What you don’t know about Rupert Murdoch

The latest issue of New York magazine carries a full-length feature article about News Corporation patriarch Rupert Murdoch, a week before his 79th birthday.

The article focuses on the Murdoch clan’s family infighting for control and succession, but it’s also full of yummy data points for media watchers: Where News Corp’s income comes from, which newspapers he’s spending money to destroy, where has he raked in another $2 billion in the last few weeks, and how much The Wall Street Journal spends on coffee.

  • Murdoch will turn 79 years old this month. Yet he shows no signs of letting up in his quest to dominate world media.
  • On an earnings call in February, Murdoch crowed, “Content is not just king, it’s the emperor of all things electronic.”
  • Fox News, which reported $700 million in profit last year, is carrying many money-losing newspapers News Corp has bought. The New York Post is said to be losing $70 million a year.
  • Murdoch supposedly hates The New York Times on a personal level. As a working-class bootstrapper, he is said to consider the Times’ staff elitist and arrogant.
  • Murdoch buys newspapers, New York says, not as profit-and-loss machines but as personal vendettas against what he considers elitist, arrogant journalism. That, the article says, is why he is willing to lose hundreds of millions on The New York Post, and why he spent $5 billion to buy Dow Jones, publisher of The Wall Street Journal, in hopes of using the Journal to clobber The New York Times.
  • Murdoch gave a famous speech to newly-acquired WSJ reporters in 2007 while standing on a stack of printer paper. “The message was clear,” one reporter in the room told New York. “It was: ‘You’re a bunch of lazy, self-important, past-their-prime journalists.’ ”
  • Dow Jones, which publishes The Wall Street Journal, only brings in 3 percent of News Corp’s revenue.
  • News Corp wrote down $3 billion in newspaper values last year, suggesting it had paid 50 percent too much for the WSJ.
  • The Wall Street Journal’s annual office coffee budget is around $100,000. Murdoch didn’t cut that. But he did cut longer stories he believed were going unread. And he pushed reporters into covering more general-news topics, not just business deals. So of course they hate him.
  • New York’s summary of Murdoch’s view of journalists: “He thinks most of them are liberals overly concerned with writing stories that will impress other liberal journalists and win prizes in journalism competitions.”
  • The 3D movie Avatar has pulled in $2 billion and is still going strong in theaters. Most moviegoers probably don’t connect the dots that Murdoch also owns 20th Century Fox, the studio that took the risk and is now reaping the profits on the most expensive movie ever made.
  • Murdoch’s threats to pull his content from Google’s index, and ongoing management changes at News Corp-owned MySpace, suggest he may, for once, be out of his element on the Internet. “Digital is out of his comfort zone,” a former senior MySpace executive told New York. “It’s much more the Wild West. He gets the raw-competition part of it, but he’s never been in a place where the business model isn’t clear. The destruction is just happening so fast.”

Murdoch’s family is portrayed as bizarrely dysfunctional. I’d write it off as a magazine editor’s spin, if it weren’t for this fact-checkable item: Murdoch’s 47-year-old son-in-law Matthew Freud is the great-grandson of psychoanalyst Sigmund and head of a public relations firm whose client list includes Pepsi, Nike, Product (RED) and the London 2012 Olympics.

Matthew is an international PR pro, so it was no Freudian slip when he slapped his wife’s father in public by giving this quote to the enemy New York Times: “I am by no means alone within the family or the company in being ashamed and sickened by [Fox News chairman] Roger Ailes’s horrendous and sustained disregard of the journalistic standards that News Corporation, its founder and every other global media business aspires to.”

[Photo: Mark Lennihan/AP]