Accord may be near on Journal editorial independence

The Baltimore Sun

NEW YORK -- Negotiators reached an "agreement in principle" yesterday for guarding the editorial independence of The Wall Street Journal if its parent, Dow Jones & Co., is sold to News Corp., people briefed on the talks said.

That clears the way for negotiation of price and other remaining issues. But some people close to the talks cautioned that certain details on editorial independence remained to be settled, and said they were reluctant to call it an agreement yet.

The tentative accord has not been shown to the Bancroft family, owners of a controlling interest in Dow Jones, who can block any deal, according to a person close to the family who, like others who spoke about the agreement, was granted anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss it.

People close to the company and the family said the Bancrofts would be formally briefed only when there is a tentative deal on all issues - newsroom control, price and everything else - that the Dow Jones board and News Corp. believe both can accept.

Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corp., has offered $60 a share for Dow Jones, a 67 percent premium above where the stock was trading before his offer became public knowledge.

But the Bancrofts have deep reservations about parting with a company that has been in the family since 1902, and especially about selling to Murdoch, whose brand of journalism many of them disdain.

For weeks, the family labored to reach an internal consensus on what kind of controls on editorial integrity would make a sale palatable before producing a plan last week and turning negotiations over to the Dow Jones board.

But Murdoch found the family proposal unacceptable, and lawyers and bankers for Dow Jones, consulting with board members, have been trying to reach a compromise ever since.

The Bancrofts' plan was designed to prevent News Corp. from ever being able to hire or fire the top editors of the Journal's newsroom, its editorial page and Dow Jones Newswires, along with the publisher of the Journal. It gave that power and some control over newsroom budgets to an independent committee.

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