A can-do attitude?

Right after Rupert Murdoch said he was planning to go free at the Wall Street Journal, one of its executives — a revenue officer probably quaking over his job — told Editor & Publisher:

“It is jumping the gun, people are jumping to conclusions here very quickly. We haven’t even closed the deal yet,” said Michael Rooney, senior vice president and chief revenue officer for the company’s consumer media group. “Mr. Murdoch would like to have the largest, most robust site in business. Free is a way to look at that. But there is a lot of detail behind that. You have to work that out. You don’t just flip the switch.”

Doesn’t sound like a can-do attitude to me. And when Murdoch takes over, that’s what he’ll expect, Mr. Rooney. It’s a seat-of-the-pants, quick-decision, make-it-happen company in my experience.

Let me tell you a story about my time at News Corp. When I arrived there, I brought the idea of starting a Parents’ Guide to Children’s Entertainment to my then-boss and now friend, the editor of TV Guide at the time, Anthea Disney.

The first time I mentioned it in a larger meeting, Les Hinton, now Murdoch’s head guy in London and then his head guy in American magazines, said: ‘Interesting… but no.’

The second time it came up, he paused a bit longer but said, ‘No.’

The third time it came up, he said, ‘That magazine of yours… Do it.’

I said, ‘OK, I’ll get you a business plan.’

‘No,’ Les said, ‘do it.’

‘Oh,’ I said, figuring I’d just skipped about 15 steps, 10 reports, 200 meetings, and six years in the process I had endured launching Entertainment Weekly at task-force-ruled Time Inc. ‘You want me to get a prototype done.’

‘No,’ Les said, now impatient, ‘just launch it.’

You could always count on quick decisions at News Corp. When he said ‘do it,’ he meant do it! That was the good side of Australian-rules management. The bad side was that an American executive, long since gone, also tried to make quick decisions and he insisted on a rate base (circulation) for the first issue of 1 million with no marketing whatsoever — a practical impossibility. To make up for that, they printed it TV-Guide-size and put it at checkouts in some TV Guide racks. Except after two weeks, TV Guide’s circ department feared my magazine hurting their sales — a not unreasonable idea — and they pulled my magazine. It had sold, as I recall, more than a half million copies — which for any magazine sold under such circumstances would have been a hit. They did put out a second issue of the magazine (large-size this time) but it was killed finally when the then ad director complained about her TV Guide sales force wasting their time on my $8k pages when they should be selling her $80k pages — also not unreasonable, but I couldn’t get a separate sales force and so the magazine died. (Though it is still a pretty damned good idea, I’d say).

So, Mr. Rooney, I’d be prepared for an atmosphere of decision making. If you don’t make a decision, you can bet someone else will beat you to it. Rather than saying, ‘You don’t just flip the switch, you know,’ I’d suggest offering ideas about how you could flip it. You’re not in Kansas anymore.

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  • No, and he’s not going to be at a good, respectable, ethical company anymore, either. Which is why most serious people who care about and worry over serious journalism are lamenting (or worse) the ownership of a crown jewel of good journalism being in the hands of a deeply dishonorable person like Murdoch. The fact that you equate things at the WSJ to your prior experience at an enabler of the idiot culture such as TV Guide is worse than laughable.

  • Mmmm… have to agree with Mr. Ettorre to an extent, here, Jeff. Yes, it’s a good decision to go free…yes, Newscorp/Citizen Murdoch is a ‘git ‘er DONE’ kind of environment… and, to be perfectly honest, it’s still a bit early to be discussing this whole acquisition in tones reminiscent of the last asteroidal IMPACT, but I can’t get rid of this nagging feeling that something just ain’t RIGHT in DENMARK…or on WALL STREET, for that matter…

  • Andy Freeman

    Where is this serious journalism to be found? Is it in the AP, which reported that Paris Hilton was going to Africa to care for drunk elephants? Was it CBS with Dan Rather, carrying on Cronkite’s tradtion? How about NBC’s exploding trucks? Who carried the monkey-fishing stories?

  • Open your eyes and read, Andy. We’re talking about the Wall Street Journal here. Which is and has been about as serious as you get in journalism, but which many fear will not remain that way for long.

  • And by the way, I mean that not unkindly. I just didn’t quite understand how you could jump off to these other unrelated examples of poor or fluffy journalism when the subject was the WSJ, which is famously unfluffy and almost never poorly done.

  • Andy Freeman

    I know that we’re talking about the WSJ. Does Ettorre really want to argue that it’s the only place where serious journalism is done?

  • O-Shift

    Realize Murdoch is can-do, but is this how he does it? Makes summary comment without bothering to send a twitter to WSJ management about it? Good sign for the future.


  • Jeez Jeff,

    Isn’t it a bit much to belittle someone like Michael Rooney, who is generating $50 million a year in paid content revenue for his company, for wanting to be cautious about changing the model?

    Your story about your magazine launch at News Corporation was enjoyable (having worked there myself for a time) but given how it fizzled out so quickly it suggests that a little more planning might have been advisable. More like “can try” than “can do” — because in the case of that launch, the actual outcome was “couldn’t do.”

    Kudos to Michael Rooney for looking to protect $50 million in paid content subscription revenues. Standing up against the “content is free” drumbeat takes guts. Revenues are good too.

    Best wishes,
    Evan Rudowski

  • How nice to see several smart readers making some smart points, rather than the usual hosannas to our host, agreeing with everything he says, however misguided. Jeff, you’re a smart guy and a facile writer, but your boundless, uncritical enthusiasm for blowing up everything in traditional journalism (thereby throwing the good out with the bad) seems to be wearing a bit thin. Glad to see I’m not alone in thinking that. Perhaps this is the beginning of a return to sanity.

  • Amused

    Jeff’s in evangelical Murdoch worshiping mode again, usual hectoring. No wonder he hates unions so much. Perhaps Jeff is angling for a job – Rupert loves yes men.

  • Amused

    Jeff won’t be mentioning Rupert’s genuflection to the Chinese dictatorship which bangs people up for 15 years for saying something out of turn on the internet.

    Won’t mention the fact that Rupert disparaged the Dalai Lama by describing him as a “very political old monk shuffling around in Gucci shoes”. His wife Wendi, who Rupert has kindly appointed as his “strategy chief” for MySpace China, said of Tibet: “I don’t think anyone got killed there.” Charming couple – in bed with dictators.

    He won’t mention the fact that unelected Rupert, a tax dodger, has for so long exerted undue political influence in Britain, through his media interests and cosy chats at No. 10…

    Shall I go on?

  • Eric Gauvin

    Yes. Jeff has a very strong “can-talk” attitude. It’s good to see he values a “can-do” attitude. Perhaps he’ll take it up someday.

  • Good point, Amused. Indeed, he does seem to be echoing the ever-embarrassing Michael Wolff a little in his slavish regard for Rupert’s brilliance (at least he seems to have given up an on equally thankless task, arguing on behalf of the brilliance of Howard Stern). And do note that he’s yet to engage anyone on this issue.

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  • My last word on this, Jeff: you really ought to stop patting yourself on the back so frequently about how for you, blogging isn’t about publishing so much as it is about having a conversation. I’ve noticed that, as here, you tend to only converse with those who agree with you. Sorry to have to say it, but you’re a phony.

  • John,

    Why don’t you scroll down and see the post about a death in my family. Going back and forth with you and your predictable, oft-repeated arguments and attacks is hardly a priority.

    It’s thanksgiving, so I’ll refrain from references to turkeys.

  • But I will do what I very, very rarely do here; Ban this Ettorre person.

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