Before Murdoch walked into the newsroom as boss, it was arguably a ponderous newspaper with tremendously talented people who had little avenue to express themselves under the then owner, the Bancroft family.
The 2007 deal was controversial and not without difficulty. Most normal business tyros would have never have touched the Journal. But Murdoch knows an under-performing media asset when he sees one, and a potentially hostile newsroom doesn’t scare him.
The WSJ was then, and remains, part of the Dow Jones financial information services company. Many pundits said the US$5.9 billion he paid was too much. Dow Jones’s share price was languishing, and the Bancrofts’ focus on their dividends was seen as detrimental to meaningful strategy.
Its journalists were extraordinarily good but the newsroom had a reputation for being sullen even on its good days – and the idea of News Corp taking over was met with undisguised distaste. The sales process pretty much featured Murdoch at his charming best, wooing the Bancrofts and the staff with promises of maintaining editorial quality and integrity.
During this time, I worked at Dow Jones and sat on numerous inter-company conference calls about the Murdoch bid.
The fear for what might happen under Murdoch was tangible. Despite their abilities to do a bit of journalistic research, they were never willing, as a group, to give Murdoch credit for being anything but a proprietor of what they saw as sensationalist media, like Fox and the Fleet St tabloids.
His commitment to quality newspapers, such as The Times and especially The Australian, which he has seen through thick and thin, was never given any airplay internally.
Almost three years on, Murdoch has been true to his word. He put his best people into Dow Jones -and Les Hinton and Robert Thompson. They have fired up the operation both commercially and journalistically. Hinton, I know from experience, is an outstanding individual.
When you put great journalists together with great management – this is what happens. It’s not surprising even in these darker days for American print media.