The latest shenanigans at News Corp (NASDAQ:NWS) are particularly shocking because they took place at the Wall Street Journal — the flagship publication which was meant to be insulated, at least in part, from Murdoch sleaziness. But this is really bad: the WSJ Europe was telling its advertisers that it had a circulation of 75,000 — but in fact fully 31,000 of those copies were bought for as little as 1 cent apiece by companies which never saw them, and pawned them off onto random students.
And when one of those companies decided that even 1 cent per copy was too much to pay, the WSJ decided to simply buy up the papers itself, with its own money.
Oh, and the WSJ also demolished the wall between editorial and advertising, promising — and delivering — editorial coverage to the companies it was doing business with.
There was a whistleblower, too, who wound up with the sack:
European human resources executive Carol Bosack emailed the whistleblower: “You are expected to keep details and your reaction or beliefs about the recent events confidential and not shared with anyone external or internal to the business. This matter is to be kept between us, Andrew [Langhoff], Internal Audit and Corporate Legal.” No action was apparently taken at that time on the whistleblower’s allegations. The whistleblower, who had worked for Dow Jones for 9 years, was made redundant in January.
Only after the Guardian started asking questions was Langhoff finally forced to resign.
Jack Shafer makes some very good points about all this — among them, that the suspect news stories were in “special sections” which nobody reads, and that the real scandal about the WSJE’s circulation was that even padded it only managed to reach 75,000. Rupert Murdoch is probably dying to kill off this paper as he did the News of the World; it surely loses him a fortune.
But the thing which jumps out at me is that News Corp is still keeping true to its strategy of covering up anything embarrassing until Nick Davies uncovers it, at which point an executive or two is thrown under the bus. As crisis management goes, it’s a disaster — and now it’s claimed the scalp of senior Dow Jones employee number two. (The first, of course, was Les Hinton.)
As a result, the rest of the world is simply going to assume the worst — that anything rumored or imagined is probably true and has just been successfully covered up for the time being. That’s really bad for News Corp. The only silver lining is that for the time being, all of the wrongdoing has been confined to the newspaper businesses. If anything gets uncovered at Fox or Sky or HarperCollins, it’s surely all over for Rupert — the culture of corruption will have been shown to have infected the entire organization. News Corp has kept things quiet until now, in those organizations. But how long can it continue to do so?