Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Q&A: Dow Jones takeover

The Wall Street Journal is a highly influential newspaper
Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation is reportedly poised to triumph in its $5bn bid for rival US media business Dow Jones, owner of the Wall Street Journal.

The Bancroft family, which controls the majority of Dow Jones' shares, is believed to be close to giving its backing to the deal.

Should this happen, News Corp's long and controversial pursuit of Dow Jones is likely to come to a successful end.

When and how did Dow Jones come into being?

The current Dow Jones business traces its roots back to 1882 when three men - Charles Dow, Edward Davis Jones and Charles Bergstresser - formed a business in New York to produce daily hand-written financial bulletins for investors.

The trio hoped to cash in on the hunger for financial information at a time when the US economy was expanding rapidly and businesses were looking to expand abroad.

A year later, they launched the Customers' Afternoon Letter which, in 1889, was to change its name to the now familiar Wall Street Journal.

The Journal published details of company stocks, a list initially dominated by railway firms.

This formed the basis of what was to become the now famous Dow Jones Industrial Average, the share index of the largest US and international companies.

Why is the Wall Street Journal such a prized asset?

The Wall Street Journal is one of the most successful and influential papers in the world.

For some years, it had the largest paid-for circulation of any newspaper in the US and now has daily US sales of 1.7 million.

In financial and political circles, it is regarded as a must-read title, so much so that its nickname is the "business bible".

It is known for its detailed reporting and respected for its authoritative commentary, although not everyone has always approved of its views, seen to be staunchly conservative.

It has tried to shake off its rather traditional image in recent years, publishing a new weekend edition in 2005 and printing adverts on its front page for the first time in 2006.

The paper has successfully diversified its brand overseas and on the internet.

It launched an Asian edition in 1976 and a European version in 1983, while its website has more than 930,000 paying subscribers.

The broader Dow Jones business also owns a number of financial information suppliers, such as Dow Jones Newswires, as well as other print and TV interests.

Its overseas interests include a stake in the Russian newspaper Vedomosti.

Why is Rupert Murdoch interested in Dow Jones?

News Corporation surprised many analysts when it made a $5bn bid for Dow Jones in May.

The Murdoch controlled firm is principally attracted by the Wall Street Journal, the jewel in the crown of the Dow Jones business.

Rupert Murdoch wants to get his hands on a global brand. Most of News Corp's papers operate only in their domestic markets, while the Wall Street Journal is one of very few global newspaper brands.

Ownership of the WSJ would add a hugely successful newspaper to News Corp's stable of newspapers while giving its whole business added prestige.

Business journalism has been a major growth area in recent years, as interest in the stock market has spread more widely and strong economic growth has boosted advertising.

A business-focused firm such as Dow Jones would complement News Corp's existing assets, which are mainly focused on more volatile, consumer markets.

Is there any opposition to the deal?

Yes. Although the Dow Jones board has backed the deal, one of its directors resigned in protest at the move.

Dieter von Holtzbrinck said he was "very worried" about the impact of the bid on the Wall Street Journal's editorial independence

News Corp has vowed to respect and protect the paper's position.

However, critics point to Mr Murdoch's track record of interfering in the editorial decisions of papers that he owns, such as the New York Post and The Sun.

Who are the Bancrofts and why are they so crucial?

Bancroft family members control 64% of the firm's voting shares, both directly and through various trusts.

The family has been connected with the business since the early 20th Century, when Hugh Bancroft became president of the firm.

Without the Bancrofts' support, the News Corp bid will not succeed.

The Bancrofts are split on the deal. Some family members support it, while others are believed to be reluctant to cede control.

Reports say some members want News Corp to increase its bid - even though the original offer was at large premium to the firm's share price - while others are seeking other editorial and financial concessions.

What happens next?

The Bancrofts are expected to decide whether to back the bid later on Tuesday.

If they pledge their support, a meeting of all shareholders will be convened in either September or October to vote on the deal, with the deal likely to proceed.

If they reject the deal, News Corp is likely to pull out.

The situation is complicated by the possibility of a rival bid.

A consortium headed by General Electric rejected the idea in May, but former MySpace founder Brad Greenspan is reported to have lined up investors to put together an alternative proposal.

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