May 31, 2007

Media Monitors Murdoch’s Move

Keywords No. of Stories
Takeover 3315
NY Post 1559
Fox News 1438
Integrity 938
Buyout 651
Hostile 458
Right-wing 89

News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch made headlines on May 1
with his $5 billion offer to buy Dow Jones & Co., the parent of the Wall
Street Journal, the second-largest daily circulation paper in the United

Murdoch’s global holdings are wide ranging. He owns
everything from the DirecTV satellite service and the social networking website
MySpace to The Times of London and HarperCollins book publishers. Yet, in this
country, he is probably best known for his creation of a fourth TV network,
Fox, his ownership of the No. 1 rated Fox
News Channel and for his stewardship of the money-losing but frothy tabloid, the New York Post.

The Wall Street Journal, winner of 33 Pulitzer Prizes, is
the epitome of establishment journalism, admired for its in-depth journalism,
coverage of America’s
business sector, and the separation of its conservative editorial pages and
independent news operation.

So far, the Bancroft family that controls Dow Jones has
rebuffed Murdoch’s takeover bid. But the game isn’t over yet.

The story, however, has engendered heavy coverage. The
reason may not be simply media fascination with itself. What happens to the
Journal affects all of American business.

The coverage, in essence, has revolved around one major issue.
Would the buyer of the Wall Street Journal be the “good” Murdoch, the astute
businessman who recognizes the value of owning one of the crown jewels of
American journalism? Or would it be the “bad” Murdoch, the intrusive owner who
wants his media properties to reflect his ideology and advance his business priorities?

To try and get some understanding of how Murdoch’s offer to
buy Dow Jones has been covered in the press the last month, PEJ conducted a
keyword search of stories listed in Google and LexisNexis databases from May 1-May
29. PEJ first identified the 7,151 Google stories and 1,231 LexisNexis stories containing
the terms “Rupert Murdoch” and “Dow Jones.” We then searched for a selection of
descriptive terms to try and evaluate the coverage.

The search of keywords doesn’t provide a definitive answer
about whether the overall tone of Murdoch coverage is positive or negative. But
it does offer the impression of the narrative the press has given to the story:
it’s an aggressive attempt by a tabloid
media mogul to gain control of a newspaper known for its independence and
editorial integrity.

The most popular word found in the news stories in both databases
was “takeover,” which appeared in 3,315 Google news stories and 491 LexisNexis
stories. “Takeover” was considerably more prevalent than other more neutral
words like “buyout” (651 Google/ 167 LexisNexis) and “purchase” (543 Google/
143 LexisNexis).

News coverage of the Murdoch bid has also focused heavily on
his two well-known U.S.
outlets with distinctive personalities. The New York Post is a crime and
celebrity-oriented New York City
tab with a conservative world view. The Fox News Channel is the top-rated cable
news network which fans see as an antidote to liberal media bias and critics
see as a rightward-leaning outlet.

The second- and third-most frequently used words in the
Google search were “New York
Post” (1,559 stories) and “Fox News” (1,438 stories). And they were fourth and
second, respectively, in the LexisNexis search. Reinforcing this theme, the more
explicit term “tabloid” also made it on the top 10 list of keywords for both
the Google and LexisNexis searches.

The emphasis on Murdoch’s media holdings seemed to be part
of the larger question about whether his track record would mesh with the
Journal’s reputation and tradition.

The words “independent” (957 stories) and “integrity” (938
stories) appeared as the fourth and fifth most frequently used keywords in the
Google search. These words were generally employed to refer to the Journal’s
high standards of “editorial independence” (299 stories), “journalistic
integrity” (255 stories) and “editorial integrity” (123 stories).

But if the coverage raised concerns about Murdoch’s
influence over the Journal, some of the terms that might have been used to
frame his bid more ominously were largely absent. “Conservative” was used in
236 Google stories. “Right-wing” appeared in even fewer stories – only 89 Google
stories, or just about 1%. Words like “meddle/meddling,” “interference” and “threat” were
also scant, accounting for no more than 3% of the overall news coverage.

The one clearly unflattering word that did make it into the
top 10 Google keywords, however, was “hostile.” That was generally used to
describe the aggressiveness of the Murdoch’s effort to gain control of the

Niki Woodard of PEJ