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In War at The Wall Street Journal, Sarah Ellison, formerly a media reporter at the old Journal--the one we all knew and loved--has written a gripping narrative account of what happened to that gem of American Journalism and why the controlling Bancroft family agreed in 2007 to sell the paper to Rupert Murdoch, the Darth Vader of Journalism. She should know: She was part of the team that covered the story when she was at the Journal, which she has since left.
Ellison's story focuses on three sets of protagonists--none of them particularly admirable--who fought over and ultimately carved up the carcass of the Dow Jones Company, the Journal's parent company. First, are the highly dysfunctional and completely unappealing members of the extended Bancroft family--and their equally unappealing attorneys--that for years fought among themselves and seemed content to allow Dow Jones to be mismanaged and to fall into disarray. Second is the management team--led by Peter Kann and his ambitious, insensitive wife, Karen Elliott House--that allowed the Journal's financial performance to deteriorate year after year, while doing an admirable job keeping the journalistic standards high and the product enviable. Only Kann's successor as CEO, Rich Zannino, seemed to have the slightest clue that his job was to create shareholder value. Finally, comes Murdoch himself, who stopped at nothing to get his long-sought prize--including agreeing to an oversight board for the Journal he quickly ignored--and paying the whopping sum of $5.6 billion to get it (including the assumption of $600 million of debt on Dow Jones' books.)
Ellison's book does a fine job of revealing the subtext for Murdoch's unbridled ambition to get control of The Wall Street Journal: He wants to use the paper to take down, if he can, The New York Times and the Sulzberger family that owns it. He seems to have a special antipathy for Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the company's Chairman and the paper's publisher. In that regard, the fact that the entire newspaper industry is on its back and may never recover its former financial glory appears to have given Murdoch his opening. In pursuit of the Times and its national audience, Murdoch has made the new Wall Street Journal unrecognizable and its daily product undistinguished. He also has announced that he has hired a newsroom full of reporters in New York City to start covering local news stories in order to compete directly with the Times on its home turf. Curiously, Murdoch and his hand-picked management team are so delighted by their new toy, they have become blinded by what has been lost--editorially speaking--at the paper. "We produced a better paper," Ellison quotes Murdoch saying at the end of her book. "It's as simple as that."
By then, though, the reader knows Murdoch's statement is patently untrue and just more of his bullying bluster. But two other ironies have also been revealed: One, that given the ongoing distress in the journalism industry, the reporters at the paper are just happy to have jobs that continue to pay them to do--in some form anyway--what they love. And, second, that the big winners in the saga are the bumbling Bancrofts, who walked off with Murdoch's $5 billion and have scattered to the winds. A little more than a year after he bought Dow Jones, News Corp. took a $2.8 billion write-off, effectively conceding that Murdoch had paid twice as much as the company turned out to be worth.
(Photo © Frank E. Schramm III)
A Q&A with Sarah Ellison, Author of War at The Wall Street Journal
(Photo © Greg Martin)
_While working as a grounds keeper at the estate of Jessie Cox in Cohasset, MA in the early '70's, I got to meet the Cox and Hill families. Read morePublished 8 months ago by John Perry
This is a great read. An inside look at the newspaper business along with an inside look at a storied American family. I like books that entertain and educate. Read morePublished on October 18, 2013 by Bette Cunningham
Just shows Murdoch's word means nothink and he does what he want's and says what he thinks people want to hear.Published on September 14, 2013 by Edward Stockill
Ms. Ellison is quite objective throughout the book.
She shares how the "old" WSJ was about well researched investigative reporting, with articles prepared months... Read more
This book would have been perfect for a high school journalism or business class, but it will never see the light of day in that environment. Read morePublished on March 11, 2013 by B
Author Sarah Ellison rose to the tremendous challenge of producing the best book available on the Murdoch purchase of The Wall Street Journal. Read morePublished on October 22, 2011 by Afia
I thoroughly enjoyed this account of Murdoch's purchase of the Wall Street Journal. Not only is the reader exposed to the workings of Murdoch and News Corp but also a fascinating... Read morePublished on August 23, 2011 by Thomas Grover
The book started off strong, then lapsed into minute details of workings inside the paper. Dull. PS mixed up Junior and Senior OttawayPublished on May 22, 2011 by William M. Doolittle Jr.
This book review is part of my obligation to Amazon for accepting to be a member of the Vine program, a club of selected customers that provide opinions about "new and pre-released... Read morePublished on January 22, 2011 by Esperanza Reynolds