Murdoch to sell Ottaway newspapers to bolster WSJ

Rupert Murdoch said he plans to sell off Dow Jones Co.'s smaller newspapers and hire more staff to bolster The Wall Street Journal's presence, especially in Europe and Asia.

Ottaway Newspapers Inc., operate nine dailies around the country, including the Ashland Daily Tidings.

The Tidings has been sold numerous times over the past two decades, most recently in 2002 when Ottaway bought the newspaper from Lee Enterprises. The Tidings is part of the Southern Oregon Media Group, which includes the Tidings, the Mail Tribune, The Nickel and other publications.

The News Corp. chairman and controlling shareholder, who sealed a hard-fought deal to buy Dow Jones last week for $5 billion, also said Wednesday that he is weighing other steps after the transaction closes in a few months.

For example, Murdoch said he hadn't decided whether to make the Journal's Web site free to visitors. Murdoch said it was the largest paid site in the world with nearly — million subscribers.

"We're currently debating that," Murdoch said on a conference call with reporters and analysts to discuss News Corp. quarterly earnings. "In the short term, it may be an expensive thing. In the long term, it may be a wonderful thing to do."

The discussion marked Murdoch's most expansive comments to date about the prize he claimed after more than a decade of desire. Indeed, questions about the Dow Jones deal overshadowed News Corp.'s strong earnings report in which the New York-based media giant boosted quarterly profit to $890 million from $852 million on surging cable and satellite results.

Murdoch said he put up with withering criticism of his ethics from Dow Jones insiders, including members of the controlling Bancroft family, because of his confidence that the Journal and other assets were a "perfect fit" with News Corp. That includes a cable business channel launching in more than 31 million homes Oct. 15.

"Dow Jones is arguably the world's most powerful, prestigious brand in financial services," Murdoch said, praising its "tremendous journalists and excellent management."

But with News Corp.'s reach, which includes satellite television in Asia and Europe, the Fox broadcast network and newspapers that include the Times in London, the Journal can be vastly expanded, he said. combining some production with that of Dow Jones, the company will save about $50 million annually, with no layoffs planned.

The expansion in print media has bothered some News Corp. investors, who are more enthusiastic about the prospects for company's online properties, especially MySpace, the top social networking site.

News Corp. executives said Fox Interactive Media, which includes MySpace, turned a $10 million profit for the full fiscal year ended June 30 on revenue of $550 million topping earlier projections. Largely because of a growing deal with Google Inc. to place ads on MySpace, Murdoch said he would be surprised if Fox Interactive didn't reach $1 billion in annual sales and $200 million in profit.

The new Fox business channel will cost between $150 million and $200 million to launch and should break even within a couple of years, the executives said.

In the fourth quarter, News Corp. profit of 30 cents a share, up from 24 cents a year earlier, came on revenue that rose to $7.4 billion from $6.8 billion. Movie and television income fell, but cable profits jumped as Fox News negotiated new contracts with major carriers.

Share This Story