In their first face-to-face meeting yesterday, the controlling family of Dow Jones & Co. told Rupert Murdoch, a suitor some mistrust deeply, that they would sell him the company only if they could keep its jewel, The Wall Street Journal, out of his editorial control.
Murdoch made it clear that he would not accept the Bancroft family's proposal, which would give a board of independent overseers the power to hire and fire top editors, but a series of adjustments and alternative plans was floated in a meeting that lasted almost five hours, according to people who were present or were briefed by participants.
"Both sides laid out the way they thought it should work, and neither side agreed with the other, but they're eager to keep talking," said a person who was briefed on the meeting but was not authorized to speak on behalf of the participants. "It was all very pleasant on both sides, but there's still plenty of distance between the two."
Murdoch's News Corp. made an offer for the company in April but the family rejected his bid. On May 31, the Bancrofts reconsidered, arguing that the company could no longer continue to operate as it was and agreeing to meet with Murdoch.
Critics of Murdoch, 76, say that at news organizations including British tabloids, the New York Post and Fox News, he has a long pattern of bending journalism to serve his business and political ends. The family and many of the Journal's newsroom employees have expressed their fear of editorial interference.
The Bancrofts pitched their idea for a board of overseers for the Journal in a written proposal presented at the meeting. The board's initial members would be chosen by the family and would choose their successors in perpetuity, according to people close to the family.
Similar arrangements govern many of the nation's biggest philanthropic foundations, often with the result that the charities are free to pursue aims that might not please their wealthy founders.
Murdoch rejected the plan. He has offered a less independent sort of governing board like the one he created at The Times of London in 1981, with some members appointed by him. That structure did not prevent him from forcing out the editor, Harry Evans, in short order.
The Bancrofts have viewed their lack of involvement in Dow Jones - the antithesis of Murdoch's hands-on management - as the key to maintaining the Journal's integrity and independence. They take pride in the newspaper and disdain many of Murdoch's properties.