The Wall Street Journal will never be such a toy to Rupert Murdoch as the mogul's cash-bleeding, score-settling New York Post. But at the moment it does seem an indulgence.
Murdoch, no stranger to the Journal newsroom, has an office at the paper and clearly relishes his ownership of the esteemed publication. Biographer Michael Wolff has called the News Corp. chairman "the editor in chief of the Wall Street Journal."
That's looking like a pricey sideline. In its quarterly earnings report today, News Corp. wrote off $3.6 billion in goodwill. It didn't say how much, if any, of that charge was related to overpaying for the Journal, which the company acquired for $5.6 billion in September 2007.
But the newspaper industry took a dive in the intervening year. At a time when the S&P 500 fell just over 40 percent, newspaper stocks did significantly worse: New York Times Company shares fell 59 percent; Gannett, 80 percent; McCaltchy and a host of smaller publishers (like Lee and Journal Register) down more than 90 percent. In purely economic terms, it's hard to argue that Murdoch paid a reasonable price.
Of course Murdoch's decision was far from pure economics. He'd lusted after the Journal for years. He could, and can, afford to spend heavily on that passion.
So while today's announcement of 14 Journal layoffs has rattled staff — we hear newsroom tension was thick — the paper seems like one of the safest corners of the battered industry at the moment — if not the safest. That's not saying much, but it is saying something.