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Inside the Fight for the Future of The Wall Street Journal

The Content Review has not been formally shared with the newsroom and its recommendations have not been put into effect, but it is influencing how people work: An impasse over the report has led to a divided newsroom, according to interviews with 25 current and former staff members. The company, they say, has avoided making the proposed changes because a brewing power struggle between Mr. Murray and the new publisher, Almar Latour, has contributed to a stalemate that threatens the future of The Journal.

Mr. Murray and Mr. Latour, 50, represent two extremes of the model Murdoch employee. Mr. Murray is the tactful editor; Mr. Latour is the brash entrepreneur. The two rose within the organization at roughly the same time. When the moment came to replace Gerry Baker as the top editor in 2018, both were seen as contenders.

The two men have never gotten along, according to people with knowledge of the matter. Or as an executive who knows both well put it, “They hate each other.” The digital strategy report has only heightened the strain in their relationship — and, with it, the direction of the crown jewel in the Murdoch news empire.

Their longstanding professional rivalry comes down to both personality and approach. Mr. Murray is more deliberative, while Mr. Latour is quick to act. But the core of their friction is still a mystery, according to people familiar with them.

Dow Jones, in a statement, disputed that characterization, saying there was no friction between the editor and publisher. It also cited “record profits and record subscriptions,” which it attributed to “the wisdom of its current strategy.” Both Mr. Murray and Mr. Latour declined to be interviewed for this article.

About a month after the report was submitted, Ms. Story’s strategy team was concerned that its work might never see the light of day, three people with knowledge of the matter said, and a draft was leaked to one of The Journal’s own media reporters, Jeffrey Trachtenberg. He filed a detailed article on it late last summer.

But the first glimpse that outside readers, and most of the staff, got of the document wasn’t in The Journal. In October, a pared-down version of The Content Review was leaked to BuzzFeed News, which included a link to the document as a sideways scan. (Staffers, eager to read the report, had to turn their heads 90 degrees.)

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HarperCollins to Buy Houghton Mifflin’s Trade Publishing Unit

“Global demand for books — print and digital — has never been higher than it is now,” Brian Murray, the president and chief executive of HarperCollins Publishers, said in a statement. “We expect faster growth of the combined companies at a time of rapid growth in book consumption.”

Educational publishers haven’t fared as well, as the closing of schools across the United States cut off a critical revenue stream. Revenue for educational publishers fell 10.9 percent in 2020, the Association of American Publishers found.

Houghton Mifflin, the largest learning technology company in the kindergarten-through-12th-grade market, saw its sales fall last year because of a steep drop in its education division, though sales in its consumer publishing business were strong.

“Last year, and still to this day, the pandemic has really disrupted K-12 education,” Houghton Mifflin’s president and chief executive, Jack Lynch, said in an interview. “It was a forcing mechanism for the rapid adoption of technology.”

The company put its trade publishing division up for sale last fall, as it aims to focus on its core business of educational publishing and technology, and to pay down its debt. The deal is expected to close in the second quarter of 2021.

Erik Gordon, a professor at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, said the deal could potentially strengthen both companies. By selling its trade publishers, Houghton Mifflin can strengthen its position in education, while HarperCollins will gain some 7,000 titles, including Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, which Amazon is adapting as a TV series.

But Mr. Gordon cautioned that unlike mergers and acquisitions in other industries, growing consolidation in publishing could have an unforeseen cultural ripple effect.

“It’s not that I’ll pay a dollar more for a book, it’s that control of the arena of ideas gets limited,” he said. “If the variety of ideas — if the venues for people who want to challenge the mainstream ideas — narrows, then in addition to something costing me a dollar more, we’re talking about something entirely different.”

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HarperCollins will acquire the trade division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

HarperCollins, one of the five largest publishing companies in the United States, has made a deal to acquire Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books and Media, the trade publishing division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, for $349 million.

The acquisition will help HarperCollins expand its catalog of backlist titles at a moment of growing consolidation in the book business. Houghton Mifflin publishes perennial sellers by well-known authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien, George Orwell, Philip Roth and Lois Lowry, as well as children’s classics and best-selling cookbooks and lifestyle guides.

News of the sale was reported earlier by The Wall Street Journal.

By acquiring Houghton Mifflin, HarperCollins, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, will be better able to compete as publishing has come to be dominated by the biggest players.

The book business has been transformed by consolidation in the past decade, with the merger of Penguin and Random House in 2013, News Corp’s purchase of the romance publisher Harlequin, and Hachette Book Group’s acquisition of Perseus Books. Last fall, ViacomCBS agreed to sell Simon & Schuster to Penguin Random House for more than $2 billion, in a deal that has drawn scrutiny from antitrust regulators and has raised concerns among booksellers, authors and agents.

remained strong during the pandemic, but Houghton Mifflin saw its revenue fall sharply last year because of a steep drop in sales in its education division. Its revenue fell by more than 46 percent in the nine months that ended on Sept. 30 of last year, compared with the same period in 2019. The company put its trade publishing division up for sale last fall, as it aims to focus on its core business of K-12 educational publishing, and to pay down its debt.

“There is incredible demand for our expertise as schools across the country plan for post-pandemic learning and recovery,” Houghton Mifflin’s president and chief executive, Jack Lynch, said in a news release. “This is an inflection moment for K-12 education in our country and for HMH as a trusted partner to schools and teachers in advancing learning for every student.”

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Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper empire buys a financial tip sheet.

Rupert Murdoch is a buyer again. News Corp, his newspaper empire, acquired Investor’s Business Daily, a financial tip sheet popular with Wall Street traders and investors, for $275 million.

The deal signals a return to acquisitions after Mr. Murdoch spent the last few years slimming down and selling off parts of his businesses.

Little-known among everyday readers, Investor’s Business Daily has been a stalwart source of news for hard-core investors for decades. The stockbroker William J. O’Neil started the publication in 1984, and it was originally meant to compete with The Wall Street Journal (now a part of Mr. Murdoch’s empire). But it has remained an insider’s guide with limited appeal beyond the trading floor.

Investor’s Business Daily has turned into a largely digital publication. It has a website and several mobile apps in addition to its weekly print edition. It has a mix of free content along with data tools that cost hundreds of dollars a year as part of a subscription. The company has “nearly 100,000” online subscribers and is a growing and profitable business, according to News Corp.

New York Post recently hit a rare milestone, becoming a profitable paper for the first time in recent memory.

News Corp has still had to make steep cuts across its newspaper empire, especially in Australia, Mr. Murdoch’s original home base. Staff at his Australian papers have been gutted and most of the operations have been turned into digital-only publications.

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Facebook and News Corp Strike Pay Deal for Australian Content

MELBOURNE, Australia — Facebook has agreed to pay Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp for its journalism content in Australia, a month after the social media platform temporarily blocked news links inside the country over legislation pressing digital giants to compensate publishers.

The multiyear deal, announced on Tuesday, includes news content from major Murdoch conservative media outlets like The Australian, a national newspaper, and the news site news.com.au, as well as other metropolitan, regional and community publications.

It comes a month after Google unveiled its own three-year global agreement with News Corp to pay for the publisher’s news content, and after Facebook backed down, under heavy criticism, from its drastic step of blocking the sharing or viewing of news links in Australia.

Few details, including how much Facebook will pay News Corp for content, were released.

In a statement on Tuesday, Robert Thomson, chief executive of News Corp, said the agreement, which he called a “landmark,” would “have a material and meaningful impact on our Australian news businesses.”

said of the draft Australian legislation, “The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content.”

While the Australian government has pointed to the consolidation of digital ad spending in companies like Google and Facebook, the tech giants say that they benefit news companies by driving traffic to their sites.

Facebook has also announced preliminary pay deals with independent news organizations including Private Media, Schwartz Media and Solstice Media. But so far, it has cemented agreements only with News Corp and Seven West Media, another major conservative news company.

Sky News Australia, also owned by Mr. Murdoch, extended an existing agreement with Facebook.

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Piers Morgan Can’t Wait to Bring the Worst of America Home

The opportunity for a new era in British television begins in the studios of LBC, a radio station that has tested, and effectively stretched, the British legal requirements that broadcast news be “balanced.” Instead of offering down-the-middle recitations of news developments, the network serves up clashing and sometimes strident debates over issues. The station thrived during the long run-up to Brexit, making clear to broadcasters that they could abandon their starchy customs and reflect more partisan passions — as long as the stations didn’t embrace just one political side.

Now, television is poised to fill the space that LBC opened. The most ambitious player in this new arena may be Andrew Neil, a Scot who transformed The Sunday Times for Mr. Murdoch in the 1980s before emerging as one of the BBC’s most formidable interviewers. He’s a conservative, but his style shares almost nothing with his right-wing American counterparts, who alternate between tossing coddling questions to Republican politicians and obliterating obscure liberals who have foolishly wandered onto their sets. Mr. Neil is an equal opportunity interrogator, and may be best known in the United States for a hoisting in 2019 of the conservative figure Ben Shapiro. In the 2019 British election, the Tory prime minister Boris Johnson refused to submit to an interview with him.

Credit…David M. Benett/Getty Images

I reached Mr. Neil at his home in the French Riviera, where he has been weathering the pandemic and preparing the start of a new 24-hour cable channel network, GB News, this spring. When I called, he was watching “MSNBC Live with Craig Melvin.” “I think there are things to learn from it in terms of programming, and the visuals are very strong,” he said of the left-leaning American channel. “In terms of formatting and style, I think MSNBC and Fox are the two templates we’re following.”

Mr. Neil has raised 60 million pounds (about $83 million) to start the channel, including investments from the American giant Discovery and the hedge fund manager Paul Marshall. (Mr. Marshall’s son, unrelatedly, is taking time off from playing banjo in the band Mumford and Sons to “examine my blind spots” after praising a far right book on Twitter.) Mr. Neil said he expected that sum to last the network at least three years, though it’s a pittance by the standards of American cable news.

He said he planned to hire some 100 journalists, a fraction of the more than 2,000 at the BBC, but aimed to capture the resentment of the London-centric media by having many of them broadcast from their hometowns in the north. The channel will rely on other news services for its breaking news, he said, and focus its resources on producing American-style, personality-driven news shows. But he said he wouldn’t follow the American right into outlandish conspiracy theories, and he has denounced Donald Trump’s claim that he won the U.S. election.

“I don’t think there’s an appetite in Britain for ridiculous conflict,” Mr. Neil said. Still, he plans to carry a segment on his own prime-time show called “woke watch” in which he can mock what he sees as progressive excesses. He cited as an example a recent report that British nurses were told they could use the word “chestfeeding” rather than “breastfeeding” to be inclusive of transgender people.

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