Family considers Murdoch’s offer to buy Dow Jones

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BOSTON (AP) – Members of the Bancroft family, the controlling shareholders of Dow Jones & Co., gathered in Boston on Monday to consider a $5 billion bid for The Wall Street Journal publisher from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

Family representatives were seen entering a Hilton hotel in downtown Boston Monday afternoon, including Leslie Hill and Christopher Bancroft, both of whom are also board members of the New York-based company.

They did not comment to reporters gathered outside the hotel as they entered.

The Bancroft family owns 25 percent of Dow Jones but controls 64 percent of the shareholder vote through a special class of shares that have 10 votes each, versus one vote for the company’s publicly traded shares. They are descended from the family of Clarence W. Barron, who bought control of the company in 1902.

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The Bancrofts are expected to take several days to decide whether to accept Murdoch’s offer. Dow Jones’ board said last week that it would approve the deal, and the decision now rests with the Bancrofts. If they accept it, the proposal would go back to the boards of both companies for final approval.

In addition to price, the family is also weighing an agreement News Corp. made to set up a special committee that would have to approve any decisions to hire or fire top editors at the paper.

The Bancrofts sought those assurances out of concern that Murdoch might bend the Journal’s news coverage to suit his corporate interests.

Murdoch says those concerns are unfounded, but still faces strong objections to his bid from several quarters including a union representing Journal reporters and Jim Ottaway Jr., a former Dow Jones board member whose family controls 7 percent of the company’s voting power.

The family has wavered over whether to sell to Murdoch, and some family members have actively sought alternatives to his bid, though no serious contenders have emerged.

Murdoch’s News Corp. is a huge media and entertainment conglomerate that owns Twentieth Century Fox, Fox News Channel, MySpace, and newspapers in Australia and the United Kingdom. Those papers include serious broadsheets such as The Times of London, but also some racy tabloids such as The Sun in England.

The Bancrofts initially rejected Murdoch’s offer out of hand in early May, but then agreed to hear him out. They eventually won a commitment from him to create the committee charged with preserving the paper’s editorial integrity.

Predicting how the family will vote has been difficult.

The Bancrofts are a far-flung clan with three dozen adult members spread across the country. They haven’t had a clear family leader since 1982, and deep rifts have emerged within their ranks.

Murdoch’s offer of $60 per share represents a large premium of about 65 percent over the mid-$30s price Dow Jones shares had seen prior to his offer becoming public.

On Monday afternoon, the shares fell 31 cents to $54.69.

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