Rupert Murdoch will meet members of the Bancroft family in New York on Monday in an effort to persuade the owners of The Wall Street Journal newspaper that he would continue its century-long tradition of quality journalism if they accept his $5bn takeover offer.
The meeting with Dow Jones – the Journal’s parent company – is a key moment in Mr Murdoch’s long-standing desire to acquire one of the world’s most influential and prestigious media companies.
It follows a surprise announcement by the Bancrofts, who control 64 per cent of Dow Jones’s voting power, last Thursday that they would meet Mr Murdoch to discuss a possible sale in spite the family’s rejection of his offer in early May.
Mr Murdoch, who has previously emphasised the importance of his family as he has tried to find common ground with the Bancrofts, will be accompanied by his son James, chief executive of BSkyB, the British satellite operator. James Murdoch rescheduled his plans at the last minute on Sunday in order to attend the meeting, according to people familiar with the plans.
During the session, the News Corp chief executive will have to overcome longstanding concerns about his reputation for meddling with the editorial of his newspapers and other media outlets in order to serve his business interests – a prime reason the Bancrofts rejected a bid that amounted to a 65 per cent premium.
“Ensuring the absolute and permanent editorial independence and integrity of the Journal and other Dow Jones publications is the family’s number one priority,” a person close to the Bancrofts said. This person added that the family would not discuss price or other matters until this concern was addressed to their satisfaction.
Several people close to the family and Dow Jones have taken a dim view of Mr Murdoch’s track record as a newspaper owner, and were not swayed by his offer to create an editorial board for the Journal similar to the one he established at the News Corp-owned Times of London.
The challenge, they argue, is to ensure that the paper’s independence is guaranteed over the long term, and not just for a few years after a deal when outside scrutiny is at its highest. Achieving that, they said, could depend as much on the new owner’s will as any particular structure.
The Bancrofts are expected to be represented at the meeting by Michael Elefante, their lawyer. Family board members including Leslie Hill, are also expected to attend.
Some have speculated that the parties may try to enlist Paul Steiger, who recently stepped down as the Journal’s managing editor, or another respected figure, to take a role in creating an editorial board.
However, Mr Steiger, who is serving as editor at large until he retires at the end of the year, said on Friday that he had not been asked to do so.
Another issue that is expected to be discussed in the long-term future of Dow Jones, given Mr Murdoch’s age and the lack of a clear succession plan for any of his adult children, even though he has said he wants one of them to take over. The Murdoch family controls around 40 per cent of News Corp.
”There must be a better buyer for the long term than News Corp with its uncertain management succession after Rupert Murdoch, now 76, retires or dies,” Jim Ottaway, whose family accounts for about 5 per cent of Dow Jones voting power, said after it emerged the Bancrofts would consider a meeting.
Steve Yount, president of the union which represents most Dow Jones employees, said he and many Wall Street Journal reporters were continuing to urge the Bancroft family to resist a sale to Mr Murdoch.
”Once you own a newspaper you are free to do with it what you want to do,” said Mr Yount. He said he hoped another bidder would emerge, perhaps a billionaire investor or a philathrophic organisation interested in independent journalism.
”We don’t believe this is a done deal for Mr Murdoch,” he said.