Sep 22, 2023 - Economy

Murdoch gives way to a new world order in media

Photo illustration of Rupert Murdoch throughout the years collaged with newspaper images and court documents

Photo illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios. Photo: Yvonne Hemsey, Stan Meagher, Bettmann/Getty Images

Rupert Murdoch's decision to step down as chair of both his global television and publishing empires Thursday marks the start of a new world order in media.

Why it matters: In naming his eldest son Lachlan as his successor, Murdoch, 92, has ensured that Fox Corp.'s and News Corp.'s conservative editorial bent will live on — but maybe not forever.

The big picture: Murdoch built his media empire on a decidedly old-school foundation of newspapers and cable television. Now it'll be up to his son Lachlan to maintain that empire without Rupert Murdoch's personal influence or dealmaking, and in a dramatically different era for media.

The intrigue: Four of Murdoch's children — Lachlan, Elisabeth, James and Prudence — are equal beneficiaries of a trust that own roughly 40% of voting stakes in News Corp. and Fox Corp.

  • After Murdoch's death, the future of both firms will be left to his children, who are politically divided.
  • James Murdoch, who was once considered a contender to take over the family business, resigned from the board of News Corp. in 2020, citing disagreements over editorial content published by the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post.

Details: Murdoch built his fortune through a series of pragmatic and ruthless maneuvers that earned him a reputation as one of the most successful dealmakers in media history.

  • His decision to go all in on NFL rights in the 1990s helped him successfully build a fourth broadcast competitor to CBS, NBC and ABC.
  • News Corp.'s $5 billion acquisition of The Wall Street Journal's parent company, Dow Jones, in 2007 cemented Murdoch's dominance in U.S. publishing.
  • And Murdoch personally netted $12 billion after selling his entertainment empire to Disney in 2019, for $70 billion.

Yes, but: High-profile scandals have altered his legacy.

  • The U.K. phone hacking scandal led to the 2011 closure of Murdoch's News of the World tabloid, one of Britain's oldest newspapers. It also cost Murdoch and News Corp. shareholders more than $1.4 billion, per Press Gazette.
  • More recently, Fox News' historic $787.5 million settlement with Dominion Voting Systems over the airing of election lies marked the largest media defamation settlement in history. Fox now faces another $2.7 billion case brought by election technology company Smartmatic over election falsehoods.

Zoom out: Murdoch's close Republican ties have long shaped global politics. For decades, presidents, prime minsters and policymakers have leaned on him for political support.

  • But Donald Trump turned that legacy on its head.
  • While Fox News had long been known as a right-leaning cable network, its coverage of Trump's candidacy, and later presidency, shifted its reputation further into hard-right politics. Later, when the network called the 2020 election for Joe Biden, it faced blowback from hard-liners.
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