Today is Gordon McLeod’s last day as president of the Wall Street Journal Digital Network. It’s possible that McLeod was asked to leave for one of the various legitimate reasons one is asked to leave by one’s employer: restructuring, shoddy performance, finding a better candidate, etc. Valleywag’s Ryan Tate has a different theory, unconfirmed by either the Journal or McLeod. Tate spoke to unnamed co-workers of McLeod’s who say that the reason for his dismissal might have been because of a verbal exchange McLeod had with Steve Jobs during the annual News Corp. retreat, hosted at Rupert Murdoch’s ranch in Carmel, California, in June. Tate’s sources seem to concur that it wasn’t simply McLeod’s words with Jobs, which followed the Apple CEO’s diatribe against news organizations’ failure to develop successful iPad apps, that got McLeod fired. But perhaps more telling than the rumor about what tipped the scales against McLeod is the picture Tate draws of Murdoch’s relationship with Jobs.
As Felix Salmon points out, perhaps the most newsworthy revelation is that Jobs “helicoptered in” to Murdoch’s ranch to talk iPad at the company retreat. The balance is tricky, of course, because Jobs is both the creator of a device that the Journal wants to build for and the head of a very important company that the Journal covers. As Tate says, the talk wasn’t a press conference, but it wasn’t necessarily about Apple, either. It sounds sort of like if Mark Zuckerberg came to the Sulzberger compound to tell the Times how to optimize its Facebook page.
Murdoch, who has called Jobs the best CEO in America, is a huge admirer of Jobs and the iPad. News Corp.’s CEO, and by extension his publications, have made no secret of their unhappiness toward Google for indexing and aggregating free content. Jobs, on the other hand, is responsible for developing new distribution channels for old-timey content like newspapers and magazines.
The fact that an employee might have been fired over insulting Murdoch’s favorite houseguest, says Tate, is testament to “the long shadow cast by America’s most famous CEO — a shadow to be feared even in a different company, in a different industry, run by a CEO of very different generation, on a different side of the country thousands of miles away.” You had us at “long shadow,” Tate. But we got lost somewhere around different side of the country. The Journal is an international newspaper. Besides, Cupertino to Carmel isn’t that far.
The Price of Crossing Steve Jobs [Valleywag]