Monday, July 18, 2011

Larsen to Be Next Dow Jones CEO?

Todd Larsen
Dow Jones
Dow Jones is without a CEO following the resignation last week of Les Hinton who had been sucked back into the phone hacking issues which happened on his watch in his previous job as head of News International. When News Corp bought Dow Jones in 2007 Chairman Rupert Mudoch flew his loyal lieutenant of 48 years to New York to take charge and to begin a transformation of the company. Together with editor Robert Thompson, Hinton brought the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) more into the mainstream. In Dow Jones he'd inherited a company divided - the Enterprise Media Group (EMG), including news aggregator Factiva and news service Dow Jones Newswires, at times competed with the so-called Consumer Media Group (CMG) which included WSJ, Barron's, Marketwatch and Financial News. In 2010 those two groups were merged under the leadership of the President of CMG Todd Larsen, who was appointed President of Dow Jones. That move put Clare Hart, head of EMG, out of a job.

Larsen, who looks about 16, is now the most likely internal candidate to fill the void left by Hinton. He has worked for Dow Jones since 1999 and is widely credited as being key to the success of WSJ's pay wall strategies. As a potential figure-head of the business he perhaps lacks the confidence and easy-going charm of Hinton and has been ruthless at times when it comes to axing long-term staffers but he has a sharp business brain.

But Murdoch often favours journalists to head up his newspaper companies and Larsen doesn't come from that background. Robert Thompson may be a potential candidate but his connections with News International could create a PR problem if he were appointed, although there has been no suggestion that Thompson is implicated in the phone hacking affair. The only other likely internal candidates have both left the company: Paul Bascobert, the former Chief Marketing Officer left to head up Bloomberg BusinessWeek and CFO Stephen Daintith, who Hinton brought with him from News International, returned to his homeland this year as Finance Director of DGMT, publisher of the Daily Mail.

It's unlikely that this time Murdoch will bring across a News International person to head up Dow Jones (certainly not CEO Rebekah Brooks who has resigned and been arrested) so he'll either have to poach from another News Corp property or look outside. in the meantime, Todd Larsen is apparently acting as CEO, reporting to News Corp COO Chase Carey.

The Wall Street Journal prides itself on balanced and fact-based reporting but the Opinion and Editorial pages (OpEd) have free rein to air controversial views, often quite right wing. In the opinion section of the website today there's a stout defence of Les Hinton's record adding that "We shudder to think what the paper would look like today without the sale to News Corp." The unsigned piece then goes on to rant about News Corp's "competitor critics" saying "The Schadenfreude is so thick you can't cut it with a chainsaw." The article has prompted 139 comments so far, mostly negative. "A masterpiece of bootlicking of your Murdochian overlord," wrote Jean King. "Apparently you do not realise how bad this Rupert-serving, Rupert-exculpatory screed looks. Another exercise in poor judgment."