NEW YORK: Rupert Murdoch, a grand-master at negotiating tactics, is at his freewheeling best in his pursuit of Dow Jones - a bid in which he appears to be calling all the tunes. As he demostrated last week with effortless ease.

Musing aloud (oh yeah?) in an interview with Time magazine, to be published Wednesday, the canny mogul laid down a false scent that would not have disgraced Br'er Rabbit.

In a bout of apparently nonchalant 'what-if' speculation, faithfully recorded by a Time reporter, Br'er Murdoch floated the concept of a web-only version of the Wall Street Journal.

The venerable newspaper, he said, would almost certainly be more profitable if News Corporation spent $100 million (€73.96m; £39.84m) on hiring top business writers, ditched the hard-copy version and offered the title online for free.

"How long would it take for the advertising to come? It would be successful," asked Murdoch rhetorically.

All of which, cynical observers believe, was crafted by Br'er Murdoch in an attempt to still the opposition of the WSJ's existing editorial staff - whose vocal concern for the title's integrity is a major stumbling block to NewsCorp's acquisition of Dow Jones.

  • Meantime, details of the draft editorial 'integrity' deal thrashed out between NewsCorp and the Dow Jones board emerged over the weekend, with a copy of the document finding its way into the hands of the WSJ's main rival, the Financial Times.

    It confirms that if the WSJ is acquired by NewsCorp, managing editor Marcus Brauchli, and Paul Gigot, head of the paper's editorial page, would both retain their jobs. As would Neal Lipschutz, managing editor of Dow Jones Newswires.

    The deal appears to imply that the trio could not be fired by Murdoch if they fail to peddle a line that suits his business and political interests - although it is far from certain that the undertaking will reassure Dow Jones' controlling Bancroft family.

    However, NewsCorp will have the final say over the use of the WSJ brand to promote its other businesses.

    All of which is mighty like Br'er Rabbit's appeal to Br'er Fox not to hurl him into the briar patch.

    Data sourced from Sydney Morning Herald and Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff