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Newspaper Industry Faces Turmoil


The fate of the iconic American media enterprise, Dow Jones and Company, remains unsettled six weeks after Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation launched its hostile take over bid. VOA's Barry Wood has more on how a fast-changing, increasingly fragmented media market has produced turmoil on Wall Street and in America's newsrooms.

Newspaper readership and advertising revenue are down. Readers are increasingly getting their information from the Internet and advertisers are following them to the worldwide web. Phil Meyer, a journalism professor at the University of North Carolina, says the second and third generation families that still own some of America's best known papers have turned skeptical about the future of their industry.

"As other media come along to compete, that income isn't as great as it used to be and it is spread more thinly," said Phil Meyer. "So the pressure to sell is pretty great."

Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch has offered the Bancroft family that controls Dow Jones a significant premium to sell out. A sale would give Murdoch's News Corporation ownership of the Wall Street Journal, the influential business daily that has been published since 1889. Some Journal reporters and editors-fearful of job losses and an editorial tilt to the political right-are soliciting counter offers. The General Electric conglomerate that owns NBC has reportedly considered a joint bid with Pearson, the owner of London's Financial Times. Even Yahoo, the popular but struggling Internet portal, is mentioned as a possible bidder. Standard and Poor's analyst Scott Kessler dismisses that possibility, saying Yahoo's new chief executive is more interested in technology than content.

"I think it is unlikely that Yahoo would be a player in those kinds of talks, primarily because one of the failures of the company over the past couple years has been their inability to kind of craft a strategy around creating content," said Scott Kessler.

Kessler spoke on Bloomberg Television.

In his book, The Vanishing Newspaper, author Phil Meyer blames newspaper companies for often pursuing self-defeating survival strategies.

"They think they're in the newspaper business but they're really in the content business," he said. "And it just pains me to see them cutting the quality of the content by laying off editorial staff. It's as though they've given up and simply want to harvest their market position to get as much money out of the business before it collapses."

Meyer is convinced that whether in print or on the Internet content is the critical factor determining success. He believes the best strategy for newspaper publishers is to slowly shift high-quality content to the web. Ironically it is Dow Jones, with a reputation for outstanding quality and a leader in shifting content to the Internet, finds itself under siege and facing an uncertain future.

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