What corporate CEO in his or her right mind would start a newspaper company in 2012?
The kind who would write this, in a memo to his staff: "Many of you know that a belief in the power of the written word has been in my bones for my entire life. It began as I listened to my father's stories from his days as a war correspondent and, later, a successful publisher."
And glorious days they were, back when World War I was known as The Great War because it wasn't supposed to have a sequel. Mr. Murdoch, founder, chairman, and CEO of News Corp. (NWSA) is now 81 years old, and he just created a newspaper company.
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Actually, he recreated what began as a newspaper company, splitting his entertainment and news company into an entertainment empire, to be called Fox Group, and a Balkan backwater which will retain the News Corp. name.
To be sure, this was not Murdoch's idea. His shareholders have been pressuring him to do this for a long time, because the incredible shrinking news business, which he adores, has been dragging down the real business of entertainment, which makes money. News Corp. stock has climbed 38% this year, but presumably it can do better without the "news" in it.
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So, the new Fox Group gets all the good entertainment stuff:The Fox Broadcasting television network, with its youthful demographics The SKY satellite television operation in Europe The 20th Century Fox movie studio. With sublime indifference to irony, Fox News winds up on the entertainment side, too. Maybe they've been joking all along about The War on Christmas.
The new News Corp. gets all the trouble, including:Murdoch's British newspapers, or, as they are usually termed, the company's "troubled British newspaper arm." If you haven't followed the scandal, it is a black comedy classic with an all-star cast led by the actor Hugh Grant. It seems that Murdoch's editors routinely hacked into the phone calls of everybody from movie stars to royalty to grief-stricken parents. Grant won a star role by surreptitiously taping a retired newspaper hack bragging about it in a country pub. Murdoch was forced to shut down the worst offender, a venerable tabloid of hair-raising trashiness. But the fallout has raised the specter of curbs to press freedom in Britain.The American newspapers, which now include the Wall Street Journal as well as the New York Post.A bunch of Australian newspapers, which apparently are doing about as well as newspapers here.
But, of course, every newspaper group has an Internet strategy. So how's that going for News Corp.? For starters, the announcement of the company split included the news that The Daily, the company's expensive and high-profile venture into Apple (AAPL) app publishing, is dead.
The rest of Murdoch's Internet strategy seems to consist of slapping up pay walls and making sure that none of his stuff shows up in a Google search, because that would be stealing.
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To top it off, Murdoch reportedly is rumored to be considering adding The Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune, two more great newspapers that are most definitely on the skids.
The only potentially bright spots are the Wall Street Journal and the Dow Jones News services, which were deeply embedded in the Internet long before Murdoch noticed its existence. The newspaper was the first, and is still one of the few, to make money off Internet subscriptions.
The announcement arrives with the usual accompaniment of musical chairs, although Murdoch remains in charge of both companies, as chief executive of Fox Group and chairman of News Corp.
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