Rupert Murdoch shook up several top management roles at his media empire Friday, naming a new CEO of Dow Jones & Co. and elevating his son James to a senior position within News Corp. that clearly puts him in line to succeed his father.
Les Hinton, a longtime publishing executive at News Corp. who currently oversees Murdoch’s newspapers in the United Kingdom, will become CEO of Dow Jones, which publishes The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones Newswires and Barron’s. The appointment will take effect next week, following a vote of Dow Jones shareholders on Dec. 13.
Robert Thomson, editor of The Times, one of Murdoch’s U.K. papers, was named publisher of the Journal, reporting to Hinton. Gordon Crovitz will depart as publisher and write a column for the Journal, while Dow Jones’ general counsel Joseph Stern will also leave following a transition period.
Hinton will replace Richard Zannino, who announced on Thursday that he would step aside. Zannino was the first non-journalist to lead the venerable publishing company in recent memory, and had served in that role since early 2006.
News Corp. declined to make Hinton or other executives available for interviews.
Murdoch’s son James, meanwhile, was appointed to a new role overseeing News Corp.’s media businesses in Europe and Asia, which include the U.K. newspaper group and two satellite TV operators, Sky Italia and the Hong Kong-based Star Group.
The move clearly puts the 34-year-old James in line to succeed his father, clearing up lingering questions about who would be next in line to lead News Corp. after Rupert Murdoch, who is 76. Murdoch has said he wants to keep control of the company within his family.
James Murdoch had been head of the U.K. satellite TV broadcaster British Sky Broadcasting Group PLC but will relinquish that role. He will also rejoin the board of News Corp., which owns about 38 percent of BSkyB.
Murdoch was originally rebuffed in his bid for Dow Jones by the Bancroft family, which had controlled the storied newspaper publisher for more than a century. A union representing Journal employees also opposed him, as did former board member and shareholder Jim Ottaway Jr., citing concerns about preserving the Journal’s editorial independence and quality.
But after several months of campaigning this summer, Murdoch was able to win over enough of the fractious Bancroft family to ensure the success of his bid, which values Dow Jones at more than $5 billion. News Corp. also agreed to set up an oversight board tasked with ensuring the Journal’s editorial independence.
The $60 per-share price that Murdoch offered represented a huge premium of 65 percent over the price that Dow Jones shares were trading at just prior the offer becoming public. No other bidders came forward at that price.
Murdoch has said the Journal has huge potential for growth thanks to the booming demand for business news and information around the globe. He has also said he wants to compete more aggressively with The New York Times for national readers and advertisers, while beefing up the Journal’s Washington reporting, overseas and online operations.
Murdoch has frequently mentioned the possibility of making the Journal’s Web site free or partially free in an effort to capture more online advertising. The Journal has been the only newspaper to succeed in building a large base of paying customers, which currently stands at about 1 million.
Murdoch has said he believes any losses in subscription revenues would be more than outweighed by gains in advertising. The New York Times recently abandoned an effort to charge subscription fees for some premium material on its Web site, citing the same reason.
Even before officially taking the reins of Dow Jones, Murdoch has made his presence felt in other ways as well. In late November the company said it would look for a buyer for its remaining six community newspapers, and also said it would expand the distribution of a new glossy magazine called Pursuits globally, instead of just in the United States as originally planned.