Murdoch meets with Bancroft family

Media mogul calls talks 'constructive'

NEW YORK — Rupert Murdoch intensified his courting of the Bancroft family Monday even as opposition forces reached out to several billionaires to try to coax them into making a rival offer for Dow Jones.

Murdoch and his son James spent several hours at the Gotham offices of the Bancrofts’ lawyers, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, on Monday afternoon convening with family members. Murdoch reportedly described how he’d protect the legacy of Dow Jones and its flagship Wall Street Journal.

He later told reporters huddled outside the meeting that the talks were “constructive,” suggesting to some that he was making inroads in winning over the family.

The Bancroft family, via its reps at Kekst & Co., did not return a call seeking comment. The family controls about 64% of the voting shares in Dow Jones and has not mustered a majority in favor of a sale in the past.

Older members of the family are generally thought to be opposed to a sale while younger members support it, though how many of those opposed are taking that position on fundamental — as opposed to financial — grounds is the big question.

No future meeting was officially set, but talks will likely continue.

Family and Dow Jones board members Leslie Hill, Elizabeth Steele and Chris Bancroft, the last of whom is seen as the biggest opponent to a sale, all reportedly attended the meeting.

Parties were not the only ones mobilizing Monday, however. The Independent Assn. of Publishers’ Employees, which reps more than 2,000 Dow Jones employees, said it has hired consulting firm Ownership Associates to seek other buyers.

In an interview, the head of IAPE 1096, Steve Yount, said he had reached out to about a half-dozen “billionaires with integrity, the very limited cast of characters who would be appropriate” — a list that potentially includes Ron Burkle and David Geffen, both of whom failed in their bids to buy the L.A. Times.

While none have yet jumped into the game, Yount said he was heartened by their response that they would consider making a bid.

Murdoch will continue trying to show his newspaper roots, on the one hand, and to demonstrate an unwillingness to meddle in the editorial operations, on the other, as he makes his case to the Bancroft family.

Some have even raised the possibility of creating an independent editorial board that the family would control and which would have veto power over News Corp.’s decisions.

Murdoch has expressed skepticism for that idea and, in any event, Yount said, that would be an unlikely solution.

“It’s like dating. There are a lot of things you say when you’re wooing a woman that you’re not held to.”

Wall Street, which generally has been cheering the bid, was sufficiently skeptical of Murdoch’s power to persuade the Bancrofts that it sent the stock down about 2% Monday.

Price now sits just at $60 per share, about the amount Murdoch has offered. That could prompt some family members to try to get Murdoch to raise his offer, a move he is said to be reluctant to make.

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