Rupert Murdoch Bags The Journal; Ottaway Explodes

Today, Rupert Murdoch is seated atop the greatest media throne in the world, as he closed a deal to buy Dow Jones & Company after three months of speculation and family drama.

And Wall Street Journal reporters had reason to believe, by yesterday afternoon, that the world was coming to an end. They were to be seated on bar stools.

For reporters at the Liberty Street office in Manhattan, there was a bit of irony in the selection of watering hole, as e-mails circulated encouraging them to meet up at Sheep Station, an Australian pub in Park Slope.

Shedding a tear into a cold Foster’s is one thing; another Journal bureau was in full widow’s weeds. At 3 p.m., a copy of the newspaper lay on a chair, serving as the centerpiece to a toast of the last days of the “pre-Murdoch Wall Street Journal,” according to a staffer present, who asked the bureau not be identified. They raised bottles of beer and plastic cups brimming with Ardbeg single-malt Scotch to James Ottaway, the former Dow Jones board member most vocal in his opposition to the sale, and heaped praise upon anti-deal family members Leslie Hill and Christopher Bancroft.

But 15 minutes later, staffers returned to their desks to hammer out the next day’s stories—an awkward moment of getting back into the reporting grind, after a day of obsessively following the fate of their own newspaper on its Web site.

The night before, the Bancroft family, which held the controlling share of the votes that would be necessary to approve Mr. Murdoch’s $5 billion offer, blew a deadline: After passing a self-imposed 5 p.m. cutoff to conduct a final straw poll of Bancroft voters, each latest bit of family drama unfolded in pixels, not picas; by the time the presses were rolling, there still was no answer on the deal.

That task was left to David Faber of the television network CNBC, who confidently reported the deal done at 9:25 in the morning.

It was a tidy blow to the newsroom. On May 1—when he broke the news of the bid—Mr. Faber had scooped The Journal on its own story.

Shortly before 11 a.m., Reuters came through with an attributable quote. The offender was John Prestbo, editor and executive director of Dow Jones Indexes, who told Reuters the family had accepted and Dow Jones would become part of News Corp.

Shouldn’t that have come from Dow Jones chief Richard Zannino, or family trustee Michael Elefante? Or at least some flack for the Dow Jones board?

But shortly after 12 p.m., The Journal finally reported that a Dow Jones fund was being set up to pay the banking and lawyer fees for the Bancroft family, a move that had been the final sticking point before the required 32 percent of Bancrofts votes could be vouchsafed for Mr. Murdoch.

That the Dow Jones board offered to pay those fees as part of the deal rankled many of the deal’s opponents.

“It is ironic indeed for the Bancroft family to have to pay 30 shekels of silver to their investment bankers, and 30 shekels of gold to their corporate lawyers, for scaring some of them into betraying their 105-year family loyalty to Dow Jones independence,” Mr. Ottaway said in a statement later that evening.

In the newsroom, too, the real ennui came because the final battle, as they saw it, for the Journal was not a battle of good vs. evil.

Earlier in the process, a lengthy and sometimes acrimonious-seeming back-and-forth between Mr. Murdoch and the Bancroft family led some Wall Street Journal staffers to credulity about the Bancrofts’ concern over the post-Bancroft newspaper.

In the newspaper’s own A3 story on July 31, you could almost read the disappointment seething between the lines of one paragraph:

Rupert Murdoch Bags The Journal; Ottaway Explodes