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News International CEO Discusses News Corp. Split, Possible Newspaper Sales

Tom Mockridge
Newscom

Tom Mockridge, who is seen as a possible CEO of the publishing company after the planned split of the conglomerate, says he is "just a foot soldier."

LONDON - Tom Mockridge, who took over News Corp.'s News International U.K. newspaper unit amid the phone hacking scandal a year ago, said he is not aware of any company plans to sell newspapers as he has focused on making or keeping his division's papers profitable ahead of the conglomerate's split into two.

In his first major interview since taking on the role, he also told the Financial Times that people are underestimating the outlook of the publishing company, which Wall Street observers see as a lower-growth, higher-risk entity compared with the planned entertainment-centric post-split company.

“People keep talking about a good business and a bad business”, Mockridge told journalists from the Wall Street Journal and Sky Italia last week in talking about the split, according to the FT. “I think they’re wrong,” he then quipped. “I think the TV and film side will be OK in the end.”

As reported, some see Mockridge, a former Sky Italia CEO and long-time trusted Murdoch executive, as a candidate to oversee the post-split publishing company as CEO. "I’m just a foot soldier," he told the FT when asked about that possibility.

The planned split has led to some speculation that News Corp. could end up selling its U.K. newspapers or all papers. “If there are any plans to sell the newspapers, I’ve not been told them," Mockridge said.

Asked about the implications of the recent resignation of Murdoch from several director posts at NI, Mockridge said it would make “no difference” to the company's operations.

Mockridge last summer replaced long-time Murdoch ally Rebekah Brooks as NI boss amid the hacking scandal. He has since kept a low profile.

Murdoch has said that each newspaper must be profitable following that upheaval and ahead of the split, according to the FT. The Times is known to lose money, and the Sunday Times has seen declining advertising revenue. Mockridge has therefore focused on controlling costs and finding growth opportunities. He has particularly concentrated on increasing subscriptions and finding new revenue streams for the Sun, Times and Sunday Times, which make up NI after the hacking scandal led to the closure of the News of the World.

In that context, NI is also gearing up to launch in the fall an online classified advertising site for premium second-hand cars, the FT said. The Sunday Times in particular is looking to differentiate itself from other car sites by a high-end focus and new and archive content from columnists such as Jeremy Clarkson. If the site is successful, NI is expected to add other online classified ad offers in such areas as real estate.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai