made headlines the other day by announcing that News Corp. would shortly begin to charge for access
to its websites and that “the current days of the Internet will soon be over.”
This comes on the heels of Murdoch firing the founders and reorganizing MySpace
and bringing in Jonathan Miller, the former head of AOL, to run News Corp.’s digital businesses.
Rupert, in other words, is mad as hell about the Internet and is going to do something about it.
I’ve pointed out before that Murdoch doesn’t know where the Internet is—doesn’t get email, doesn’t use a computer, can’t get his cell phone to work. He may, literally, never have opened a web page. News Corp. itself, other than its fluke purchase of MySpace—whose value rose and then, as Facebook surged ahead, crashed—is even more culturally uninterested in digital media than other digitally averse traditional media companies. So when Murdoch has to say something on the issue—when that’s what the company thinks Wall Street wants to hear—there’s a chicken-without-head scramble in the company to find someone whose been on the Internet to brief him.
This has often, in the past, been Murdoch’s son, James, or his wife, Wendi. But now it is usually Robert Thomson,
the Wall Street Journal
editor. Thomson, a Melbourne boy for whom Murdoch has an almost fanatical admiration, is Delphic and combative in his pronouncements. His point now, the one that he’s foisted on Murdoch, is that the Wall Street Journal
does everything right, including charging for content on the Internet—and, implicitly, that the Journal
, and Thomson, should lead the way at News Corp.
Pay no attention to the fact that the Journal
could lose as much as $100 million this year, and that it bears significant responsibility for the dramatic collapse
of News Corp.’s share price.
Now Thomson’s real point is, in fact, the opposite of the one Murdoch is making. Thomson is saying that it would be great if News Corp. could charge for its other websites like it’s charging for the Journal
. But it obviously can’t because New Corp.’s other sites—the New York Post,
Fox News, and at the Australian and British papers—are a joke. They’re unmanned, unsupported, and, with technology that’s often a decade old, they don’t work. That is, except for the Journal
, and, also, the Times of London
, a site which Thomson ran before coming to the Journal
and, not incidentally, got Murdoch to make a big investment in.
I.e., only Robert Thomson knows what he’s doing at News Corp.
Murdoch is panicking. He really has no idea what to do about the Wall Street Journal
, now in freefall, and the dwindling fortunes of his hundreds of other newspapers and television stations (which used to be the cash cows of News Corp.). So he’s turned to Thomson, his staunchest ally in his epic quest for Dow Jones (I’ve wondered before if the Journal
wasn’t a flirting tactic on Rupert’s part—“Robert, what would you say if I bought you the Wall Street Journal
?"), and now News Corp.’s curious Svengali.
And Thomson has said, it’s the Internet, boss. There’s gold in those hills.
More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at email@example.com.
Trying to distract from some disastrous quarterly results,