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Rupert Murdoch's Foxy Move

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On June 13, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., which owns Fox, announced its intention to sell nine of its owned-and-operated television stations, including KDVR/Channel 31 in Denver. A June 14 Denver Post piece on this development correctly points out that such moves are not exactly rare these days; the New York Times Co. recently peddled nine of its own TV properties, and rumors continue to circulate that Tribune may rid itself of several outlets under its umbrella, including Denver's KWGN/Channel 2.

Still, Murdoch is likely motivated by something more than financial conditions in assorted markets: his interest in taking control of the Wall Street Journal.

For weeks, News Corp. has proclaimed its desire to purchase Dow Jones, the Journal's parent company -- and this prospect has spurred a lively debate within the journalism community. On the surface, the Journal, which is editorially conservative, would fit perfectly within Murdoch's right-leaning portfolio. However, the venerable broadsheet is championed for journalistic excellence by folks of every ideological stripe, while News Corp. properties such as Fox News and the New York Post are widely derided for what critics perceive as their one-dimensionality and willingness to slant coverage in order to fit a political agenda. Were this to happen at the Journal, it would be an unfortunate turn that could further fuel the perception that newspapers are an industry in inexorable decline.

At first, the Bancroft family, which controls Dow Jones, was decidedly cool to Murdoch's entreaties, despite the hefty size of his offer, which is estimated at $5 billion. But, as noted in this June 13 Washington Post article, the clan seems increasingly willing to entertain the idea of News Corp. ownership. Their collective change of heart suggests that Murdoch may have sweetened the deal.

By how much? No specific numbers have surfaced to date -- but the sale of the nine TV stations would likely net him more than $500 million (possibly a lot more). In addition, the odds that new owners would drop Fox programming is incredibly slim, since programs such as American Idol and 24, not to mention NFL football, attract large audiences. So Murdoch could continue to generate income from the stations even as he freed himself from expenses and collected a windfall that might be enough to convince the Bancrofts to set aside their misgivings and sell Dow Jones to him.

If this scenario proves correct, KDVR may well play a small but significant part in one of the biggest and most controversial journalism transactions in recent memory. -- Michael Roberts

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