Can reluctant split save the news?

Rupert Murdoch said in evidence to the Leveson Inquiry that an unhinged Gordon Brown phoned him and said he would make war on News Corp. Brown, in evidence, claimed the call never took place. Whose relationship with the truth is closer? My guess is both have only had a nodding acquaintance with veracity for some years.

As a politician Brown spent his life dealing in dissembling, whereas Murdoch’s biggest problem with truth was the fear most (all?) have in speaking truth to power. But to prove he is comfortable in being economic with the actualite´, when Bloomberg TV asked him this week if the decision to split News Corp into newspaper and electronic media groups had anything to do with the failed BSkyB bid, hen replied: “Not at all. We’re doing it purely as a business decision that the company would be better in this way.”

Actually, in itself it is a true statement; News would have been better off split years ago, but it is ridiculous to suggest the BSkyB bid debacle didn’t finally make up his mind. Many analysts, many stockholders and some executives have tried to persuade Murdoch to do this for years. Murdoch has resisted largely through the understandable egoism of wanting to keep his world dominating creation together for the dynasty. But the truth is the newspapers have been a sheet anchor on the stock price for years.

The misdirection and petulance of Murdoch showed his dark side – in the same interview he threw his toys out of the pram; there was no more ‘humblest day of my life’, he essentially said as England didn’t appreciate all he’d done for it, he wouldn’t be investing anymore money there. As an impression of a Whinging Pom it was pretty good.

But maybe the separation will also bring out his good side. He says he will appoint a CEO for print in due course but that he will stay very involved, and we know he still loves the news business. Over his career he has proved himself a risk taker, innovator and market disrupter par excellence. Some say he brought a corrupting attitude to newspapers around the world, and there is a case to answer, but he also saved a lot of newspapers from oblivion at the hands of crass owners, over powerful unions or failing economies, or all three.

The newspaper industry is in real trouble. It embraced the internet late and then grasped it much too tight to try and make up for it. Murdoch believes journalism is worth paying for, if he can find ways of persuading readers to be of the same mind his legacy will be far more important than News Corp in itself.

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