TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Kai Ryssdal: We had a peek at Rupert Murdoch’s books this afternoon. News Corp reported earnings after the closing bell. It’s a pretty tidy sum, almost a billion dollars in profits — up 4.5 percent.
After all the hullabaloo over Murdoch’s purchase of Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal, we got to wondering what’s next for the media mogul. So did he, I guess — here’s Mr. Murdoch on a conference call late this afternoon:
Rupert Murdoch: One of the big reasons we’re so excited about our
impending purchase of Dow Jones is the immediate and important lift it will give our entire company as we continue our digital transition.
Tim Rutten’s a media critic for the Los Angeles Times. He thinks Murdoch and News Corps ought not get ahead of themselves.
Tim Rutten: Well I think first of all, I wouldn’t discount the possibility that this deal may fail. Rupert Murdoch has an almost unbroken line of failures with American newspapers. He succeeded in the U.K. after much struggle. He succeeded in Australia, obviously, that’s the foundation of the fortune. But his two current high-profile American publications, the New York Post and the Weekly Standard, are essentially run like vanity publications. They’re subsidized. So it may fail.
Ryssdal: One of the things that The Wall Street Journal specifically has done really well is capitalized on its online presence. It’s one of the few newspapers in this country to be able to charge people money for reading a paper online. And in fact just earlier this week, the New York Times, there was some speculation that its TimesSelect, its pay-per-view firewall, is gonna go away. Is he gonna keep that up?
Rutten: Well, that’s the billion-dollar question, isn’t it? Because everybody in the newspaper industry looks to The Wall Street Journal as a model for how to do this — how to make those web readers pay. What Murdoch does with that is very important — particularly if it turns out that, as it now it appears, TimesSelect is gonna go by the boards.
Ryssdal: Where does Murdoch go now in terms of expanding that empire? He’s gotten Dow Jones and the Journal. What else is in his sights?
Rutten: I’d say two things about that that are interesting. The Journal’s online presence may benefit as much from Murdoch’s other properties as they benefit from the Journal. Because one of the keys to doing vibrant newspaper websites is video. And through Fox and BSkyB, other Murdoch products, they’re gonna have access to a lot of video.
The other thing is that I would not discount Murdoch’s ambitions for The Wall Street Journal as a national newspaper. And that means that the competitor really ought to be worried here is the New York Times. If Murdoch is serious about adding full-service foreign service, feature sections, maybe sports — why not? — then suddenly, The Wall Street Journal becomes a viable general interest national newspaper and not a niche publication. And at that moment, they are head-to-head with the New York Times, and the Sulzbergers had better worry.
Ryssdal: Bring this back to Rupert Murdoch for me for a second. The guy owns MySpace, he now has a newspaper with a big and profitable Web presence. Why isn’t every other media company on the planet basically following his lead? ‘Cause he’s proved that he knows how to do this.
Rutten: Well, he’s proved that he knows how to aggregate these things. He hasn’t demonstrated the thing everybody’s looking for, which is how to make them work together. These synergies, these so-called synergies, are more apparent than real. And until somebody actually demonstrates that you can make a lot of money by putting all these media together, other people are gonna remain skeptical.
Ryssdal: It sorta sounds like there was a “yet” to come out of your mouth there. He hasn’t figured out how to make money doing it yet.
Rutten: Well, somebody’s going to. Look, you and I both know that the most ingenuous of all human emotions is avarice. And sooner or later, pure greed is going to inspire somebody with an idea about how to do this, in the same way that it’s going to inspire somebody with an idea about how print newspapers can monetize their Web readership. We’ll light candles in front of that person’s picture for the rest of our natural lives.
Ryssdal: For now, though, we are done. Tim Rutten writes the “Regarding Media” column for the Los Angeles Times. Tim, thanks for coming in.
Rutten: Great pleasure to be here.
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