(Reuters) - Rupert Murdoch tapped Wall Street Journal managing editor Robert Thomson, a close confidant with little experience on the business side of publishing, as Chief Executive of his new publishing company, which will retain the News Corp name.
Thomson’s appointment coincided with several other announcements related to the impending publishing company spin-off, including the closing of The Daily, the heavily-hyped digital newspaper for Apple Inc’s iPad, and the naming of other key executives.
News Corp did not disclose any financial details related to the spin off, such as how much cash and debt will be ascribed to the new publishing company, or appoint a board of directors.
Also absent from Monday’s announcement was any mention of Lachlan Murdoch, Rupert’s eldest son, who News Corp watchers and industry experts thought might be recruited back into the family business, given his previous success as publisher of the New York Post.
Gerard Baker, currently The Wall Street Journal’s deputy editor in chief, will succeed Thomson as managing editor of the paper and editor in chief of its publisher Dow Jones & Co.
Thomson, who assumes the CEO role effective January 1, will now oversee a stable of assets that includes TV stations and newspapers in Australia, the Wall Street Journal, New York Post, the Times of London, as well as book publisher Harper Collins and a nascent education group.
His ascension comes at a difficult time for print media. Newspapers face tough challenges as advertisers look elsewhere and people increasingly prefer smartphones and tablets to ink and paper.
While Thomson, a native Australian, is a long time newspaper executive, including U.S. editor of the Financial Times and editor of the Times of London, his experience has been mostly in the newsroom.
Now, however, he will have to decide what to do with the financially struggling New York Post, whether to seek a merger partner for Harper Collins and if the new company will acquire U.S. newspapers that could come onto the market, such as the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune.
“The timing is interesting in that it comes out ahead of the finalization of Tribune coming out of bankruptcy,” said Ken Doctor, an analyst with Outsell Research.
“If the new News Corp is going to be a bidder for the Los Angeles Times or the Chicago Tribune or other papers, to get this duck in a row and to get Thomson in place sets that up in a better way.”
Despite Thomson’s minimal experience dealing with analysts and investors, Evercore Partners analyst Alan Gould said that will not be a problem if he surrounds himself with strong financial managers.
Indeed, News Corp named former MGM Studios president Bedi Ajay Singh as the publishing unit’s chief financial officer on Monday.
However, by keeping the News Corp name for the publishing company and by choosing Thomson, Murdoch is selecting a trusted editorial lieutenant to tend to the medium that played a leading role in building his empire and is closest to his heart.
“Many of you know that a belief in the power of the written word has been in my bones for my entire life,” Murdoch, News Corp’s chairman, wrote in a memo to employees obtained by Reuters.
“I witnessed the hunger people had for well-written, thoroughly observed stories ... stories that provide not just information, but insight. That hunger is alive and well today; my personal mission is to serve and satisfy the human need for insight as well as I possibly can.”
The Daily, which made a splashy debut with a news conference at the Guggenheim museum in New York almost two years ago, will publish its last digital edition on December 15. But the brand will “live on in other channels,” News Corp said in a statement.
The ambitious project - News Corp invested about $30 million - was a test to see if people would subscribe to a digital newspaper.
“We can and must make the business of news gathering and editing viable again,” Murdoch said at the launch event for the digital newspaper in New York in February 2011. “We’re entering a remarkable age of innovation and digital renaissance.”
Jesse Angelo, founding editor of The Daily, will become publisher of the New York Post, while Greg Clayman, publisher of The Daily, will oversee the company’s digital strategy.
Current New York Post publisher Paul Carlucci will now focus solely on the company’s marketing arm, News America Marketing, as its chairman.
In addition to those appointments, News Corp also announced that Mike Darcey would lead its British newspaper arm, News International, after CEO Tom Mockridge said on Sunday he was leaving the company at the end of the year.
Mockridge’s name was floated among media watchers as a potential candidate to lead the new publishing company.
Paul Cheesbrough was named chief technology officer of the new publishing company.
As previously announced, Murdoch will serve as chairman of both the publishing company and its larger and faster-growing entertainment unit, to be called Fox Group. Chase Carey will be president and chief operating officer of the Fox Group, while James Murdoch will continue as deputy chief operating officer.
In June, News Corp announced it would separate its publishing and entertainment assets in a process likely to occur by early summer.
News Corp shares were down 0.3 percent at $24.55 in afternoon trading on Monday.
Reporting by Himank Sharma in Bangalore and Jennifer Saba in New York; Editing by Peter Lauria, Sriraj Kalluvila, Jeffrey Benkoe and Andre Grenon