OFF THE GRID

Is a Tweet News? And Is Murdoch Selling His Papers?

Jan 25, 10 | 7:06 AM   byMichael Wolff
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On Saturday I heard through an entirely credible source in the London financial community that there was a rumor—“a strong rumor”—that Rupert Murdoch might be selling two of his newspapers in London, the Times and the Sunday Times.

Without much hesitation (actually none at all) I tweeted the rumor.

I knew that there were a variety of circumstances that could make this plausible. For one, there’s great disquiet within News Corp. about the Murdoch-imposed plan to erect paywalls around the papers—even on the part of Murdoch’s relatives. For another, while the Times has always been a money loser, those losses have been made up (and then some) by the highly profitable Sunday Times—which went seriously into the red this past year. In addition, Murdoch’s son, James, who runs the London operation, has made no secret of the fact that newspapers are not his interest—he’s a television guy. Plus there is an obvious buyer on the scene: Russian mogul Alexander Lebedev, who recently bought London’s Evening Standard, is actively shopping for other papers. And, not least of all, News Corp.’s worldwide business position is as weak as it’s been since it almost went bankrupt in the early ‘90s—retrenchment would be a logical step.

And yet, I knew, too, that Murdoch is almost incapable of selling a paper, and that he has flatly shunned every offer he’s gotten in the 30 years he’s owned the Times and Sunday Times.

So here was a bit of perhaps no-more-than-fanciful scuttlebutt that I let fly—that, courtesy of Twitter, and a cacophony of re-tweets, I essentially published.

A very short while ago, this would have been unpublishable. When Rebeckha Brooks, the president of News International—who I emailed for a comment—did not respond, that would have been the end of it. (Colleagues of mine at the Independent newspaper in London managed to get a News Corp. spokesperson to say the company doesn’t comment on speculation.) Mind you, it would have been shared many, many times over by the many people whose lives and livelihoods are enhanced by such rumors. Indeed, it is exactly the kind of rumor that, were it about someone other than himself, Rupert Murdoch would have enjoyed and spread.

We’d have known—but you wouldn’t.

And perhaps that would be for the better. Nothing might come of the rumor and you would not have been disturbed. On the other hand, such rumors, in my experience, at least as often as not, turn out to be portents of what is to come—not unlike all the signs of the great collapse, anticipated by so many rumors which, 18 months ago, almost none of us would have had the wherewithal to tweet and publish.

Anyway, everything I know about Murdoch, and his fading powers, and News Corp., and its hard-pressed businesses, leads me to believe that this is a company facing hard decisions, great turmoil, and a certain transformation. Now, by way of Twitter, that most extraordinary new news medium—just one more reason why it makes sense for even Murdoch to be selling his papers down—you too can read the tea leaves. We’ll know together.

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 michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.
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