Murdoch jnr's News Corp graduation signals new era for 'Times' and 'Sun'

News International titles expected to focus on online journalism as former head of BSkyB takes over
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The Independent Online

Rupert Murdoch's British newspapers, including the News of the World, The Times and The Sun, are expected to accelerate their push into online journalism under the media mogul's 34-year-old son, James.

The appointment of James Murdoch, previously chief of BSkyB, to head the European and Asian operations of News Corp is likely to usher in a significant change of management style at the papers, while Mr Murdoch senior shifts his attentions to his new US acquisition, The Wall Street Journal.

Top among the changes, insiders say, will be an even greater focus on business opportunities for newspapers on the web, thanks to James's experience turning Sky from a pure satellite broadcaster into a provider of broadband and phone services.

Many journalists are also hoping that the younger Murdoch's more progressive politics could shave the edge off the harsh conservative positions taken by the newspapers, although Rupert Murdoch is likely to continue to direct the major editorial positions of his tabloid titles. At Sky, James Murdoch has resisted his father's overtures to dumb down its flagship Sky News channel and embraced green causes long before the rest of the family-controlled News Corp did. He has also shown a willingness to challenge his father's political views.

"Politically, James is hard to pick, but he is reasonably libertarian. Like his dad, he is very intelligent and a good arguer who loves a verbal joust," said one executive. "What is certain is that, with his background in internet businesses, at Star TV in Asia and at Sky, he is very familiar with the internet and the digital marketplace, and you can expect that to be a focus."

Rupert Murdoch stood down as chairman of BSkyB as part of a big reshuffle of his empire on Friday, and is planning to spend more time concentrating on the US businesses after the completion of The Wall Street Journal takeover, expected this week.

He has already taken to popping in on the Journal's offices in Manhattan, where he will work one or two days a week and help shape a major expansion of the paper's arts, politics and international news coverage, in order to better compete with The New York Times.

By transplanting his long-time News International chairman Les Hinton to the US to run the Journal's parent company, Dow Jones, Mr Murdoch opened up a chance for his son to prove himself in the newspaper industry. If he succeeds, he will set himself up as a contender to succeed his father as chairman of News Corp.

Friends, though, say Murdoch pre has renewed fire in his belly after winning the $5bn (2.5bn) takeover battle for Dow Jones and has no intention of voluntarily retiring, or even slowing down. Howard Rubenstein, his personal PR man for the past 30 years, said: "If anything, Rupert Murdoch is speeding up. He acts and thinks like a 45-year-old person, with tremendous enthusiasm. He works out, he is careful with his diet, and intellectually, he is on top not just of his game but on top of the worldwide media game.

"Whether it is politics, the details of The New York Post, sports he is up on it. I have never seen him so exuberant, and as for the Journal, this is not a toy this is a very serious new adventure for him and he has been thinking about it for years."

The move to run News International and News Corp's other businesses across Europe and Asia is a long -anticipated promotion for the mogul's youngest son, a Harvard drop-out whose first business venture was a hip-hop record label that was soon bought up by News Corp. He overcame City scepticism on his appointment to BSkyB to such an extent that his departure from its day-to-day running was greeted with disappointment, if not shock.

Steve Liechti, an analyst at Investec, said: "Given what we consider as a job 'well done' since 2003, this move is not a surprise and it has always been more of a question of 'when' he moves up to the mothership."

Even while he has been running the outpost at BSkyB, James Murdoch's influence has been increasingly felt across the rest of News Corp, particularly in the area of environmental responsibility.

He has also shown that he is not afraid to take on his father. At a parliamentary hearing, the senior Murdoch said he wanted Sky News to become more like its US sister station, the unabashedly right-wing Fox News, but "nobody at Sky listens to me".

And in his diaries, Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's former press secretary, recounts that at a Downing Street meeting where his father had expounded pro-Israeli views, James roun-ded on him with an expletive-riddled rejoinder and called them "nonsense".

Thunderer's new boss

After just 16 months as business editor of the Thunderer, James Harding, has been confirmed as new editor of 'The Times'.

Harding, who speaks Japanese, Chinese, French and German, is the seventh editor appointed by Murdoch.

He started out on the 'FT' in 1994 and in 1996 went to Shanghai to open an 'FT' bureau. He then became 'FT' Washington bureau chief for three years .

The Times Newspapers Holdings Board will meet on Tuesday to approve his appointment.