Supermarket billionaire Ron Burkle and Web entrepreneur Brad Greenspan, who had separately proposed ways that Wall Street Journal publisher Dow Jones & Co. could avoid a takeover by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., might cobble together an alternative bid for Dow Jones.
A committee of Dow Jones directors, including a representative for the Bancroft family that controls the company, met Tuesday in New York with Burkle and Greenspan to discuss potential deals. But whether any offer ultimately emerges remains to be seen.
One source familiar with the situation told The Associated Press that the discussions were in an early, exploratory phase, part of ongoing efforts by Dow Jones directors to exhaust their search for rivals to Murdoch’s offer of $5 billion, or $60 per share.
A spokesman for Burkle’s investment firm, the Yucaipa Cos., did not return messages seeking comment. Greenspan and a lawyer for the Bancroft family also did not return messages.
Murdoch made sure his offer for Dow Jones would be hard to beat. It represented a 65 percent premium when the bid became public.
That is why Dow Jones — which owns the Journal, Dow Jones Newswires, Barron’s and SmartMoney magazines, the Ottaway community newspapers and MarketWatch.com — is likely close to a deal with News Corp. after initially rebuffing the offer. In recent weeks, Dow Jones has negotiated with News Corp. to enact provisions for preserving the Journal’s independent journalistic standards.
Even so, the Bancrofts have remained open to alternative bidders — although no serious offers have emerged — because of misgivings about how Murdoch has run his international media empire.
Burkle’s name surfaced last month when a union representing Dow Jones employees began working with him to drum up investors other than Murdoch. Burkle has made other, unsuccessful attempts to buy newspaper publishers, including Knight Ridder Inc. and Tribune Co.
The Journal has reported that Burkle was trying to craft a new structure for Dow Jones that would include an employee stock-ownership plan.
Greenspan, the former CEO of Intermix Media Inc. — which was an early investor in the social-networking site MySpace, now owned by News Corp. — said last month he would buy about 25 percent of Dow Jones stock at $60 a share, the same price Murdoch has offered. This week, however, the Journal reported that Greenspan now was proposing a purchase of half the company, with the help of satellite TV carrier EchoStar Communications Corp. and Intel Corp.
Greenspan has a separate beef with Murdoch: He has sued MySpace, saying the company violated antitrust laws by blocking links to his new online video-sharing venture.
Two years ago, Greenspan agreed to pay $750,000 to settle an investigation by then-New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who accused Intermix of secretly installing adware and spyware on millions of home computers. Greenspan did not admit to any wrongdoing in the settlement, and blamed the adware binge on executives who succeeded him after he left Intermix in 2003.
Steve Yount, president of the Dow Jones union that reached out to Burkle, said he doubted any alternative proposals would be similar to Murdoch’s $5 billion offer. More likely, Yount said, would be that other investors proposed a way for the Bancrofts to sell some of their stake but not all of it.
“I don’t think anyone is going to be able to match Rupert Murdoch in a total bid,” Yount said.