Some of his properties may be awful, for example, the Sun and Fox, but they are wildly successful.
Nobody has a sharper nose for what's likely to sell, whether in politics or media. Newsweek reports he has a hand in the redesigned Wall Street Journal coming out tomorrow. Wouldn't I love to see it! According to one of his biographies, he has an eye for newspaper design, having once worked as a newspaper subeditor for his father.
Newsweek reports when the New York Times broke the Eliot Spitzer scandal,
Murdoch was stuck on his crippled jet in a hangar at a private airport in Palm Beach, Fla. With his wife, Wendi, looking on, Murdoch frantically worked the phones, bombarding New York Post editor Col Allan and Fox News chief Roger Ailes. "I couldn't believe it," Murdoch said later of Spitzer's scandalous predicament. "Naturally, I was on the phone: 'What do you know, and how are you going to treat the story?' " Murdoch was so caught up in the moment that he even sketched a mock layout of how the story might appear in The Wall Street Journal. Murdoch didn't phone editors at the Journal, however. "He doesn't treat the Journal the same as he does a tabloid," says a spokesman.
The Newsweek story on Murdoch is a must-read. It's remarkable that at the age of 77 Murdoch still has such a consuming interest in every little detail of his business. Newsweek reports he even monitors the time it takes to truck his papers from printing plant to distribution centres.
One gets the feeling the media is not just a business for Murdoch; he is a newsman at heart. A newsman with an eye on the bottom line. The lengths he has gone to build his media empire: becoming an American citizen to get into the television business, dumping his second wife for a Chinese third wife as he expanded into Asia.
He can also be fickle in business, buying up properties and then dumping them, which is what he did to the Chicago Sun-Times.
But he values quality: The Times, the Wall Street Journal.
I do hope the New York Times comes out a winner in the battle with the Journal.
It's sad the New York Times has already posted a first quarter loss of $335,000 — piffling by any measure, but still a loss, and this even before the battle has really begun.
No newspaper compares with the New York Times. The kind of public service it does — publishing even full videocasts with complete transcripts of the Clinton-Obama debates — is unprecedented.