Murdoch's Dow Jones pitch to get a listen

Times Staff Writer

Rupert Murdoch's dream of owning the Wall Street Journal moved closer to reality Thursday when the family that controls the paper's parent company agreed to meet with him after snubbing the $5-billion bid he had made a month ago.

The Bancrofts said they had decided that Dow Jones & Co. might be better off allying with Murdoch's News Corp. or another company.

"The mission of Dow Jones may be better accomplished in combination or collaboration with another organization, which may include News Corp.," the family said in a statement on the Journal's website.

Dow Jones stock, which languished at $36.33 before Murdoch's $60-a-share offer, shot up from a close of $53.31 to $59.79 in after-hours trading Thursday.

"It's somewhat of a crack in what a majority of the family's stance is," said newspaper industry analyst John Morton.

Morton cautioned against reading too much into the family's apparent change of heart.

"It may not be any more than them wanting to be cordial and sympathetic to the members of the family that do want to take this seriously," he said. "This is a family, after all."

Murdoch already owns a raft of newspapers, including the New York Post, as well as television and movie assets. He envisions using Dow Jones to help build a business news cable channel that would compete with NBC Universal's CNBC.

But some family members as well as Dow Jones journalists have raised concerns about what they say is Murdoch's history of using his newspapers to further his business and political agendas. In Thursday's Washington Post, a former Journal reporter in China wrote that "writers for more than one of Murdoch's newspapers say that they have periodically come under pressure to soft-pedal China-related coverage. Can you imagine the Wall Street Journal, which has won two Pulitzer Prizes this decade for its China coverage, considering such a thing?"

Top News Corp. editors have said they made their own calls on China coverage.

Yet the Bancroft family statement reiterated the group's emphasis on maintaining the journalistic integrity of the No. 2 U.S. daily and its sister publications, which include Barron's.

The Bancrofts said the point of their meeting with News Corp. would be to find out whether "it will be possible to ensure the level of commitment to editorial independence, integrity and journalistic freedom that is the hallmark of Dow Jones."

The family, which controls more than 60% of the voting power in Dow Jones, also said it would be open to offers from other parties. But several of the most logical candidates already have said they aren't interested. A Bancroft family attorney did not respond to a phone call.

Dow Jones said its board would send a representative to the meeting and would "consider strategic alternatives available to the company, including the News Corp. proposal."

Murdoch has pushed steadily for a meeting. "We're grateful to the Bancroft family for agreeing to our suggestion of a meeting, and we look forward to it," News Corp. spokesman Andrew Butcher said.

Murdoch's cause may have been helped by comments Wednesday from the chief executive of investment company T. Rowe Price, the largest Dow Jones shareholder. Brian Rogers told the Financial Times that he found it "hard to believe the company itself has a plan to get the shares to $60."

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