August 1, 2007 / 12:05 AM / 10 years ago

Murdoch looks to legacy with Dow Jones bid

<p>News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch and his wife Wendi Deng arrive for the second session of the Allen and Co. conference at the Sun Valley Resort in Sun Valley, Idaho July 12, 2007. The 76-year-old media mogul aims to redeem his legacy in the business he loves most with the anticipated $5 billion purchase of Dow Jones, owner of The Wall Street Journal, Barron's financial weekly and Dow Jones Newswires.Rick Wilking</p>

NEW YORK (Reuters) - News Corp.'s Rupert Murdoch spent a lifetime building a global media empire, but is best known for tarting up tabloids with topless girls and screaming headlines from Sydney to London to New York.

Now the 76-year-old media mogul aims to redeem his legacy in the business he loves most with the anticipated $5 billion purchase of Dow Jones & Co. Inc., owner of The Wall Street Journal, Barron's financial weekly and Dow Jones Newswires.

Dow Jones looked set to agree on Tuesday to the buyout later on Tuesday, regarded as one of the most audacious yet for the consummate dealmaker.

Murdoch wants to position himself as the savior of the Journal, as newspapers languish in a downward spiral of circulation and advertising declines.

He has never lacked for ideas. "What if, at the Journal, we spent $100 million a year hiring all the best business journalists in the world?" Murdoch told Time magazine in a recent profile.

Here's another of Murdoch's musings on the future of the soon-to-be-his Wall Street Journal. "And then you make it free, online only. No printing plants, no paper, no trucks," he said.

But Murdoch's worst enemy may be his reputation for meddling in the print business.

From a pair of inherited newspapers in Australia, he built the world's most far-flung and diverse empire of nearly 120 newspapers, film studios, television networks and Internet properties, stirring controversy with his brash, populist journalism, but always seizing the chance to expand.

His approach has been to find value in overlooked properties, often taking big risks to rebuild or restructure neglected media companies in novel ways.

To finance acquisitions, Murdoch at times has gone to the brink, piling on so much debt that in the early 1990s he needed a major restructuring to survive. Since then, his company's stock has gone up more than 10-fold.

To get the Journal, he offered $60 per share, a huge premium over Dow Jones's trading price in the mid-30s before the deal was announced.

Murdoch wants to propel the Journal's brand across his media outlets, using it to fuel News Corp.'s upcoming Fox Business Channel, or finding fresh audiences on its MySpace online social network and mobile media ventures.


His father Sir Keith Murdoch died in 1953, leaving him to run the Adelaide News and Brisbane Courier-Mail.

Even then, associates at the Adelaide News complained as a keen 21-year-old Murdoch studied every aspect of the family business, according to biographer William Shawcross. "Rupert, in his sincere and charming way, has been making life somewhat wearing," Shawcross wrote, quoting an unnamed staff member.

Murdoch has honed a relentless business style, starting with the purchase of several Australian newspapers where he boosted circulation with sensationalism and sex.

On London's Fleet Street he made his name as a cost-cutter and a union buster who let quality slip.

When he went after the esteemed Times of London, Murdoch gave written pledges that he would not alter the character of Britain's oldest daily.

These same fears haunted his three-month pursuit of Dow Jones and nearly scuppered talks with its controlling shareholder, the Bancrofts. To help seal the deal, he gave an independent board the power to approve editors nominated by News Corp. Murdoch and his deputies have also promised to stay out of the Journal's news pages.

While the Journal may appear to be an odd choice for the owner of tabloids such as the New York Post, Murdoch has always thumbed his nose at tradition.

His rebellious streak has its roots in his days at Geelong Grammar School in Victoria, Australia, where privileged schoolmates looked down on him because his father's job.

"The sons of the landed gentry at Geelong considered journalism a low-rent business," the New Yorker's Ken Auletta wrote in a profile in 1995.

Murdoch's quick decision making and deft circumvention of roadblocks are legend. To launch Fox, the fourth U.S. broadcast network, Murdoch renounced his Australian citizenship in 1985 and was naturalized as a U.S. citizen to bypass rules barring foreign ownership of television stations.

News Corp. also agreed to dump the BBC from its Star TV network in China in the 1994, after Beijing complained about its coverage of China, at a time when he sought broad distribution in one of the world's largest economies.

For all the accolades from investors, including kudos for his decision to buy the MySpace in 2005, the billionaire still refers to himself as a newspaperman.

Additional reporting by Richard Satran

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