WSJ Top Editor: Future Fox Business Deal “Not Necessarily” A Sure Thing

The Wall Street Journal has not decided if it will form a partnership with Fox Business similar to the newspaper's current arrangement with CNBC when that deal ends next year, the Journal's top editor tells Media Matters.

“We haven't decided anything on it,” Journal managing editor Robert Thomson said during a brief interview last week. Asked directly if a deal similar to the CNBC arrangement would be of interest to the Journal, he said, “not necessarily.”

Since News Corp. purchased Dow Jones in late 2007, speculation has arisen among its employees that the Journal would align itself with Fox Business once the Journal's current agreement for many of its reporters and content to appear first on CNBC ends in December 2012.

A Journal spokesperson declined this week to reveal details of the CNBC arrangement, first forged in 1998, other than to say it ends in December 2012. She stated in an email:

We don't publicly discuss the nature of agreements.

But a source familiar with the agreement who requested anonymity said it includes a content-sharing arrangement in which CNBC receives advanced access to certain financial-related original reporting and data from all Dow Jones business outlets so that CNBC can report it simultaneously.

CNBC also pays a fee to Dow Jones for the content based on ad revenue, according to the source, who said it has averaged some $15 million annually in recent years.

In addition, CNBC has the right of first refusal to have Journal reporters appear on its network to discuss business news before appearing on other networks, including on Fox Business.

When asked if the Journal would forge a similar deal with Fox Business once the CNBC arrangement ends, Thomson said:

“Not necessarily. Because, in part, you look at what's happening with WSJ Live and the amount of video we are doing ourselves. The possible permutations are far more than that presumption allows."

Asked if there could be an outcome where the Journal is not aligned with Fox Business as it has been with CNBC, Thomson again left the door open.

“Quite honestly, we just have to examine what the options are at the time. Before then, we have contractual obligations to CNBC which we will honor.”

He later added: “In the end, there are all sorts of ways of looking at it. If you look at Fox Business news and what they've done and how they're building it up, it's an increasingly successful operation. So you have that on one hand.

” On the other hand, clearly, you can see from what we're doing on, WSJ Live, the app, we're doing, depending on the day, three to four hours of video ourselves now. That's another option."

In a related development, Reuters reports that Fox Business executive vice-president Kevin Magee urged staffers in an email not to copy certain political elements of Fox News.

The memo reportedly stated, in part:

I've been asked to remind you all again that they are separate channels and the more we make FBN look like FNC the more of a disservice we do to ourselves.

Meanwhile, the president of the union that represents Journal newsroom employees said many staffers are concerned about a potential Journal/Fox Business arrangement.

“There is always going to be some fear among staffers that a closer association with Fox, Fox News cheapens the product, cheapens the reputation for The Wall Street Journal and makes it harder to do their job, which is to gather information and report the facts,” said Steve Yount, president of the Independent Association of Publishers' Employees, which represents 1,500 Dow Jones employees, including most of those at the Journal, when asked about a potential Fox Business arrangement.

“I think it would be safe to say that, by and large, reporters at the Journal do not like being associated in the minds of news sources or news subjects with Fox News. That is not helpful for the job that reporters at the Journal do.”

Asked how closer ties with Fox Business would affect Journal reporters, Yount said: “It is going to be another reason that if someone has a reason to object to the way they are being treated by Fox, they can point [to the Journal] and say 'see you are in bed with Fox'.”

Yount said Dow Jones employee concerns about Fox News and Fox Business date back to the initial Murdoch purchase of Dow Jones in 2007.

“We had from the very beginning of the Murdoch takeover an expectation that the relationship with CNBC would be short-lived and eventually, and sooner rather than later, we would have a closer tie between the Journal and Fox Business,” Yount said.

“The mood at that time was that [Journal staffers] would not have appreciated that. They would have seen Fox Business news as part of Fox News. I don't think there is a lot of respect for the journalistic product being turned out by Fox News.”

Yount said he was not surprised that News Corp. would want to align the two business news outlets.

“From a corporate point of view, it makes certain sense,” Yount said. “If you own Fox Business and The Wall Street Journal, you want to try to enhance the reputation of Fox Business by using the cache of The Wall Street Journal as much as possible ... This is just a logical next step for News Corp.”

Asked about potential closer ties with Fox Business, one Journal reporter who spoke on the condition of anonymity said: “We're already owned by Rupert [Murdoch] and I think people tend to think we are going to be slanted and have interference from that.”

Another Journal reporter added: “I don't know if closer ties means more opportunities for The Wall Street Journal to be promoted or does closer ties mean more opportunity that [Fox Business] will sit in on our news meeting and say, 'you must cover A, B or C?' If it means that some alien news organization is going to start altering our news judgment, no, that would not be good. But I don't know what it means.”