By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 29, 2007
An editorial board overseeing the Wall Street Journal under a Rupert Murdoch ownership would have five members jointly chosen by Murdoch's News Corp. and the Journal's parent company, Dow Jones.
The structure of the board, meant to prevent Murdoch from meddling in the Journal's newsroom and maintain its editorial independence, was finalized yesterday, according to sources close to the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because talks are ongoing.
The board would have the power to approve the hiring and firing of the Journal's managing editor and editorial page editor, according to the sources, but not the editor of Dow Jones Newswires, a position included in an earlier proposal.
The board also would have the power to approve changes to "conditions of employment or changes to authority of key senior editors," including the hiring and firing of subordinates, managing the newsroom budget and determining news coverage. Presumably, such an arrangement would allow the Journal's managing editor and editorial page editor to appeal to the editorial board if they felt that Murdoch was telling them how to spend money or which stories to cover or not cover.
The decisions of the board would be binding.
The makeup and duties of an independent editorial board to oversee the future of the Journal were the major sticking points in talks between Dow Jones and Murdoch, who has offered to buy the company for $5 billion. Some members of the Bancroft family, which controls Dow Jones, feared that without such a buffer, Murdoch would use the Journal to further his political and business interests.
Now that the structure of the board is in place, the 35-member, three-generation Bancroft family is being polled on whether they support a sale to Murdoch. The Bancrofts hold 64 percent of voting control of Dow Jones. A vote has not been scheduled, but Murdoch told Reuters in Poland on Wednesday that he expects a response in two to three weeks, or "not at all."
The Journal's editorial board members would be appointed before the close of any deal with Murdoch, and the committee would be self-perpetuating -- the committee itself would choose replacements when members leave or die. The board's members would be a mix of "journalistic elders" and "distinguished independent leaders," two sources said.
Also yesterday, some Journal employees showed up late for work to protest the possible sale of the paper to Murdoch, according to a statement from the Independent Association of Publishers' Employees, the reporters' union. In a statement, they said they would be back at their desks in the afternoon. The newspaper said it expected today's Journal to be published without interruption.