NEWSCORP SPECULATION: Slog’s inside information to be vindicated?

Murdoch’s ‘Special Project’ is probably the multi-platform aperture predicted by The Slog in June.

News began to leak yesterday that Murdoch’s Newscorp has a major new project under way in New York. The speculation began after Wall St Journal Editor-in-Chief Robert Thomson (top right) sent out an all staff memo assigning two high-fliers there to senior positions on the ‘Special Project’. The memo specified that:

‘…Jim Pensiero will become Editor-in-Chief and Gabriella Stern will become Managing Editor for the WSJ/DJ Special Project…’

Since then speculation has been rife about the nature of the project. Using a combination of previous intelligence, sources and commonsense, The Slog believes it has the project nailed: it is in fact the multi-platform online concept of which I got wind earlier in the year….moved on by events including Ipad and the Times titles paywall disaster.

Some clues present themselves immediately – and bear in mind ‘terrify your enemy’ is a long-held belief of the Digger. If he didn’t want speculation and fear, he’d never have let Thomson send out an all-staffer in the first place.

First up is the secondment of Sun website editor Peter Picton from Wapping to New York. This gives us a Murdoch hackloid on the project – but in concert with the pair mentioned in the memo – who are anything but.

Second, the memo specifically refers to a WSJ/DJ project. This may be a blind alley to keep competitors off the scent – but Dow Jones = serious newswire = paywall.

Third, we already know that Roop sees the IPad as a game-changer in the market…and that his WSJ subscriptions via the IPad apps route are going well. I also get whispers that this sector seems the least price-sensitive one discovered to date. So it has to be Tablet app based.

Fourth, the biggest enemy focus for Newscorp right now (not counting Britain’s Met Police force) is the New York Times, which will soon enough also be behind paywalls. The NYT is a sort of WSJ with more credibility outside business….and in my view, vulnerable to attack from a concept with more street cred/hip appeal.

Fifth, loyalist Sloggers will recall that way back in Jan/Feb when Britain still had a Brownshirt government, a good tip came our way that ‘Murdoch is planning a diverse web-portal at various levels of subscription’ . Later in June, we tracked the Digger’s acquisition of certain niche news technology developers, reporting that Newscorp’s plan was to create ‘an online news consortium, aggregating publishers under one roof behind a paywall’.

We got poo-poohed for this at the time – but it’s beginning to look like the DJ newswire/Ipad apps/NYT pissing competition/business payback model/eclectic Special Project staff recruitment factors are vindicating The Slog’s original intelligence.

Yesterday Business Insider arrived at this as one of its possibilities: ‘a new multi-platform, more general publication aimed at new readers just below the current subscribers—and designed to be national in the U.S. first, then global’.

This is precisely the concept we predicted in June – except that, The Slog sticks to its view that it will also be a host service for other providers.

Thomson describes the Special Project in his memo as ‘crucial to the success of our company’. The view here remains that Murdoch’s drive to mop up the rest of BSkyB (thus gaining access to massive cash-flow) is part of the strategy behind financing (aka subsidising) this last throw of the Newscorp dice. And equally, I trust the original source who told me all those months ago that Roop wants to “disguise the replacement of old cover prices with one big multi-provision concept”. (Hence the rumours at the start of the year that he’d talk to anyone interested in acquiring the Times titles.)

The Times paywalls have been a catastrophic failure as a free-standing attempt at paywalls. I don’t think they would be as part of a package. And lest we forget, the packaged approach was what finally enabled satellite TV to break through.

Stay tuned.