Times 2, Journal 1: Murdoch takes a page from Conrad Black’s “The Art of Newspaper War”

Times 2, Journal 1: Murdoch takes a page from Conrad Black’s “The Art of Newspaper War”

Newsweek’s latest has a mammoth take out on New York’s newspaper war. Titled “Murdoch, Ink,” the dek on the article reads, “With a redesigned Wall Street Journal, mogul Rupert Murdoch is launching an old-fashioned newspaper war against The New York Times. Not since William Randolph Hearst took on Joseph Pulitzer have we seen such a fight.” And from there on in, it’s all Rupert all the time, punctuated by a series of delicious quotes straight from the horse’s mouth.

On why he seemed to reverse himself on Hillary Clinton when the New York Post recently endorsed Obama: “I said, ‘Let’s make a race of it.’”

On accusations that he skews his newspaper coverage to favour his business interests: “‘I’ve never, ever done that,’ he says angrily. ‘I challenge anyone to show that I did. My bloody papers won’t even review Fox films favourably.’”

In a letter to Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger after the Times ran an editorial denouncing Murdoch’s involvement in removing the BBC World Service from Chinese television: “Dear Arthur, it was a pleasure to see you last night… I don’t know how many times I have to state that I didn’t take off the BBC… Let the battle begin!”

Indeed. The latest gauntlet to be thrown down is a redesign of the Journal that went into effect yesterday. Though Newsweek is a little overheated about just how abrupt a change Murdoch is instituting, the changes are profound nonetheless.

“When readers open their newspapers Monday morning, they will discover a Wall Street Journal fashioned to the tastes of the man who revolutionized media markets from Australia to North America. With its increased focus on politics, international news, culture and sports, Murdoch’s reconceived Journal represents nothing short of a formal declaration of war on that most venerable of journalistic institutions, The New York Times.”

Yesterday’s Journal op-ed page is a good example. Thomas Frank—who gets a weekly slot in that newly expanded section starting May 14—presents his take on Clinton accusing Obama of elitism. It’s the sort of snarky, progressive rant that would no more have seen the light of day in the old Journal than, say, William Kristol would have seen the light of day in the pre-Rupert Times.

With these changes in the offing, and such a geyser of hype going off at the newsstand, I decided to dig a little into the background. I spoke with one of Rupert’s confreres on the finance side of the business, and he was refreshingly frank and unpretentious regarding the great man’s aspirations: “What can I tell you? The guy loves newspapers. Does it really have to be anything more than that? He takes the public trust aspect of all this very seriously.”

As for Murdoch’s vision for the Journal as it merges with other News Corp. platforms like Fox News (and the concomitant concern that he’s creating some sort of hydra-headed conservative monster): “I don’t think he knows how it’s all going to evolve, and I don’t think he pretends to know how the Internet is going to evolve… The fact that he’s into TV and film at the same time is from his viewpoint just good diversification… He just wants to put out a good newspaper.”

Murdoch’s play in all this has always been more pragmatic than political(Frank’s appointment as a columnist proves that). If in putting morecompetitive pressure on the Times he pulls someone like Bloomberg into the mix, that’s all to the good. Murdoch has alwaysspoiled for—and profited from—a good fight (he’s on the op-ed page of this morning’s Wall Street Journal chiding the U.S. for failing to follow through on a trade deal with Colombia). Just ask Conrad Black.

Murdoch, Ink. [Newsweek]• Obama’s Touch of Class [Wall Street Journal]• Enlarging the Atlantic Alliance [Wall Street Journal]