as everyone fears.

Christine Y. Chen is a senior editor at Foreign Policy.

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