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Murdoch's presence felt at Journal

MEDIA

The mogul asks three reporters to stay. Some question how hands-on he'll be with the paper.

August 24, 2007|Joseph Menn | Times Staff Writer

Rupert Murdoch doesn't yet own the Wall Street Journal, but he's already flexing his muscles.

In the last two weeks, the chairman of News Corp. has called at least three reporters who were considering leaving the top financial publication and asked them to stay, people familiar with the calls said Thursday.

Some journalists in the newsroom took the gesture as a sign of Murdoch's commitment to keep the staff's quality high. Others said it showed that Murdoch would take a hands-on approach in newsroom affairs despite a special committee established to keep him from interfering in coverage.

News Corp. agreed this month to pay $5 billion for Dow Jones & Co., the owner of the Journal.

Murdoch, who has been vacationing in the Mediterranean in recent days, made the calls to the reporters from his yacht, the Rosehearty, named for the Murdoch family's ancestral home in Scotland.

Murdoch called reporters Tara Parker-Pope, Kate Kelly and Henny Sender, according to five people at the Journal who asked not to be named for fear of upsetting the new owner. Parker-Pope and Kelly were weighing job offers from the New York Times, which Murdoch sees as the Journal's biggest rival, while Sender was considering a post at the Financial Times, the leading business paper in Europe.

Murdoch told the reporters that they would be making a mistake to leave, that he valued all of the Journal's coverage, and that positive changes were in store. Since announcing the acquisition of Dow Jones, Murdoch has publicly promised to invest in the Journal and expand its coverage.

None of the three would discuss the calls, and it's unclear what effect they had. Parker-Pope kept her resolve to go, while Kelly told others she had already decided to stay. Sender hasn't decided. Dow Jones and News Corp. declined to comment.

In a brief interview, Parker-Pope said her decision to leave had nothing to do with the acquisition. Many journalists at the Journal have accused the media baron of using his newspapers and television channels to push his conservative political agenda and to steer coverage to suit his business goals.

"It didn't have anything to do with Mr. Murdoch," Parker-Pope said, expressing regret at leaving the Journal ahead of what she said would be an exciting time. "It's always been a great newspaper -- and now it's a great newspaper with resources."

Journalists at the paper said Murdoch's message was being reinforced by a positive sentiment among top editors that more money would be forthcoming, especially for coverage in Washington and overseas.

But that anticipation has been tempered somewhat by the slow pace of contract talks between Dow Jones and the union representing 2,000 journalists and other employees.

The latest formal offer from the company calls for increases in healthcare premiums and for annual raises of less than 3% in each of the next three years, said Steve Yount, the union president.

In the newsroom, posters reflecting the mixed feelings have gone up. They feature a dotted black-and-white portrait of Murdoch as he has appeared in the Journal's pages, accompanied by the homespun headline "Show Us The Money."

Separately Thursday, News Corp. submitted its annual securities filing to regulators. It included the disclosure that Murdoch's wife, Wendi, had been paid $83,333 for her "strategic advice" in setting up a Chinese joint venture that licenses MySpace.com, News Corp.'s major Internet property.

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joseph.menn@latimes.com

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