Media

Rupert Murdoch: Won’t Die Until WSJ Quenches Thirst for Sulzberger Milkshake with $100K Coffee

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Good Media Magnate Monday Morning! screams New York‘s website with media reporter Gabriel Sherman’s deliriously fun cover story of an old, cranky, combative, elbows-out Rupert Murdoch who basically wants to destroy the New York Times with his most recent purchase, the Wall Street Journal, before he kicks the bucket. And it’s going to take $100,000 of coffee a year to do it. Does it have a sweet bottom note of cocoa? Berries? Blood, bile, and piss? We found out from deep inside the Journal‘s confines.

Sherman finds the News Corp. chairman on a mission to assert his red-blooded virility in the face of what John Cook characterized as a “crumbling” empire just this last Thursday on Gawker. Timely! Some of the plotlines include Murdoch’s laughable crackpot war with Google indexing News Corp. content, which is something he thinks they should pay for (and is supposedly considering suing over), and Fox News chief Roger Ailes, whose money Murdoch enjoys, but whose politics cause him headaches (like a PR snafu involving Rupe’s son-in-law being quoted slamming Fox News to a very willing press outlet).

Yet the best is saved for Murdoch’s white whale: said willing press outlet, the New York Times, noted as one his “ancient enemies” constructed of “characteristic self-interest wrapped in a cloak of high-toned moralism.” Especially when it comes to NYT chief Arthur Sulzberger, who Sherman notes is “a symbol of the Times‘ hypocrisy, its smugness, and its shortcomings” for Murdoch. The crux of this narrative is that Murdoch plans on taking Sulzberger down with the Wall Street Journal, which is played as his very expensive, shiny warhorse. Observe:

Murdoch has made the Journal feel like the center of his universe. He spent $80 million to transform four floors of News Corp.’s office tower into a state-of-the-art newsroom for the Journal. It is something of a showpiece. At the center of the cavernous space is a cluster of desks and computers known as “the Hub,” a Star Trek-like bridge where top editors pilot the paper’s 24/7 mission. Around the room, flat-screen televisions broadcast Fox News and the struggling Fox Business Network (“We’re doing our bit to help Fox Business,” Thomson joked to his staff). Digital clocks display the time in Singapore, New York, and London. Coffee machines are stationed throughout the floors, and the annual coffee budget runs $100,000. The newsroom buzzes with a confidence unusual for these times. “I didn’t go into journalism in 1975 to end up working for Rupert Murdoch,” David Wessel, the Journal’s well-regarded economics editor, told me, “but it sure turns out to be nice to have a deep-pocketed owner at this time in the industry.”

So, Murdoch cares about print, and making the Wall Street Journal his Print Machine of Death with a tough staff who will help him bleed out the Times and Sulzberger with a shiny office and a new Metropolitan section called “Project Amsterdam,” a name that invokes less the bong-friendly culture of the Dutch city’s present and more its rooting-helpless-Jews-out-of-top-floor-spaces past. The new section’s going to be “an eight-to-sixteen-page metropolitan section that will directly challenge the paper of record on its home turf.” Fun! Like a cockfight! But more importantly: $100,000 on coffee a year? What’s that like? We investigated.

$100,000 of coffee a year comes out to $273 and change a day.
Keeping the Journal’s aforementioned “24-hour mission” in mind, they’re drinking $11 of coffee an hour.

At Stumptown Coffee, New York’s new of-the-moment coffee spot in the Ace Hotel, a small cup of black coffee is $2. At Starbucks, a small cup of coffee is now $1.50 before tax, which is 182 cups of coffee a day, which would be 7.5 cups of coffee an hour. Murdoch’s probably buying in serious bulk, though, so let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, and say he’s getting coffee cheaper than his employees would be able to buy it at the cart downstairs on 5th Avenue: $0.25/cup. Why the hell not? That’s 1,092 cups of coffee a day, 44 or 45 cups of coffee an hour. And most coffee drinkers are addicts, so as long as there aren’t more than 44 different people per hour who only require one cup of coffee each day, they’re fine.

The point is, for a guy who spent $80M on a new office, $100,000 a year isn’t that much to spend on coffee. Particularly if you want your employees to goosestep to the beat of a dropping Times stock price. We interviewed one Wall Street Journal staffer on what their $100,000/year coffee is like, and if it’s up to snuff for Murdoch’s ink-gangsters.

So: How is it?

Adequate. A little weak for my taste but better than most single-cup machines. Brand is Flavia. Consensus is their espresso roast is best.

There are choices? Are condiments provided?

At least a dozen varieties of coffee and tea. Paper cups, stirrers, sugar, Splenda, Equal, Sweet n Low, skim, 1%, 2%, half-and-half.

Wow. So, just to be clear, it does not taste like the blood of fired NYT reporters? No metallic-tasting bottom notes?

We sweeten our coffee with the profits from Avatar. I can only assume the coffee is not fair trade.

There you go: no coffee is black enough for the souls at the Wall Street Journal, not even when produced with the sweat and tears of presumably malnourished coffee harvesters, though there are choices, many of them, including a premium sweetener the rest of the non-Journal public doesn’t have access to: Na’vi blood. Finally, no comment on plans to start drinking the fine floral notes of boiling hot water poured over ground-up Times staffers, but given Sherman’s profile, it’s something Murdoch’s no doubt considered. A definitive projection on whether or not he’ll make it there–and make it there alive–remains to be seen. Because he’s either going to squash the New York Times like a bug, leave behind a not-crumbling empire for his spawn, leave behind a crumbling empire for his spawn, or stop caring and die. At some point, though, he will die.


The Raging Septuagenarian
[NY Mag]

The Fall of the House of Murdoch [Gawker]

Update: Here’s Sherman discussing the story on Bloomberg News.

[fkamer@villagevoice.com]

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