Connect the Rupert Murdoch dots

Wall Street Journal2Early this month, I put up a major religion-news post, while offering no commentary about it whatsoever. Remember this headline?

FOX ENTERTAINMENT GROUP ACQUIRES BELIEFNET

World's Largest Spiritual Web Site Joins News Corporation Family

Fox Digital Media to Oversee Business as Part of Expanded Role

If I had shared a few of my thoughts at that time, here's the passage in the press release that I would have underlined. The hints at Fox Faith ties and online work didn't surprise me, of course. But this section got me to thinking:

... Beliefnet will provide unique, world-renowned spiritual programming to the company's various businesses. Beliefnet will also partner closely with Fox Interactive Media, leveraging the group's world-class technology and "FIM Serve" targeted advertising delivery platform.

In my day job, I am a journalism professor who focuses on trends in secular, mainstream journalism. This is not easy work, at the moment, because -- as one of my bright students put it the other day -- most journalists are in a state of Y2K-level panic. An entire industry is waiting, waiting, waiting for a form of digital advertising to emerge that is more customer friendly than a (gag) pop-up ad.

At the same time, everyone is talking about multi-platform journalism, which means digital journalism that blends traditional print, online print, audio and several forms of video. Think ESPN.com's Daily Dime on the NBA. Try to imagine a WashingtonPost.com Daily Dime for politics or an LATimes.com Daily Dime for entertainment.

Now try to imagine a Daily Dime for religion news. Or how about religion, culture and politics? And what if this was done by a company with major holdings in print, radio, television and online media?

Now hold that thought and let's leap to a recent New York Times story about the major waves of change rolling through The Wall Street Journal, with that fox Rupert Murdoch waiting in the wings to take over.

foxnewsflashAs you would expect, some people are terrified and jumping ship. But some people realize that Murdoch has money to spend and likes to spend it. You win turf by investing and he is poised to invest. But invest in what? And why am I writing about this at GetReligion.org?

The Times piece includes this info:

... Mr. Murdoch also pledged to open the purse strings to expand The Journal's reach, a prospect many people welcome at a newspaper with years of stagnant advertising revenue. Already, The Journal has offered significant raises to journalists it wants to hire and to some who were considering leaving the paper, with Mr. Murdoch calling some reporters personally to ask them to stay.

Mr. Murdoch has said that he wanted The Journal to step up its coverage of politics and national and international affairs, making it a more direct competitor to The New York Times. He has lobbied for more hard news and more succinct articles -- a marked shift in tone for a newspaper whose signatures include long, often quirky news features that start on the front page.

And one of his first major actions, during this time, was to purchase Beliefnet -- a multimedia religion content site (with some news, but not much).

So here is my point and it is a strange one, as I think like a journalism professor: If the Journal starts talking about adding a sports section and an entertainment section, then methinks that Murdoch and company are about to try to go national in a big, broad-market way and, with Beliefnet in the company, that means we could be on the verge of seeing a growing mutli-platform venture in religion news and commentary.

Did that make any sense? I think I am connecting some pretty logical dots.

So keep your eye on those two other subjects -- sports and entertainment. You can't have a national newspaper without those bases covered. If Murdoch goes there, then I think the Beliefnet purchase can be seen in a whole different light, for the Journal and for Fox News.

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