Thursday, May 03, 2007

Murdoch: Crazy Like A Fox

Lorks, it's been that kind of week. By which I mean a fairly uneventful one that I have spent alternately leaving troll-like comments on local blogs, working, and interviewing for other positions. Oh, and moonlighting. So I have been tremendously disloyal to my day job. But also to you. Yes you, the guy who came here looking for pictures of Molly Kroon.

In the circumstances, you may be wondering what I think of Rupert Murdoch's $5 billion bid for Dow Jones, and thus the Wall Street Journal, which is often named, usually by people that think newspapers confer absolute truths rather than serve their readers, as one of the world's top five papers. And here's your answer: to this bitter trade rag hack it's very, very, funny.

Mostly, it's funny because financial journalists in the US have been isolated from the kind of pressures that have afflicted their brethren in the UK. And Murdoch will probably treat them about as well as Bill O'Reilly treats his producers. I've come up in business journalism where job protections are minimal and commercial pressures substantial.

I still remember what happened when Rupert Murdoch took over the Times in the UK, which at the time had a very unique reputation as an establishment mouthpiece. It carried (actually I think it still carries) a section called "Court Circular", where the comings and goings of the royals were laid out in one convenient place. I had various crusty relatives who assumed it was their god-given right to space on the letters page, no matter how barmy they were.

After Rupe took over it became smaller, less fusty, a little more digestible. By the time I started taking a daily paper I'd switched to the Guardian, cos I'm a bit of a liberal these days. But the Times has managed to keep this kind of detached establishment centrism intact, while at the same time keeping the circulation at pretty healthy levels.

I think if Murdoch took over the Wall Street Journal you can expect an end to those witless dot drawings, possibly an end to those stabs at whimsy that appeared in the left-hand column of the paper before it shrunk and now hover awkwardly between the contents and the lead story, and definitely and end to the bad right-wing craziness being confined to the comment pages. You'll probably end up with a Daily Forbes, and a pretty enjoyable one at that.

Then again, it could be a gigantic head-fake, and Rupe really does need to buy himself a business news-wire. But I disagree with Lex, which seems to think that Murdoch is this unholy master of media convergence, largely on the back of him being able to make money in print and on TV, and buying MySpace, the world's most badly-designed Web 2.0 website.

Here's the thing. There are very few decent examples of profitable cross-over between his vast properties, beyond the usual cross-promotion that any respectable fast-food chain seems to master at birth. has an existence as a place for right-wing blogs to link to, but doesn't harness any other properties. American Idol isn't a bad example, a bit of web, a bit of mobile, a bit of TV, a bit of record business, but the constituent parts are mostly separately-owned.

What Murdoch does pretty well is apply his own, pretty raw, journalistic and editorial instincts, and force them down the throats of his staff. And he's amazingly good at it. If he is right-wing, it's because unsophisticated populism has mostly been right-wing the last few years.

I don't understand the victims of the New York Post's rants reading it, but that's because it doesn't push my outrage buttons. I'm mystified by the amount of space it gives to Uri Dan gets there, most readers probably don't notice. I'm not saying I'm a better person than the faithful readers of the NY Post, I'm just not a hugely profitable demographic. But sooner or later, it will take down the NY Daily News, and Rupert will have had the patience to see it through.

He'll make a bundle out of the Journal too, and you'll hate him for doing it.

Now if you want some proper journalism, head over to Sugarzine, where you shall find me entertaining various far-fetched notions of musical development in our two great nations. Yes, I know, the hyperlinks aren't fixed yet.


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