Shareholders of Dow Jones voted Thursday to approve News Corp.’s takeover, ending more than a century of independent control of the Wall Street Journal and ceding it to Rupert Murdoch.
At a meeting in a Manhattan hotel near the headquarters of Dow Jones, holders of 60.27% of Dow Jones stock approved the deal. The OK, which had been expected based on an advanced survey of proxy votes, paved the way for the $5.6 billion transaction to officially close later Thursday.
Key members of the Bancroft family, which had long controlled Dow Jones, were persuaded last summer by Murdoch to back the deal, following a long and public courtship. Family members, which hold most of the “supervoting shares,” were more tepid in their support Thursday, as evidenced by the fact that 54% of outstanding supervoting shares voted in favor. About 78% of outstanding common shares voted in favor.
While partisan rhetoric had been reverberating for months, little aside from a tinge of sadness was registered at the brisk, half-hour vote.
Founded in 1882, Dow Jones has been steered for 105 years by the Bancroft family, a large and disparate group with a controlling interest but hardly a shared view of the future of the company. Many feared Murdoch, a newspaperman known for his hands-on involvement with properties from the Times of London to the New York Post, would meddle with the Journal’s storied newsgathering in sharp contrast with the laissez-faire Bancroft approach.
Proponents hailed Murdoch’s deep pockets and aggressive bet — a 65% premium for shareholders of record as of the deal’s initial revelation on May 1 — on an industry facing historic challenges.
Later Thursday, as a fierce winter storm dropped hail, sleet and snow on the city and reporters feared their trip home, let alone the future of the Journal, Murdoch, new chief exec Les Hinton and new Journal publisher Robert Thomson addressed several hundred Journal reporters in the paper’s main newsroom. Murdoch, holding a microphone and standing atop boxes of copier paper, struck an optimistic note.
“I know that change is often difficult or creates nervousness,” Murdoch said, according to a transcript of his remarks provided by News Corp. “If it’s particularly nervousness then certainly let us know. We’re very accessible people.”
“Our aim is pretty simple,” Murdoch said. “We have to entertain, inform, enrich all our readers in their lives and in their businesses. We must be the preeminent source of financial information and comment in the world.”
Added Thompson, “While it’s right to be respectful of the past, these days, it is certainly fatal to be haunted by history. He who stands still, will be overrun. And yet the global demand for journalism of integrity, quality, of perspicacity and of immediacy has never been greater.”
One idea floated internally, according to a New York Times story this week, would have the words “Wall Street” removed from the paper’s name. An insider reached Thursday said that move was being accepted as likely by many staffers, given the mandate for growth and Murdoch’s insistence on more aggressive coverage of non-finance stories out of Washington and overseas.
In an interview with Neil Cavuto on Fox News, Murdoch addressed the matter of the Journal’s website, which is currently a premium site but may soon become free and ad-supported. It generates roughly $35 million a year in revenue, once the cost of obtaining subscribers is subtracted. “We think, when it goes from 1 million subscribers to 20 million people watching it around the world, that there will be more than enough advertising to make up the difference,” Murdoch said.
Wall Street seemed to shrug at the shareholder vote, sending News Corp shares down 21¢, a little less than 1%, to $21.44.