News Corp May Tap Robert Thomson To Lead Its New Publishing Company

on December 01 2012 7:22 PM

A month after Rupert Murdoch lost his bid to purchase Penguin Group, he may be close to naming the person tasked with taking the reins at his soon-to-be-created publishing company.

Sometime next week, News Corp. (Nasdaq: NWSA) is expected to name Robert Thomson, managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, as head of its new separately traded publishing business, which will be spun off from News Corp.’s entertainment business in mid-2013. Reuters’ Jennifer Saba reported the news Saturday, citing sources close to the situation. The appointment has long been rumored.

Thomson -- like Murdoch, a native of Australia -- is one of the media mogul’s most trusted executives. When News Corp. bought the Journal in 2007, Thomson was handpicked by Murdoch to replace then-managing editor Marcus Brauchli, who some say was pressured by News Corp. to resign shortly after the purchase, as noted by the Journal. Thomson also serves as editor-in-chief of the Journal’s publisher, Dow Jones & Co. He previously worked at the Times of London, which is owned by News Corp.’s British publishing division, News International.

During Thomson’s tenure, the Journal expanded its role as a strict purveyor of financial and economic news to encompass a wider variety of arts, entertainment, and local New York-area coverage. As a result, the paper goes head to head with the eponymous flagship of the New York Times Co. (NYSE: NYT) as the broadsheet of choice in New York, which is in line with Murdoch’s plan to launch -- and win -- the city’s last, great newspaper war. The Journal is now the No. 1 newspaper in the U.S. in terms of average weekday circulation, according to the latest figures of the Alliance for Audited Media, formerly known as the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

Analysts have been keen on News Corp.’s stock since June 28, when Murdoch announced the company would spin off its struggling publishing business from its more successful entertainment business. Some saw the move as a-long-time-coming epiphany about the bleak future of print media -- Murdoch’s first love.

“While Rupert Murdoch remains a die-hard supporter of newspapers, we believe he has come to accept the realities of the modern-day publishing business,” Richard Greenfield, an analyst with BTIG, wrote in a research note.

Murdoch will serve as chairman of both companies and as the CEO of the media and entertainment company.

If Thomson is indeed named CEO of the publishing company, he will have his work cut out for him. In addition to declining operating profits, Thomson will have to contend with the ongoing phone-hacking scandal surrounding the now-defunct British tabloid News of the World. One of the justifications for the News Corp. split was that it would shield its profitable entertainment business from mounting legal costs associated with that scandal.

In addition to Dow Jones and a stable of British, Australian, and American newspapers, News Corp.’s publishing business also includes the HarperCollins book-publishing company. The splitting of News Corp. into two separately traded public companies is expected to be finalized in June 2013.

News Corp.'s share price closed down 8 cents, or 0.30 percent, at $24.64 Friday.

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