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Today In MurDow: An Ottaway Outburst, A Shareholder Suit, And A Status Anxiety Theory Of Dow Jones

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We saw a few new twists in the tale of News Corp’s attempt to acquire Dow Jones & Co. over the weekend. The most notable, mentioned in today’s Opening Bell, was the outburst from the Ottaways—whose name nicely conveys their message to Rupert Murdoch to stay “outta the way” of Dow Jones. The Ottaways are the other family in the Dow Jones saga, holding around 6% of the Class B shares and heaps and heaps of the common shares. Since those Class B shares have ten times the voting power of common shares, the Ottaways control around 5.2% of the total voting power of the shareholders.
A different type of shareholder also made her opinion of the deal known. Nora Vides of Ridgefield, N.J.—described by the (News Corp owned) New York Post as a “small shareholder” and by Gawker editor Alex Balk as “a whiny bitch from New Jersey” (probably the ultimate Gawker put down)—filed suit in Manhattan Supreme Court claiming the Bancroft family is “unlawfully” refusing to consider News Corp’s bid.

Two pieces in the New York Times seemed to defend News Corp’s bid—or at least proclaim its inevitable victory. “First, the deal will be made at some point, regardless of what the Bancroft family said last week. Brute-force capital, like flood waters, always finds a way to break through,” David Carr wrote in Monday’s Business Section. And in Sunday Business DealBook editor Andrew Ross Sorkin wrote that “Mr. Murdoch may be the perfect publisher of The Wall Street Journal.” It’s hard not to suspect that there is some schadenfreude on the part of the Times business boys while they watch their Wall Street Journal competitors squirm at the prospect of working for the man who brought us the Fox News Channel.
But the two pieces bear further examination than simply analyzing the motives behind them. Carr borrows a page from writer Tom Wolfe, describing the acquisition of Dow Jones as a bid for respectable status by Rupert Murdoch. “Being the rustic from Australia whose media interests now span the distance from London to Beijing is a fine thing. But owning The Journal — the historical, respectable, ink-and-stippled Journal — signifies a kind of arrival, a yearning for respectability that owning one of the country’s great newspapers confers,” Carr writes.
Sorkin also concentrates on the acquisition as a status contest—between the long established families of American newspaper publishing such the Times and the new breed Murdoch represents. But Sorkin takes note that the status anxiety seems to run both ways—perhaps explaining the Bancroft’s reluctance to step away from the institution that has helped them identify themselves as important people in this American Republic. If they sell to News Corp, all they have is money. Sorkin seems to imagine it a bit like the British merchant class rising up against the landed aristocracy, or at least trying to buy their country estates. “Mr. Murdoch is also part of another tradition: farsighted, creative and risky business gambits. He has made piles of money by thinking ahead of many of his competitors. The Bancrofts have presided over a company that once held a dominant position in business journalism, and they let that lead, and the financial gains that came with it, slip through their hands,” Sorkin writes.
The same status-contest theme informs Ben McGrath’s report on the deal in the New Yorker. “Old empires decline, and emerging ones sometimes mature. An unlikely white-knight theory emerged, in which Murdoch could prove to be “a great sugar daddy,” as one reporter suggested. “Like Pulitzer before him, he could go from being a tabloid king to the father of all future journalism. The guy’s seventy-six and he’s already rich. Maybe it’s a legacy thing?” Others suggested that News Corp.’s formidable institutional resources might offer an adrenaline boost to the sometimes plodding Journal,” McGrath writes.
At MarketWatch Jon Fine concentrates on a theme from last week—Murdoch is looking to “crush” CNBC, Fine says. He sees the Fox-Journal Business channel as taking a populist stance aimed at an audience of ordinary individual investors, a demographic CNBC is sometimes accused of neglecting in favor of corporate officers and market players. But that’s an already dated view of CNBC, which has made a lot of strides into the market of individual investors with programs like Mad Money and Mad Money.
Meanwhile, rumors have begun to circulate that there is a movement to get the Pulitzer winners within the Journal to sign a letter opposing the deal, creating a sort of high-status version of earlier protests from Journal reporters and their union.
The Wrong Man for Dow Jones [Washington Post]
Dow Jones Bid Brings Suit [New York Post]
Episode V: Darth Murdoch Plays The Press [Gawker]
Once Again, Murdoch’s Siren Song [New York Times]
What to Do When Rupert Calls? [New York Times]
Paper Chase [New Yorker]
News Corp. puts CNBC on the defensive [MarketWatch]