Three Steps Forward for News Corp. on Digital Front; Murdoch Buys into Steve Brill’s Journalism Online

Last week, Wall Street Journal editor Robert Thomson gave a speech entitled “Dog Bites Man. Man Bites Dog. Bytes Dog Man,” and to start this week the paper’s parent company announced that it has thrown more money and manpower behind its digital effort.

After a three-pronged release today, we learned that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. has acquired Skiff, a cross-platform publishing system for e-readers developed by the Hearst Company; bought stake in Steve Brill’s Journalism Online; and created a new executive position called president of digital journalism initiatives.

Jon Housman, a former McKinsey consultant who has worked as an executive on a number of Dow Jones products, was named the first president of digital journalism initiatives.

Journalism Online is the maker of a tool that allows publishers to collect fees readers using different methods of tabulating fees (a metered model versus an flat online subscription rate, for example). The company was started by Mr. Brill, Gordon Crovitz, a Wall Street Journal columnist and former publisher, and media finance man Leo Hindery Jr.

While Journalism Online has over 1,500 “afilliates” — publishers who have expressed interest in using the system — only a half-dozen have actually implemented Journalism Online’s system, Steve Brill told Paidcontent’s Staci Kamer.

Mr. Murdoch showed interest in using Google Checkout for charging online in May. At the time Mr. Murdoch was also in “late stage” talks with Gannet, the publisher of USA Today and 80 other papers, about sharing content in a digital subscription service.

Journalism Online seems to promise both of these things: infrastructure for charging online and content partners.

According to Staci Kamer, News Corp. will have the same stake in Journalism Online as investors Jim and David Ottaway and the three co-founders, Mr. Brill, Mr. Crovitz and Mr. Hindery Jr.