William C. Cox Jr., the patriarch of the Bancroft clan that controlled Dow Jones & Co. for 105 years and sold it to News Corp. after Rupert Murdoch’s bid sparked a family feud, has died. He was 82.
He died on May 1 at his home in Hobe Sound, Florida, where he had lived since 1985, his daughter, Ann Bartram, said yesterday in an interview. The cause was complications from diabetes.
Cox was at the center of a protracted family dispute that ultimately led to the sale of New York-based Dow Jones, owner of the Wall Street Journal, to News Corp. in 2007. A former executive and board member with Dow Jones, Cox eventually supported Murdoch’s $5.2 billion proposal after initially rejecting it.
He, along with his wife and children, controlled about 8 percent of the shareholder vote at the time, and his change in position represented the first big crack in the family bloc that opposed Murdoch.
After the News Corp. chief executive officer made an offer, Cox, along with his sister Jane Cox MacElree, created a family coalition to make sure the Journal, then the second-largest U.S. newspaper with daily circulation of 2.01 million, wouldn’t fall into Murdoch’s hands. The media billionaire was seen as someone who favored the brash, tawdry news style common to many U.K. tabloids such as News Corp.’s Sun newspaper and the News of the World, which Murdoch shut down in 2011 following a hacking scandal.
Murdoch, whose New York-based company also owns the New York Post, took a step toward acquiring Dow Jones when he agreed to the Bancroft family’s demand for a guarantee protecting the Journal’s editorial independence. He disregarded similar guarantees after he bought the highly regarded Times newspaper, based in London, according to the book “Good Times, Bad Times” by Harold Evans, whom Murdoch named editor of the Times in 1981.
The far-flung Bancroft clan splintered under pressure from the deal. Parents fought with their children as they debated the offer, which was about 65 percent more than the company’s stock price before the proposal.
Just hours before a deadline for the family’s 2007 vote on the transaction, Cox went into a diabetic shock and was admitted to a hospital, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.
Cox never publicly made clear why he changed his mind and agreed to sell the Journal.
Peter Kann, who was CEO of Dow Jones from 1991 to 2006, remembered Cox as an old-fashioned gentleman.
“He had no arrogance whatsoever, was very modest and mild-mannered,” Kann said yesterday in an interview. “He loved the Wall Street Journal in particular and was totally devoted to its editorial independence.”
Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, competes with News Corp. units in providing financial news and information.
William Coburn Cox Jr. was born on Nov. 8, 1930, in Boston to Jessie Bancroft and William Coburn Cox. His mother was a granddaughter of Clarence Barron, who in 1902 paid $130,000 for Dow Jones, which had been founded 20 years earlier by Charles Dow and Eddie Jones, according to “The Man Who Owns the News: Inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch,” the 2008 book by Michael Wolff. Cox’s father worked in the Journal’s Boston office.
Cox attended the Dexter School in Brookline, Massachusetts, the Brooks School in North Andover, Massachusetts, and earned a bachelor’s degree in business from Boston University, Bartram said.
Following service in the U.S. Air Force and a sales job in Boston, he began his 40-year career at Dow Jones in 1957 in the circulation department in Chicopee, Massachusetts. In 1971 he transferred to Detroit to become Midwestern advertising sales director and in 1982 moved to London as head of business relations to help start the Journal’s European edition, his daughter said.
Cox returned to the U.S. around 1995 as director of client relations until retiring in 2000.
He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Martha Whiting Cox, and children, William C. Cox III, Ann Cox Bartram, Heidi Cox and Martha Cox Farrell, 10 grandchildren and a sister, Jane MacElree.
Bartram said her father had mixed emotions about selling Dow Jones and initially was opposed to the sale.
“It was so bittersweet because it was his life, and kind of the family’s life,” Bartram said. “But in the end, that was the wish of the family. It took a long time for everyone to come around.”
Afterward, Cox continued to keep up with the Journal. “He still read it,” she said. “It was all OK.”