Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Dow Jones Union Steps In

One of the more surprising aspects of Rupert Murdoch's bid for Dow Jones is the role of the employee union, the Independent Assn. of Publishers' Employees. The New York Times today explores how IAPE "is shopping around for another bidder and has begun talks with aides to Ronald W. Burkle, a California billionaire."

It was expected that IAPE would galvanize employee opposition to the takeover, but IAPE's emergence as a player is new and impressive. It is also a far cry from the IAPE of old -- the IAPE I knew when I worked at Barron's in the 1980s.

Back then, this was a weak, divided, rather impotent force in dealing with the company. There was very little participation, apart from malcontents and hotheads like myself. While the idea of an employee union is theoretically a good one, it hasn't worked out too well in the newspaper biz, partly because journalists are more interested in cutting individual deals with their employers than standing together in Leninist solidarity.

I say "Leninist" deliberately. Our union leader back in the early 1980s was a lovable but rigid British-born Marxist. His heart was in the right place but the membership was not behind him.

Today, no doubt to the dismay of management, IAPE seems far stronger and also is affiliated with the AFL-CIO, which it wasn't in the old days.

I doubt that anything will come of the Burkle thing, and I have no doubt that Rupert is going to systematically crush this union when (not if, when) he takes over the company. Still, this is brave showing and I am proud of my former colleagues for standing up to the Murdoch Tsunami. Hope they all have life vests.

I'm also proud of the Wall Street Journal for its page one article today spitting in the eye of its future boss, in an article detailing Murdoch's history of meddling in his newspapers:
A detailed examination of Mr. Murdoch's half-century career as a journalist and businessman shows that his newspapers and other media outlets have made coverage decisions that advanced the interests of his sprawling media conglomerate, News Corp. In the process, Mr. Murdoch has blurred a line that exists at many other U.S. media companies between business and news sides -- a line intended to keep the business and political interests of owners from influencing the presentation of news.

Mr. Murdoch's focus on News Corp.'s bottom line has often allowed market considerations to influence editorial moves, and different markets have led to starkly different approaches. In the U.S., Fox News has thrived by tilting to the right, filling a niche left open by its network and cable rivals. In Italy, a 24-hour television news channel launched by Mr. Murdoch in 2003 has positioned itself as a relatively reliable and objective source of news -- in contrast to the political bias of Italy's more-established channels.

At all newspapers, owners have a say in broad editorial direction. Mr. Murdoch has a long history of being unusually aggressive, reflecting his roots as an old-fashioned press baron. From his earliest days, like some other newspaper proprietors of the last century, he ran his companies with his hands directly on the daily product, peppering reporters and editors with suggestions and criticisms.
...and on and on. Nice, tough and above all, long journalism. Better read it now, 'cause its days are numbered at the Journal.

© 2007 Gary Weiss. All rights reserved.

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Wall Street Versus America was published by Penguin USA on April 6.
Click here for its Amazon.com listing and here for more information on the book, from my web site, gary-weiss.com.

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