Many of the journalists at News Corp’s Holt Street bunker barely saw Lachlan Murdoch yesterday. If you really want to know what’s going on, you’d best go outside the organisation.
“One of the best strategic thinkers I’ve known … His knowledge of our business and the entire media landscape is invaluable. His energy levels are inspirational. This is wonderful news for all of us at News Corp around the nation.”
With these words, News Corp Australia chief executive Julian Clarke appraised his new boss, Lachlan Murdoch, who co-chairs the company at the unlikely age of 42.
Strictly speaking, the eldest son of Rupert Murdoch is a non-executive chairman. In most companies, that would mean he would be a touch removed from day-to-day operations, concerned with governance and strategy rather than the hub and buzz of the newsroom. But News Corp is not a usual company. If today’s coverage in The Australianis anything to go on, he’s going to be based at Holt Street (presumably on Level 5, where all the executive offices are). Lachlan reportedly spent his first day walking around and greeting journalists in the newsroom, which the paper’s media writer Darren Davidson documented was “noted by journalists and warmly welcomed” …
From what Crikey can make out, this walkabout wasn’t a huge event. The Holt St journalistscalled this morning generally didn’t know much more about Lachlan’s first day than what they read in the paper. There was no fanfare — Murdoch just walked through, according to a newsroom bee, adding that it looked like Lachlan was on his way somewhere rather than doing a grand tour. Another journalist, who was admittedly in and out of the office all day, said he didn’t see Murdoch and hadn’t hear much about the tour until he read this morning’s paper. Perhaps this isn’t surprising; it’s a big building with a lot of floors. But even at the Oz, where you’d imagine Lachlan would make the biggest point of stopping and meeting people, his visit was, we were told, fleeting.
Still, one veteran reporter told us that while Lachlan was no doubt busy on his first day, he was by all accounts “a really nice guy”, the kind who holds doors open for people laden down with folders and the like. “He’s really quite personable,” Crikey was told.
In today’s paper, Lachlan Murdoch wasn’t painted so much as a nice guy but as a visionary …
After running through all the properties Lachlan is now in charge of, the press release/editorial detoured to take a swipe at Fairfax, which “missed the story in its flagship paper The Sydney Morning Herald because the 7pm announcement was too late for its arcane sunset headlines”. Crikey checked our version of the SMH, and it’s true — there was no mention of Lachlan’s ascension in yesterday’s paper (though it was in our copy of The Age). That said, there was acres of coverage online. The editorial continues to bag Fairfax’s “poor understanding of its own industry”, “journalistic infantalism” and “business malaise”.
Over at Fairfax, as the Oz editorial indicates, the news of Lachlan’s rise was treated rather differently. His background in business was assessed by AFR reporter James Chessell, who wrote that while Lachlan was always ultimately going to get the job, his business acumen is far from clear:
“Lachlan is often described in black or white terms. He is either hopeless or a genius. The truth, of course, is somewhere in between. He has enjoyed great success with his private radio business, Nova. He also played a big part in News Corp’s decision to invest in REA Group, the highly profitable business that runs realestate.com.au. At the same time, Ten has been a flop.”
Also in the Fin, long-time Murdoch watcher Neil Chenoweth also went through Lachlan’s “paucity of achievement”. But he added some insight into how Lachlan’s new position would be seen within News Corp. Lachlan, for one reason or another, doesn’t seem popular with News Corp’s top executives — but that doesn’t matter, because the Murdoch family ultimately has the votes to force a familial succession through, even though most other shareholders would prefer an independent chairman be appointed:
“In recent annual meetings 80 per cent of News Corp and 21st Century Fox shareholders (excluding the Murdochs and Prince Al-Waleed) have voted for an independent chairman. Many News Corp and 21st Century Fox shareholders don’t like the Murdochs – even the high regard for Rupert is slipping. And the Murdoch they dislike most is Lachlan.”
Internationally, perhaps the most connected observer of the dynasty, American Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff, wrote a long piece for Town and Country on Rupert Murdoch’s relationship with his son. In Wolff’s estimation, informed by numerous interviews with the clan, Murdoch is irrevocably wedded to his children taking over the business. Lachlan’s long had a desire to carve out his own story, but in splitting out the entertainment assets and creating News Corp Australia — with ownership of half of Foxtel, The Wall Street Journal and New York Post, as well as over 100 Australian newspapers — Murdoch the elder created a business custom-made for Lachlan’s strengths and experience. With his father going to such lengths to patch things up, Lachlan had to accept.