Saturday, November 11, 2006

Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation - a few dates and linking comments to themes

The history of Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation is both interesting and complex.

Interesting in an Australian context because of his role in the Australian media as well as the rivalry between Australia's great metro media families, the Murdochs, the Packers and the Fairfaxes. Interesting in a global context because of his changing impact on the global media and communications industry. Interesting in a business context because of the sheer complexity of his business dealings.

While interesting, that history is beyond the scope of this blog. However, because will be referring to Mr Murdoch and News in later posts I wanted to put down a few dates for reference purposes. The dates that follow are largely drawn from the Columbia Journalism Review. I have added in a few personal comments as an aide memoire.

Australian Phase

1931 (March 11) - Rupert Keith Murdoch is born in Australia. Father, Keith Murdoch, is an established newspaper man in the country
1952 - Murdoch inherits Adelaide News, an Australian mid-size daily, and the Adelaide Sunday Mail
1960 - Murdoch's Australian newspaper holdings increase with the acquisition of Cumberland Newspapers (community and local papers), and Mirror Newspapers Ltd., publishers of Sydney's Daily and Sunday Mirror
1961 - News Limited acquires Festival Records, a major Australian record label
1964 - Murdoch launches The Australian as the first national newspaper.


The Australian was a remarkably brave venture, with simultaneous printing in different locations across the country. The founding editor was Maxwell Newton. A stormy petrel, Newton was one of the fascinating figures of Australian journalism and economic life who deserves a later post in his own right.

This was a completely new type of paper because of its national focus. I rarely read the Sydney papers. The Packer Telegraph was just too right wing for my taste and was full of Sydney news of little interest to me, while the Sydney Morning Herald was just that, Sydney's Herald, a paper that had a long record of negative reporting about things that I supported.

In that now dim and distant world I read the Northern Daily Leader and Armidale Express for my local and regional news, listened to ABC radio for my daily national and international news, read the Economist (Dad had had a subscription to the airmail edition for many years) for its international news and was also addicted to Fortune for its international business stories.

Now with The Australian I had a paper with a national focus that gave me much more information on what was happening in the rest of the country. I started buying it on a daily basis and continued to do so for many years.

Going Global

1969 - Murdoch takes over News of the World and launches London Sun
1972 - Murdoch purchases Sydney Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph
1973 - Murdoch purchases his first newspaper in the U.S. - San Antonio Express and News
1974 - Enters the supermarket tabloid business by launching The National Star
1977 - Murdoch buys New York Post for $30 million from liberal socialite Dorothy Schiff. He continues his New York buying spree by purchasing New York magazine, Village Voice and New West from Clay Felker
1979 - Diversifies by acquiring Ansett Transport Industries which owns Melbourne TV station, Channel 10. Australia modifies media ownership laws to allow the deal. Critics call the move "The Murdoch Amendments"


In 1969 I was working in the Exchange Control Section of the Treasury. The application to buy News of the World crossed my desk because it required exchange control approval. I want to refer to this in passing as part of the story of Treasury enforced controls that prevented the early international expansion of Australian business.

During the late sixties or seventies, I have not been able to find the date, News also purchased the Northern Daily Leader, later sold to Rural Press. This was part of a change process that was to see every one of the previously locally controlled media (newspapers, radio, TV) across New England pass into the ownership of one or other of the externally controlled media groups.

Just to put this in perspective, this change is equivalent in a broader Australian context to the acquisition of every newspaper, radio and TV station by a small number of foreign investors.

The rise and fall of the New England's independent media is a sad story (one repeated elsewhere in Regional Australia) that I will be writing on in the New England, Australia blog, again from a personal perspective. The effects on New England life have been quite profound and not for the better.

We cannot turn the clock back however much I would like. However, the New England experience helps explain the recent responses of people like Senator Barnaby Joyce and Paul Neville MP to the Commowealth Government's proposed changes to the Australian media laws. The compromise they forced was probably the best that could be obtained in the circumstances.

Internationalisation: 1980s and 1990s

1980 - News Corp. forms
1981 - Takes over Times and Sunday Times in London
1982 - Buys the Boston Herald-American and changes the name to Boston Herald. News Corp. also buys Australian book publisher Angus & Robertson
1983 - Sky, the first satellite TV channel launches. News Corp. buys Chicago Sun Times for $90 million
1984 - Murdoch and News Corp. make take over bid of Warner Brothers but are thwarted
1985 - Murdoch becomes United States citizen in order to purchase more American media outlets. Sells Village Voice. News Corp. buys TCF Holdings Inc., parent company of Twentieth Century Fox Film. In a related deal, News Corp. purchases seven television stations from Metromedia for $1.55 billion (WNEW-TV, New York; KTTV-TV, Los Angeles; WFLD-TV, Chicago; WTTG-TV, Washington, DC; KNBN-TV, Dallas; KRIV-TV, Houston, WFXT-TV in Boston. These stations reach 22% of all television households in the United States. These two deals help to form backbone of a new broadcast television network
1986 - Fox Broadcasting Company is established. News Corp. moves its UK newspaper printing operations to new plant in Wapping. A protracted labor strike ensues. Murdoch sells Chicago Sun-Times
1987 - Takes control Melbourne Herald and Weekly Times, Australia's largest media group managed in the past by his father. News Corp. becomes world's largest newspaper publisher. News Corp. also purchases the South China Morning Post, UK newspaper Today and United States book publisher Harper and Row. Murdoch now controlled approximately sixty percent of Australian newspapers and thirty-five percent of UK newspapers
1988 - Purchases Triangle Publications (main holding TV Guide) from Walter Annenberg for $3 billion. Sells off New York Post
1989 - Harper Collins is formed after newly acquired William Collins Publishing is merged with Harper and Row. The Simpsons becomes Fox Network's first hit program. Satellite television provider Sky TV is launched.
1990 - - BSkyB is formed after Sky merges with British Satellite Broadcasting. Accumulation of large debts leads News Corp. down the road to bankruptcy. Citibank, the company's prime lender, takes active role in saving News Corp.
1991 - News Corp. undergoes massive sell off to help lower corporate debt. The properties sold off include: New York, Seventeen, Soap Opera Digest, Soap Opera Weekly, Premiere, and Daily Racing Form
1992 - Buys broadcasting rights for the Premier League, an Australian rugby league, for $300 million
1993 - Gains controlling interest in Asian satellite television service, Star TV. Acquires the right to broadcast NFL games. The move shakes up American sports television as it leaves the NBC network without football coverage. Obtaining the NFL broadcasting rights costs over $1 billion but seen as a necessary investment to help promote fledging Fox Network. News Corp. reacquires New York Post
1996 - HarperCollins sells its education unit to Pearson
1997 - Acquires Los Angeles Dodgers and Dodgers stadium from the O'Malley family for $311 million
1998 - Orders HarperCollins to squash the memoirs of Chris Patten, Hong Kong's last governor and vocal critic of the Communist China government
1999 - Acquires William Morrow and Avon Books in a deal with Hearst
2001 - Sells stake in Fox Family Network to Disney. Duopolies established in Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Washington D.C., and Houston
2002 - Duopolies established in Chicago and Orlando
2003 - Puts LA Dodgers up for sale. Spends $6.6 billion for stake in Hughes Electronic, the parent company of DirecTV
2004 - Los Angeles Dodgers sold to real estate developer Frank McCourt for $430 million


I had forgotten that News had acquired Angus & Robertson. Founded in 1884 by David Mackenzie Angus, A&R was Australia's oldest and largest independent publisher. The firm began as second hand booksellers, with publishing beginning on a small scale in 1888. George Robinson came in as a partner in 1886 when Angus got into financial difficulty.

Angus retired from the firm in ill health (he had TB) in 1899 and next year sold his share in the business to Robertson's new partners, Richard Thomson and Frederick Wymark, then returned to Scotland.

Full scale publishing began in 1895 with the publication of Banjo Patterson's The Man from Snowy River. This now iconic Australian poem was a huge success and was followed in 1896 by another success, Henry Lawson's In the days when the world was wide and other verses. A book of prose, While the billy boils followed in August. Lawson would continue publishing with A & R until his death in 1922.

The success of these books established, in the words of George Ferguson, the important fact that "Australian subjects and background ... had power to attract many readers. It is from this time publishing on a large scale became an integral and important part of the firm's business; and new opportunities were constantly opened up for Australian authors".

In 1907 A&R became a public company. From then until the 1950s the firm grew reasonably steadily, maintaining its position as Australia's best known local publisher.

In 1970 Gordon Barton (and here) gained control of the company. Barton is another of those fascinating characters that deserves a full post. Starting with a small transport company, Barton built a major business empire from which he branched into into the establishment of his own political party, the Australia Party, the precursors of the Australian Democrats.

Oddly, or perhaps not oddly given how small Australia was, the precursor to Barton's IPEC transport empire was, I think called Ivery and Barton. My aunt's husband (Jim Somerville) was a partner, Gordon Barton was best man at his wedding, and Jim used to tell me stories about those early days when they were searching for loads for the truck. Jim and Gordon were to fall out, and Jim withdrew from the business.

Back to the main theme, following the assumption of full control by Gordon Barton, Richard Walsh became Managing Director in 1972, a position he was to hold until 1986. Richard Walsh is another holding a significant place in Australia's cultural history dating back to the foundation of Oz magazine in the sixties by he, Richard Neville and Martin Sharp. Again there is a personal link in that even from the distance of Armidale I used to buy and read Oz.

Here we come to a date confusion. The Columbia time line has the date of acquisition by News of the publishing arm of Angus & Robertson as 1983. Another source has it as 1989. I think that the second is probably correct. In any event, A&R vanished as a publisher after the acquisition.

The other thing of interest in the dates and activities in the 80s and 90s is the link to change in the international electronics, aerospace and information industries. I won't comment on this now except to note that I will be talking about this later.


Anonymous said...

As mere mortals, we can only ponder on what drives Rupert Murdoch to want to control the world.
I have a nightmare vision of Rupert Murdoch,Bill Gates and Warren Buffet forming a triumvirate to rule the world.
Then again, maybe the world would be a better place.You could not corrupt these guys. War wouldn't be in their best interest. They don't preach any religion. They aren't influenced by lobby groups. It wouldn't matter what sort of sexual preferences they have.
They wouldn't be buying votes with policies. What do you think?

Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks for this comment, Lexcen. It caused me to follow up the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation - This now has a funds base of $US31.7 billion including the first advance from Warren Buffet.

Few Australians now realise that the foundation set up by the Scottish born US Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie had a huge influence round the world in setting up thousands of public libraries. Carnegie believed passionately that self education for the ordinary person was critical and that we needed public libaries to do this. Carnegie Foundation contributions in the thirties played an important role in creating the Australian public library system.

My feeling is that the Gates/Buffet combination will play a similar role over the next few years. The advantage they have as compared to Governments is that they can focus on key needs - in Gates case getting rid of malaria - in ways that Governments can not.

So I would let them go on as they are and encourage Rupert to join them!

Anonymous said...

Often we forget the little guy, the SMB, in our discussions of the comings and goings of the Internet marketing industry. Sure there are times like this when a report surfaces talking about their issues and concerns but, for the most part, we like to talk about big brands and how they do the Internet marketing thing well or not so well.