The New York Times reported today that Rupert Murdoch is moving to tighten his already-imposing grip on American news media, striking a tentative deal to buy Newsday, which would be his third New York-based paper, for $580 million from the Tribune Company. If Newsday goes to Murdoch, it would put him in control of 3 of the nation’s 10 largest-circulation papers (the others being The Wall Street Journal and The New York Post).
The agreement is far from final, as competing bidders consider their positions, including The Daily News (the archrival of The Post), as well as the Observer Media Group, publisher of The New York Observer, who plan to discuss the possibility of a joint offer with Cablevision.
People in both the News and Observer camps say they were shocked to learn of the handshake deal with Mr. Murdoch, first reported by The Chicago Tribune and The Journal, because they had been assured by Tribune’s bankers that they had until next week to submit offers. In addition, a takeover of Newsday by News Corporation, which also owns two New York City television stations, could face trouble with regulators.
To quell major shareholders during the negotiations for Dow Jones last year, Mr. Murdoch agreed to restrictions on his ability to fire the managing editor of the Journal, who would have complete control of the news operation, and an oversight committee was formed to police the agreement.
However, Managing Editor Marcus Brauchli resigned on Tuesday.
Mr. Brauchli has stressed to the oversight committee that the resignation was his own decision and was not a reaction to editorial interference. But as Editor & Publisher reports, colleagues and friends say it was increasingly clear that much of the direction was being set by Mr. Murdoch and the publisher he installed, Robert J. Thomson, who oversees news operations and has none of the usual business duties of a publisher. Editors and reporters say Mr. Brauchli’s authority was being undercut, a message reinforced by plans to give Mr. Thomson an office in The Journal’s main newsroom.
There was particular tension lately over calls by the News Corporation team to thin the ranks of The Journal’s editors, and to put short articles on the front page or the fronts of sections that would not continue on inside pages.
The news cast a pall over the newsroom, where Mr. Brauchli is liked and respected, and his exit reinforces fears that The Journal is retreating from its focus on business and sophisticated, in-depth reporting.
“Even those of us who saw this coming were surprised it came so fast, and the people who didn’t see it coming are totally floored,” a reporter said. “Marcus kept pushing back, saying he would protect the culture, and now that he’s gone, what’s going to happen?”