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Media Experts Weigh Effects of Wall Street Journal Buyout

As News Corp.'s Rupert Murdoch finalizes a deal to buy Dow Jones & Co., the publisher of the Wall Street Journal, a journalism professor and a Wall Street Journal veteran assess what the move may mean for American journalism.

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    Global media magnate Rupert Murdoch now has a signed merger agreement between his News Corporation and the financial news organization Dow Jones, parent company of the Wall Street Journal. The approved $5 billion takeover offer is assured passage when it goes to a final Dow Jones shareholder vote later this year.

    The deal will pay stockholders $60 in cash per share, and News Corp. has agreed to appoint a member of the Bancroft family or another person to their board of directors. Murdoch has also agreed not to interfere with news decisions. He will establish a special committee with the power to approve the hiring or firing of top editorial officials. The agreement still faces regulatory review.

    With me to discuss the details of the deal and its effect on American journalism is Geneva Overholser, professor of journalism for the University of Missouri. She's a former editor of the Des Moines Register, ombudsman at the Washington Post, and once served as a member of the editorial board at the New York Times.

    And Norman Pearlstine, who worked at the Wall Street Journal for 23 years, including nine as its top news executive, before becoming editor-in-chief of Time, Inc. He's now a senior adviser to the Carlyle Group.

    And, Norman Pearlstine, let me start with you. Now that the acquisition is all but done, is this good for the Journal, a major pillar in American journalism, and is it good for journalism?

    NORMAN PEARLSTINE, former editor, Wall Street Journal: Well, I think it has high potential to be very good for the Journal, especially when considering the alternatives. The entire news industry, as well as the business press, have really been under extraordinary financial pressure. And were there not a deal with Murdoch, I think there would be continued layoffs at the Journal, continued cost-cutting, and a continued struggle to try to get the business right.

    Murdoch has a passion for the Journal, wants to invest in more news resources and expansion of the overseas editions and the Web sites. What I think remains to be seen — and is obviously the concern of many journalists — is that you can point to some of Murdoch's publications and to some of the business of News Corp. and ask whether it is possible for the Journal to remain editorially independent and compatible with those institutions.

    My own experience at Time-Warner, where there were many divisions that, if you will, were not practicing journalism, while CNN and Time, Inc., were, would suggest that it is possible to cohabit. And the question is how committed Murdoch will be to guaranteeing that editorial independence. My own bet is that he didn't spent $5 billion to destroy that product.


    Geneva Overholser, same question.

    GENEVA OVERHOLSER, University of Missouri: You know, I think there really are causes for worry. I agree with many of Norman's points. It's good that Rupert Murdoch wants to spent a lot of money on the Wall Street Journal. But this purchase plays out against enormous unsettlement in the news-gathering world — as you well know, Ray — and the public has a good reason to wonder what is going to happen to journalism in the public interest.

    We'll watch this sale. It will be interesting to see. Will he pull punches on coverage in China? Will he do a major series — will the Wall Street Journal be doing a series on the effect of international corporate ownership on big media? I mean, you know, it's an important question.

    But I think that even if the attempts to kind of keep it as independent and nonpartisan as it can be succeed, one question for all of us now is, so many of our media are operating under this same kind of ownership structure, where there is family control — important media, the New York Times, the Washington Post, McClatchy newspapers — can any family resist what happened in this case? I think it's an important question.

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