Marriage or funeral for Beliefnet?

The way I see it, Rupert Murdoch is, all by himself, one of the most interesting puzzles in all of journalism. I realize that many non-Libertarian news consumers simply punch the "Murdoch is the Antichrist" button and then move on.

Trust me, there are times when I am tempted to do that, but I think that's too simplistic an answer. Maybe Murdoch simply grasped the fact that, in the Internet age, there is a growing market for European-style, advocacy journalism long before other people caught that sad vision. Thus, he beat MSNBC to the punch by several years.

But answer me this: If Murdoch is a man who is utterly ruthless in his analysis of marketplace statistics, why doesn't Fox News -- with its rock-ribbed conservative demographics -- offer some kind of news program/website that directly challenges the scarcity of religion-news coverage on mainstream television news, both broadcast and cable? I mean, how much would it cost to take that on?

Please understand that I am not claiming that Murdoch would do this for some personal religious reason. The man's connection to a faith tradition -- if there is such a connection -- is vague or muddled at best.

As often noted, he some ties to the Catholic Churvch. These days, those ties are through the faith commitment of his latest wife (I think this is No. 3). Murdoch has said that he has grown rather tired of the trends in Anglicanism, which sort of implies that he frequented Episcopal or Anglican pews at some point. Thus, when he goes to church he attends a Catholic parish with his wife. For some reason, many journalists continue to think that Murdoch is a born-again Protestant, although this could simply be guilt by association.

Here's why I bring all this up. Back in 2007, I really thought that the news that the Fox Entertainment Group had snatched up might be a sign that (a) Murdoch was serious about the Wall Street Journal challenging the New York Times as a national newspaper for a wider spectrum of readers and (b) that the media czar had realized that religion/spirituality is a big piece of the American news picture, especially with his most natural target audiences.

But now, alas, there is this news (which has received surprisingly little MSM coverage):

It looks like News Corp. Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch has lost faith in Beliefnet. After only three years of ownership, the media giant is seeking a buyer for Beliefnet, a website devoted to religion and spirituality. ...

News Corp. acquired Beliefnet for an undisclosed sum in 2007, with plans to integrate it with the company's other faith-based units, including HarperCollin's Zondervan unit, which publishes bibles and Christian titles such as Rick Warren's best-selling "The Purpose Driven Life." Fox Home Entertainment also operates Fox Faith, a label that distributes family films and Christian DVDs to retailers and through churches and ministries.

Beliefnet has won accolades for its content, which spans the spectrum of spirituality, touching upon Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, secular philosophies and more in addition to Christianity and Judaism. However, the number of regular visitors has dropped from about 2.8 million in October of 2007 to about 2.4 million in April, according to comScore. And co-founder Steve Waldman left last fall to take a position with the Federal Communications Commission.

This raises an interesting question for people who enjoy reading about religion news and trends. Who is the most logical marriage partner for By this, I mean, who could afford to purchase that unique collection of blogs and faith-driven sites? If there is to be a marriage, and not a funeral, who is a logical partner?

OK, let's state the question this way for discussions in the comments pages: Who would be the best partner for, if the goal is a expansion of its footprint in religion news? Who would be the worst possible partner?

Keep it clean and constructive, folks.

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