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Talking Reference Data with Andrew Delaney: Murdoch’s Dow Excitement

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Amid the twin distractions of the two Ss – Sandy and Sibos – an innocuous Tweet by no less than Rupert Murdoch almost passed us by this week. It read:

Most of this week with Dow Jones team. Exciting things coming soon.

And it was accompanied by the photo above.

That looks an awful lot like Lex Fenwick, the former Bloomberg CEO who you’ll recall took over as CEO of Dow Jones earlier in the year. Rupert’s Tweet immediately got us to wonder what he and Lex have in store; what are the “exciting things” that are coming soon?

Those of you who have been with A-Team for a while may recall our early excitement when News Corporation first acquired Dow Jones, ostensibly for The Wall Street Journal, the perennial jewel in the crown. At the time, we speculated that Murdoch could use News Corp.’s heft to lend some credibility to Dow Jones’ electronic information business, including Dow Jones Newswires and Factiva, the former news and research archive it previously owned in a joint venture with what was then Reuters.

That was back in 2007, and here’s a snippet of what I wrote at the time:

Dow Jones recently combined Newswires with the Factiva news archive and business information unit, of which it recently took over Reuters’ 50% interest. Combined with News Corp.’s financial clout and reach, particularly through TV, satellite and cable, these Dow Jones Enterprise assets could give Murdoch a beachhead in real-time business information, a segment of the content business whose demographic represents a significant per-unit upgrade from, say, the Sun or the New York Post.

Certainly, Dow Jones Newswires is facing tougher times as a standalone operation. Thomson Financial News – powered, ironically, in part by Dow Jones’ own MarketWatch unit – is emerging as a player, at least to its captive audience of Thomson Financial data consumers. Reuters and Bloomberg, for all their ups and downs in coverage quality, remain formidable rivals. In the absence of an in-house distributor, Dow Jones Newswires may start to look a little like an orphan. Surely News Corp. can help.

Whether Murdoch will see things that way – or even deign to take a look at this perhaps obscure cubbyhole of his newly acquired business – remains to be seen. But one can’t help but think that there’s an opportunity here, particularly as our marketplace consolidates at an alarming rate.

What actually transpired was an aggressive move into machine-readable news, pioneered by former investment bank technologist Rob Passarella, who joined Dow Jones to spearhead this innovative venture, and the release of more ambitious news desktop targeted at the foreign exchange marketplace.

And then Murdoch hired Lex Fenwick from Bloomberg to run the entire show. Fenwick had been sidelined somewhat at Bloomberg in recent years. Having risen to the post of CEO, he was shunted sideways to run Bloomberg Ventures. Clearly, this wasn’t quite enough, and he made the move to Dow Jones.

Fenwick came with something of a reputation. Indeed, we wondered aloud at the time of his appointment how the staid Dow Jones would cope with such a flamboyant character. Here’s a flavour of what I wrote back in February:

Aside from his pushy temperament – fireworks of a kind – what Fenwick brings to the table is an intimate familiarity with the workflow-oriented integration of data and services that made the Bloomberg terminal the must-have gadget of the nineties (before the iPad and all that).

It may have looked like a DOS PC (still does, IMHO) but the Bloomberg had intuitive navigation to die for, preceding today’s hyperlink-based social media by 20 years at least. That’s why ‘modern’ financial information systems like Thomson Reuters’ Eikon are abandoning the traditional page-based approach.

Dow Jones newswires has already made headway in this area. It’s FX Trader, released early last year, offered a glimpse of current Dow Jones thinking around data and workflow. Fenwick will understand and encourage this kind of development, if he is allowed to turn his attention to it. After all, Rupert’s eye seems to be stuck on the newspaper.

It could be that the new Fenwick regime proved too much for Passarella. He left in the summer and is now at social media outfit DataSift, where he heads the financial services vertical.

But let’s get back to the future, and the question in question: What did Rupert mean when he Tweeted about “exciting things”?

I’m hopeful that the exciting things being cooked up by Lex and the rest of Dow Jones’ management is more along the lines of our speculation from 2007. News Corp. would bring serious gravity to the business of electronic financial information. Centred on the newswire, the desktop and Factiva, Fenwick and his team could pull together a significant player in the fundamental, market and reference data spaces, teaming with specialist providers and even making a few acquisitions in this buyer’s market.

I fear, though, that the final line of the excerpt from my 2007 piece will prove to be the most prescient. Rupert is a newspaper man, and it could be that it’s Lex’s ‘Grand Central’ project to merge the duplicate news organisations of the Journal and Newswires – and the attendant promise of reduced cost of pesky journalists – that is revving him up.

Time will tell, and it seems we won’t have to wait too long.

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