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What handing over power means for Murdoch’s media empire

Eighty-four-year-old media titan Rupert Murdoch is ready to step aside from his role leading an empire worth tens of billions of dollars. Judy Woodruff talks to David Folkenflik of NPR about Murdoch’s legacy.

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    Rupert Murdoch, one of the biggest media moguls who's long headed an empire estimated to be worth more than $70 billion, and a man of major influence, put word out today he's ready to step aside from the top job.

    The 84-year-old media titan is paving the way to keep the family business in the family. Numerous reports today, including from FOX News, said Murdoch will hand the CEO job to his 42-year-old son, James, and another son, Lachlan, will become executive chairman.

    But the elder Murdoch won't go far. He will also remain co-executive chairman and retain many decision-making powers. The reorganization is the next step in a succession plan for one of the industry's most powerful figures.

    Murdoch's wide ambitions were evident when he was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame.

    RUPERT MURDOCH, Chairman and CEO, 21st Century Fox and News Corp: None of us should be satisfied by what we have done. But, surely, we must be excited at the prospect of what we can and will do.


    Murdoch's career started when he took over a single newspaper in his native Australia in the 1950s. He went on to buy more papers in Australia, the U.K., and the U.S., as well as two U.S. publishing companies, forming HarperCollins.

    In so doing, he had also created a burgeoning media behemoth, News Corporation. In the 1980s, he started the FOX network, before tackling cable TV with FOX News in 1996.

    With some outspoken conservative voices, the channel now dominates cable news. But, despite big moves like the purchase of Wall Street Journal owner Dow Jones in 2007, his newspapers have had their struggles.


    This is the most humble day of my life.


    A phone hacking scandal engulfed Murdoch's British tabloid empire in 2011. James Murdoch was the head of its U.K. businesses, and forced to resign.

    In the scandal's wake, the original News Corporation was split into two parts, a print business, known as News Corp., and the film and broadcasting business, 21st Century Fox. The latest moves are set to be discussed at a board meeting in coming weeks.

    Let's look at the impact of Rupert Murdoch as his role changes within his company.

    David Folkenflik is the media correspondent for NPR and the author of "Murdoch's World: The Last of the Old Media Empires."

    David Folkenflik, welcome back to the program.

    I know that News Corp. has not made an official statement yet, but what do they — what are they saying about what's happening?


    Well, of course, they are the two great arms of the Murdoch empire, 21st Century Fox and News Corp.

    21st Century Fox is merely saying that the issue of succession will be addressed at the next board meeting as planned, and they're saying nothing else. Inside the company, of course, they're signaling what we now know to be the case, and that's that Murdoch is executing a plan that he essentially one way or another hatched when these two men were boys.

    He always wanted to hand this over to the two Murdochs to run, as his father had before him. He never — he's of an age he never seriously considered giving it to either of the two adult daughters to run. And James and Lachlan are sort of collegial competitors, competitive colleagues, if you will.

    They have been pitted against each in the succession stakes, and now here they are, going to be running 21st Century Fox in tandem below their father.


    So, how is it expected that things will change?


    Well, I don't if, at first, it will change greatly, except if you think in some ways about James, that he's put an emphasis on new media and digital. He's left behind the romanticism of newspapers that his father has embraced for so many decades.

    In some ways, the most palpable change is that you have seen now the exiting of Chase Carey, a longtime senior executive for News Corp. Before him was Peter Chernin. But these were sort of the senior executives not named Murdoch who had effectively run the place and helped to set a tone of trust with major investors outside the Murdoch family.

    Now Rupert Murdoch is saying he trusts his own judgment and his own DNA to ensure the company's financial legacy for the years ahead.


    So, what are the sons' — you mentioned digital. What are the sons' interests? How do you see them taking the company — what direction do you see them taking the company in?


    Well, there are some very interesting investments and projects that I think you can look to for providing some guidance, even as the landscape in media shifts so quickly and so significantly from year to year that it's hard to predict.

    James Murdoch was said to be significantly involved in the decision by 21st Century Fox to invest a decent chunk of change in VICE, the multiplatform, multioutlet entity that it's own kind of pirate, renegade media outfit run by Shane Smith in Brooklyn here in New York. And that's not something you would have thought of FOX News as investing in kind of outfit.

    There has been a significant distrust and ill will between the Murdoch sons and Roger Ailes, of course, the chairman and CEO and guiding creative spirit at FOX News. I don't think you are going to see Ailes sidelined immediately. But he is in his mid-70s. He's not in particularly good health. And the actuarial tables favors the boys.

    The question is, how can they shift it to be a little bit more measured, a little bit more like Sky News in the U.K., Australia, and elsewhere that is lively, peppy, sometimes strong voices on the air, but not itself taking a strong point of view, in the way that FOX seems to by its selection of stories and guests. So, those are some real significant indications of where things could go.


    And I saw that Roger Ailes will continue to report directly to Rupert Murdoch. At least, that was the early reporting.

    Just quickly, so, at this point, David Folkenflik, what would you say is the legacy of Rupert Murdoch?


    Well, I would say that Rupert Murdoch has shown innovation by circumvention, going around conventional wisdom, sometimes going around regulations and laws, refusing many times to take no for an answer, being a creative force in many ways, a fourth network in FOX, FOX News as a challenge and reinvention of what we think of as cable news, and the tabloid spirit, of course, animating so much of what he does, but, as well as being creative, very much a destructive one too, a pugilistic, often mean-spirited character that would flare up on his front pages here in the U.S. sometimes, in the opinion voices on FOX News in particular.

    I think that's very much a part of who Murdoch is. He's a champion for media. He's a friend to these old-line media and newspapers, but he's also got a very different take on what it means to be a newspaperman, a more crusading, not always particularly fair figure, but always one of great interest, as you look at how the media works.


    So, 21st Century Fox making serious changes.

    David Folkenflik, we thank you.


    You bet.

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