Murdoch abandoning newspaper empire?

The head of News Corp. steps down from several boards, sparking speculation that he's done with the print business.

By TheWeek.com Jul 23, 2012 1:35PM

Image: Newspaper on front step of house (© Siri Stafford/Photodisc/Getty Images)This week Rupert Murdoch resigned from several News Corp. (NWS) boards that control his British newspapers, including The Times of London and The Sun, "raising fresh speculation that he may be planning for an eventual sale of the newspapers that were a major steppingstone during the decades in which he built his global media empire," say John F. Burns and Ravi Somaiya at The New York Times.

A spokesman for News Corp. said Murdoch remained as committed to his newspapers as ever, but the move comes just weeks after News Corp. announced plans to split its newspaper business from its far more lucrative entertainment business, which includes 20th Century Fox, Fox News, and the Fox television network.

Is the 81-year-old finally abandoning his newspapers?

Yes. The newspapers can't survive on their own: News Corp. has dismissed Murdoch's latest move as a spot of "corporate housekeeping,"says Ian Verrender at Australia's The Sydney Morning Herald. "It is anything but." Investors have demanded that he shed the less-profitable news business, and that "has spelt the end of an era with the permanent loosening of Rupert Murdoch's once vice-like grip on the company." Murdoch knows that the stand-alone newspapers will find "themselves under severe strain" without the profits from the entertainment divisions to support them, and it looks like he has no choice but to sell them. 

He might sell only the British papers: Murdoch's British newspaper business "has been badly damaged by revelations of widespread phone hacking," say Matt Williams and Josh Layton at Britain's The Guardian. Murdoch is so politically radioactive in Britain that he can no longer wield the influence he once enjoyed, and his stepping back from the newspaper business could be part of a "controlled fade" from the country. 

No. Murdoch won't give up that easily: The boards are powerless corporate shells, and Murdoch's grip on his newspapers is as tight as ever, says Andrew Neil at The Daily Beast. Even after News Corp. splits, he'll remain the "chairman of the largest newspaper group in the world," and he's not about to sell prestigious assets like The Wall Street Journal, which he only recently acquired. He's sure to keep his "British options open" as well, since withdrawing from the scene would be conceding defeat to a British establishment he has hated all his life. "Any major Murdoch retreat from newspapers will have to await the old man's departure to the great newsroom in the sky."

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