It was looking like News Corp. might lose Wall Street Journal stars Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher, who host a lucrative conference for the company. But the pair are staying and swimming in money. Credit a well-timed overture from AOL.
We reported all the way back in April that Mossberg and Swisher were in the process of renegotiating one or more contracts with News Corporation. The deals covered D: All Things Digital, the elite annual tech conference the pair host for the Journal, and an associated tech news website of the same name. Mossberg also writes an influential tech column for the Journal, under another contract, which was also rumored to be up for renegotiation. The talks were the first for the pair since Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. bought the Journal.
Now, we're told, the protracted negotiations have ended and the three-year contracts are being renewed, complete with additional staff. D is to grow into several conferences, while the web franchise will hire additional reporters and potentially expand into one or more additional sites, each with its own focus. Our money would be on the lucrative gadget sector, but who knows.
The catalyst for finally renewing these vows? Only the insiders know for sure. But it would be fair to surmise it had something to do with interest from AOL, the dusty internet conglomerate that today seduced Mike Arrington into selling TechCrunch for what sources told us (and Reuters) was $30 million. Before its deal with Arrington, AOL approached Mossberg and Swisher, according to a disclosure buried in an All Things Digital post:
Under Armstrong's leadership, AOL has shown a willingness to get into the events business. The Web publisher has talked to other tech-news operators about a deal, including Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg, who run this site and related conferences for Dow Jones, which is owned by News Corp. (NWS). Those talks were preliminary at best, and All Things Digital will remain with Dow Jones.
(Swisher declined to comment, saying only, "It's a beautiful day in San Francisco." OK!)
AOL's interest may have been "preliminary," but it could still have been sufficient to encourage News Corp. to finally close the deal. It's heartening to see that, even in a time of media cutbacks, some workaday tech hacks can still muster enough leverage to extract better arrangements for themselves. The world needs more Tim Armstrongs, and we're (not at all) completely objective when we say that.