The Cutline

NewsCore chases down breaking wire stories for Murdoch’s media empire

Joe Pompeo
The Cutline

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NewsCore, the internal wire service of Rupert Murdoch's worldwide media empire, News Corporation, launched on Dec. 15, 2009. The story of how it was conceived begins about two years earlier.

It was January 22, 2008, and Fox News Channel's Rick Leventhal was on a late afternoon assignment outside a swanky residence in Manhattan's SoHo neighborhood. Inside one of the building's pricey lofts -- as the scrum of reporters gathered out front had learned -- was the naked body of Heath Ledger. The 28-year-old Australian actor had been found dead of a suspected drug overdose earlier in the day.

Leventhal called John Moody, then senior vice president at Fox News, which is owned by News Corp. "We're here, but nobody's using us," the frustrated correspondent told his boss.

Moody had an idea. He got on the phone with John Hartigan, chairman of News Corp's Australian segment, News Limited. "I said, 'We've got an Aussie down here, cold as a stone. Are you guys interested?'" Moody recalled.

They were: In addition to the spots Leventhal did for Fox News and its local affiliate, Fox 5, he also ended up filing reports for several of News Corp's Australian outlets. Meanwhile, an editor from The Australian, News Corp's top-selling broadsheet in Murdoch's native land, called Moody to give Fox News an interview with its drama critic, who was one of the first journalists to cover Ledger early in the actor's career. The segment was a hit. "I thought, why can't we just be in contact with each other?" said Moody. "Why don't we do this all the time?"

Three years later, News Corp. properties do in fact do this all the time, thanks to NewsCore, which Moody began captaining in April 2009, after abandoning his plum perch as the head of Fox News editorial. "That was the best job I've ever had," said the 57-year old Moody. He spoke to The Cutline last Thursday on the 22nd floor of the Bank of America building on Manhattan's Sixth Avenue, where News Corp. maintains a cluster of offices across the street from its Rockefeller Center headquarters. "There was absolutely nothing" behind the decision to leave Fox News "except the desire to try this and see if we could help News Corporation communicate internally a little bit better," he said.

Altogether, News Corp. publishes hundreds of newspapers in the United States, the U.K. and Australia, including the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post and the Times of London. The corporation owns and operates local television stations in 18 U.S. markets, plus international satellite networks like Sky News, Star India and Sky Australia. In addition to Fox News Channel, there's Fox Business Network and Fox Sports. And let's not forget the company's more ubiquitous newswire, Dow Jones.

All of this content is at NewsCore's disposal. Staffers can lightly edit, truncate or re-purpose it -- always with attribution to the original source -- and then blast it out over the wire. (The Daily, Murdoch's massively hyped iPad newspaper, which launched Wednesday, is not included in NewsCore's pool of usable stories. It's also worth noting that the tablet publication is using AP content.) Additionally, staffers report and write original items, which make up roughly 15 percent of the nearly 300 texts and 150 video packages moved through NewsCore daily. When MyFoxHouston needed a fast item Tuesday about Egyptian president Hosni Mubarack's announcement that he would step down in September, NewsCore was already on the case. Likewise, News Corp's Aussie publications provided a trove of material during the floods that saturated Brisbane earlier this month. "It's such a big company that sometimes the last place you think to look for information is within the company, and we're trying to change that," said Moody.

NewsCore's chief operating officer (and Moody's former Fox News colleague), Scott Norvell, chimed in: "There was a frustration that Sky News would have a story, and we wouldn't know about it until the AP got around to writing it and sending it out on their wires."

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The AP, of course, has long been the backbone of global journalism. But as newsrooms shrink and publishers find themselves confronted with the unpalatable task of deciding which corners to cut, will the 165-year-old cooperative -- which charges membership fees ranging  from less than $100,000 a year for small papers to more than $1 million for the largest dailies -- remain essential as new options emerge? CNN canceled its Associated Press membership last June -- the cable news network elected instead to rely exclusively on its own newsgathering (with some help from Reuters here and there) and build out the internal wire that CNN developed in 2009. (TV networks have different arrangements with AP than newspapers.) Reuters, meanwhile, recently unveiled a new U.S. domestic service that will veer into the localized general interest territory traditionally dominated by the AP. Several papers within Tribune Co., which was expected to cancel AP altogether, ended up reducing their AP subscription levels to make room in their budgets for the new -- and cheaper -- Reuters product.

"This kind of coverage is expensive, and the economic models continue to be challenging," said Sue Cross, senior vice president of AP. "However, we are seeing advertisers now place a premium on quality content, and AP's breaking news drives enormous audience for many outlets."

She continued: "Content may be becoming ubiquitous, but for credible, authoritative breaking news coverage in real time, the situation is quite the opposite. Many outlets package or re-report news, but the supply of original, fast and accurate reporting has not increased, and we see demand for it that is higher than ever."

Nevertheless, Moody said that NewsCore, a company cost-saving initiative currently reserved for News Corp properties, may eventually be offered to outside publishers. "I think there's opportunity for it," he said. "I don't think News Corporation properties are the only ones that want to save money. I have nothing against the Associated Press, but in a time when newspapers are right on the brink of extinction, editors and publishers realize that they're paying a lot of money for this service. We just think that there's an alternative." (News Corp., it should be noted, is a member of the AP and uses its content regularly; the same is true of Yahoo!)

In the meantime, NewsCore's mandate is to cut down on duplicate reporting and build up its internal presence. The most frequent users include the dozens of papers in Dow Jones' Local Media Group, which now get 75 percent of their national and international stories from NewsCore, according to Moody. The Australian publications are also big fans, he said. (Two spokesmen for News Limited did not respond to emails seeking comment for this story.)

As for staff, there are 25 positions based in New York and nine each in Sydney and London; most staffers are in their mid- to late-twenties and came from elsewhere within News Corp. Moody declined to specify his budget, but said "it's small enough that nobody buys expensive dinners on the company." He also dismissed a suggestion that some readers might have concerns about NewsCore's coverage being slanted rightward -- Moody, who has also done stints at Time and UPI, was famously accused of such editorial meddling in Robert Greenwald's 2004 documentary on the Fox News Channel, "Outfoxed."

"This is straight news," he said. "We're at our best when we're doing breaking news. The people that work here are so fast and so concentrated and focused on what they're doing. They're tired when they leave here after a day's work."

(Photo of Moody courtesy of Fox News Channel)

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