Journalists Seek Murdoch Alternatives
Wednesday, June 6, 2007
The union that represents Wall Street Journal employees is working urgently to undercut Rupert Murdoch's bid for the paper by trying to drum up interest from other potential buyers. So far, the union's most hopeful prospect is a Southern California billionaire who is a two-time loser in bidding for newspaper companies over the past two years.
Steven Yount, president of the Independent Association of Publishers' Employees, said his union has written letters to supermarket magnate and billionaire Ronald W. Burkle, Berkshire Hathaway chief executive Warren E. Buffett and several other rich people, hoping to entice them to bid on the Journal and its parent, Dow Jones.
It's a strategy that could be described as ABBR (Any Billionaire But Rupert).
"I'm looking for really rich people who have a good conscience," Yount said in an interview yesterday. "You look for someone who has one billion, two billion, three billion, four billion and might want to put that into a deal."
The union has written a letter to its targeted group of billionaires. Yount would not say who is on the union's list other than Burkle and Buffett.
Burkle immediately expressed interest and signed up his private-equity firm, Yucaipa, to advise the union on seeking rival suitors to Murdoch, the union said yesterday. A Yucaipa spokesman declined to comment.
Burkle bid on Tribune Co. earlier this year, losing to Chicago billionaire Samuel Zell, and on Knight Ridder last year, losing to McClatchy.
Buffett's office confirmed receipt of a letter from the Dow Jones union yesterday but declined to comment. Buffett has not responded to the letter, said Christopher Mackin, president of Ownership Associates, a Boston firm hired by the union to help find potential buyers for Dow Jones.
Yount is leading the union while on leave from his job as a reporter for the Dow Jones radio network. He said he assembled his wish list of billionaires by asking reporters at the Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones, and by talking to business reporters at other unionized papers.
"I have the remarkable good fortune of working with reporters who work for the best financial paper in the country," Yount said. "You sit around and you say, 'Give me a list of seven or eight guys who meet the criteria,' and you also get their addresses and phone numbers."
Yount would not release the letter, but those who have seen it describe it as a "heartfelt appeal to people who share an interest in an independent Dow Jones."
Murdoch's $5 billion bid is opposed not only by the union, but also by the Bancrofts, Dow Jones's controlling family. Murdoch made his offer in April and asked to meet with the Bancrofts to discuss the deal and get acquainted. The Bancrofts resisted Murdoch's overtures until Monday, when they met with him. Murdoch foes fear that the Bancrofts' meeting signals the beginning of a capitulation, adding urgency to the effort to find a rival bidder.