Why Could Rupert Murdoch Want the Barclay Family’s Publications?

Analysts estimate the titles are worth a combined £500 million to £700 million.

The sale of British publications the Telegraph and the Spectator could reportedly draw a bid from media mogul Rupert Murdoch. The News Corp chairman has been interested in purchasing the Spectator for decades, Bloomberg reported, making an offer as recently as two years ago.

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Rupert Murdoch smiles wearing a suit and glasses.
Rupert Murdoch, 92, owns News Corp. GC Images

The Barclay brothers—British billionaires who gained their wealth in shipping, media, retail and hotels—owned the Telegraph newspaper and Spectator magazine until recently. Earlier this month, Lloyds Banking Group, a financial services company to which the family owed money, ordered the seizure of the publications’ holding company. The brothers owed Lloyds Bank around $1 billion, according to the Financial Times.

Murdoch has built a large part of his media empire through mergers and acquisitions. The Telegraph and the Spectator, which are both politically conservative, could fit with Murdoch’s existing portfolio of media sites. News Corp owns a series of papers in the U.K., including The Times, The Sunday Times and The Sun. It has a tight grip on the Australian media market and also owns papers in the U.S., including Wall Street Journal and the New York Post. The Murdoch family also owns FOX (FOXA), with son Lachlan Murdoch working as executive chair and CEO. The family’s net worth is $17.3 billion, according to Forbes.

The details of the sale, expected to be an auction, are unclear. The Barclays originally bought the publications from Hollinger International, a Chicago-based publisher now known as the Sun-Times Media Group, at an auction. Other companies sold by auction include the now-shuttered gossip blog Gawker Media and British broadcaster Sky.

What are the Telegraph and the Spectator worth?

Brothers David Barclay and Frederick Barclay paid £665 million ($848 million) for the Telegraph and the Spectator in 2004. With inflation, the 2023 price would be equivalent to $1.37 billion. The actual value of the companies has fluctuated over the years. The publications were expected to fetch £200 million in 2019, according to the Guardian. That year, Frederick launched a sale process while feuding with David—who died in 2021—but a sale was never completed. Analysts estimate the titles are worth a combined £500 million to £700 million today, the Guardian reported.

The Telegraph has been in circulation since 1855, when it was founded as The Daily Telegraph & Courier by Arthur B. Sleigh, a British Army officer and travel writer. It has supported the Conservative Party in every British election since 1945 and is credited with publishing the scoop that World War II had started. Its challenging crossword puzzle later helped recruit code-breakers for the war effort. The paper today covers business, sports and lifestyle. It has won awards for its coverage of the Iraq War and the 2009 U.K. parliamentary expense scandal. The newspaper reaches 12.2 million people each month, according to its advertising package.

The Spectator was first published in 1828, making it the oldest weekly magazine still in print. It covers politics, culture and current affairs. Boris Johnson, the former U.K. prime minister and Conservative Party leader, worked as editor of the magazine from 1999 to 2005. The Spectator launched a digital edition in 2006 and a U.S. monthly print version in 2019. Last year, the publication sold 107,000 copies on a weekly basis, it reported.

Why Could Rupert Murdoch Want the Barclay Family’s Publications?