Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Family Holds Discussion of Dow Bid by Murdoch (NYTimes)


By RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA

The far-flung family that controls Dow Jones & Company met by phone yesterday to discuss a pledge by Rupert Murdoch to give them a seat on the board of his News Corporation if it buys Dow Jones, and to guard the independence of the Dow Jones trophy property, The Wall Street Journal.

Members of the Bancroft family declined to comment on the meeting. But people close to the family said they saw little new in Mr. Murdoch’s missive and nothing that would soften family members’ initial opposition to the deal.

In a letter to the Bancrofts, who own a controlling interest in Dow Jones and initially rejected his $5 billion offer, Mr. Murdoch asked to meet with them, to continue making his case for a takeover in person. The text of the letter, dated May 11, was made public yesterday by the Web site of The Journal and confirmed by the News Corporation.

Many Bancroft family members, according to people who know them, object to Mr. Murdoch’s brand of journalism, arguing that he might bend The Journal’s news coverage to suit his business interests and conservative political views.

Mr. Murdoch addressed such concerns directly in his letter, as he did in an earlier missive to the family, presenting himself and the family as products of the same newspaper traditions. “Much has been written about me, my family and our company, some flattering, some not; some accurate, most not,” he wrote.

He said that he would give the family a seat on the News Corporation board, and would establish an editorial board to oversee The Journal, as he did at The Times of London, to protect its top editors from capricious dismissal and to mediate disputes between the newspaper and the corporation. He had made the same commitments already in the two weeks since the takeover offer became public knowledge.

“It seems like he’s just repeating the things he’s already expressed publicly in interviews and in his original letter,” said James H. Ottaway Jr., a former Dow Jones board member who worked with the Bancrofts for more than three decades. Mr. Ottaway, whose family owns 5.2 percent of the voting power in the company’s stock, has publicly stated his reluctance to sell to anyone, and his adamant opposition to a takeover by Mr. Murdoch.

“I don’t see that it advanced his case particularly, and I would doubt that it would change the Bancrofts’ position,” he said of the letter.

But the fact that the family conferred yesterday could indicate that some of its members do not want to let the matter drop. Mr. Murdoch’s $60-a-share offer was a steep premium for a stock that had recently traded around $35 to $36, and word of it caused the price to soar. Shares of Dow Jones closed yesterday at $53.77.

Perhaps as important as his promise to protect Dow Jones’s integrity was Mr. Murdoch’s promise to invest in the company, which increasingly must compete against much larger providers of news and financial information.

“We believe that News Corporation could bring substantial resources to bear in a combined enterprise, providing the additional capital and scale that will preserve Dow Jones’s leadership and growth for generations to come,” he wrote.

Separately, a group of Journal reporters based in China urged the Bancroft family in a letter to reject Mr. Murdoch’s bid.

The letter, written May 10, said the Journal’s integrity could be compromised because Mr. Murdoch is well-known for making editorial decisions in China to serve News Corporation’s business interests there.

The letter was signed by seven reporters, including many who were members of a team that won the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting this year for the paper’s coverage of the consequences of China’s aggressive economic growth.

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