Supermarket billionaire Ron Burkle and Web entrepreneur Brad Greenspan are exploring the possibility of combining forces on a bid for Dow Jones & Co. to thwart a takeover by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., according to a person familiar with the situation.
A committee of Dow Jones directors, including a representative for the Bancroft family that controls the company, met Tuesday afternoon in New York with Burkle and Greenspan to discuss how a deal might proceed.
The person asked not to be named because the discussion was in an early, exploratory phase. It was far from certain that a formal offer for the owner of The Wall Street Journal would follow.
A spokesman for Burkle's investment firm, the Yucaipa Cos., did not return messages seeking comment. Greenspan and a lawyer for the Bancroft family also did not return messages.
News Corp. has offered $60 a share for Dow Jones, which values the company at $5 billion and represented a 65 percent premium when the bid became public.
Proud of its independent journalistic traditions, Dow Jones — which owns the Journal, the Dow Jones stock indexes, Dow Jones Newswires, Barron's and SmartMoney magazines, the Ottaway community newspapers and MarketWatch.com — initially rebuffed the offer May 1. But later the Bancroft family said it was open to the idea and began negotiating ways to preserve the Journal's standards. Deals on some of those matters already have been reached.
However, the Bancrofts have remained open to alternative bidders — although no serious offers have emerged — because of misgivings about how Murdoch has run his international media empire. Former Dow Jones board member James Ottaway Jr., the largest shareholder outside of the Bancroft clan, is steadfast in opposing ownership by Murdoch.
Burkle's name surfaced last month when a union representing Dow Jones employees began working with him to drum up investors other than Murdoch. Burkle has made other, unsuccessful attempts to buy newspaper publishers, including Knight Ridder Inc. and Tribune Co.
Greenspan, the former CEO of Intermix Media Inc. — which was an early investor in the social-networking site MySpace — said last month he would offer to buy about 25 percent of Dow Jones stock at $60 a share, the same price Murdoch has offered, calling it an "attractive alternative to the current options." This week, however, the Journal reported that Greenspan now was proposing a purchase of half the company, with the help of satellite TV carrier EchoStar Communications Corp. and Intel Corp.
Greenspan has a separate beef with Murdoch: He has sued MySpace, which News Corp. acquired in 2005 for $580 million, saying the company violated antitrust laws by blocking links to his new online video-sharing venture.
Two years ago, Greenspan agreed to pay $750,000 to settle an investigation by then-New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who accused Intermix of secretly installing adware and spyware on millions of home computers. Greenspan did not admit to any wrongdoing in the settlement, and blamed the adware binge on executives who succeeded him after he left Intermix in 2003.
The possibility that another bidder might yet emerge is encouraging to many journalists at The Wall Street Journal who fear what Murdoch's ownership would mean. Several reporters have put up pictures of Leslie Hill — a Bancroft heir and Dow Jones director who has been soliciting alternative bidders. The posters carry the message "I Fly With Leslie," a reference to Hill's past career as an American Airlines pilot.