Why Murdoch thinks he’ll live forever – and is currently making plans to prove it

Rupert Murdoch will go into his fifth marriage – announced over the weekend –  with the same optimism and self-belief in longevity that has marked his whole life. David Fagan reports

Jun 04, 2024, updated Jun 04, 2024
Rupert Murdoch married Elena Zhukova at his Moraga estate. (AP: News Corp)

Rupert Murdoch married Elena Zhukova at his Moraga estate. (AP: News Corp)

Few people sign up to lifetime commitments in their 60s, 80s or 90s. Murdoch has done all three.

In life, like business, Murdoch has belief that things can last forever – or at least a very long time. His serial “groomsmanship” is evidence of that.

As evidence, here’s a reflection from one of my personal interactions with Murdoch while editing his Queensland newspapers.
This one happened in the boardroom of The Courier-Mail offices in Bowen Hills, a rare visit necessitated by an urgent decision. Our building’s front entry was about to taken over by a toll road (now the Airport Link) much to the joy and amusement of the political powers-that-were.

The 50-year-old building would need an alternative entry or, perhaps, need replacing. Both options needed the personal sign-off of Rupert who was notoriously sceptical about spending too much on offices when there were other ways to invest News Corp’s money.

The future of Bowen Hills was an issue the billionaire had done his best to avoid. An earlier attempt to to focus him on it with aerial photos showing we would no longer have a front entry was greeted by only a half-humorous: “Haven’t you got a back door?”

Finally, there was no choice other than to confront this issue. This came at the end of a boardroom lunch sometime in 2009 with Rupert, some other visiting executives, the local editors and the then Queensland CEO of News, Jerry Harris.

Rupert carefully took notes as Jerry went through the options – one was to sell the building and buy elsewhere, another was to sell the building and lease elsewhere and the final was to refurbish the building and reorient its front entrance from Campbell St Bowen Hills to Mayne Road.

We all favoured Option Three because it involved consolidating all of News’ disparate Brisbane operations into one large newsroom that could service the city through whatever challenges it and the disruption of media faced over the next decade. We were all optimists then.

Rupert listened, scribbled some more notes and then asked the questions most on his mind.

“What do we think this building is worth now,” he asked. “How much do you want to spend on it?” And (this was the clincher): “What do you think it will be worth in 40 years?”

Jaws and calculators dropped simultaneously as the young 40 and 50-somethings in the room did the math – not on the impossible estimate of what a building would be worth in 40 years but on Rupert’s interest in the future four decades.

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At that stage, he was nudging 80 with no likelihood of reaching 120. But, as he has often pointed out, longevity runs in his family. His mother, Dame Elisabeth lived beyond 100.

No one mentioned mortality but it was on the tip of our tongues as he left – and maybe that’s the difference between those who create empires and the rest of us. They see an indefinite future, we always have an end in sight.

The upshot of the meeting was that we went with the refurb and a shared optimism in creating a thriving news hub, hosting a dozen or more mastheads, their websites, a TV studio and the 350 journalists needed to write and produce them.

It barely outlasted the rebuild. Within two years, the focus shifted to cost cutting as classified then display advertisers left traditional media with more and more of their spend hijacked by the digital businesses with no interest in news or the communities all these publications had served for decades.

I’ve only visited the office occasionally since leaving it more than a decade ago but the numbers it hosts are a fraction of what we had when we opened without about an acre of journalists in 2012.

And the publications they produce are few and much smaller. This is just the fact of life in modern media although it creates opportunities for publications like InQueensland.
The Bowen Hills building is for sale and so is the print plant at Murarrie that produced about 4 million newspapers a week just 15 years ago.

The growth of the inner north of Brisbane means the building is almost certainly worth more than anyone expected in 2009. Which means Rupert’s optimism was well founded – at least on that front.

Marriage, like a lot of business, requires a leap of faith and a dose of optimism, an undervalued commodity. But not here. On that note, like all newlyweds, may the happy couple share a long and happy life together – for however long that may be.
(David Fagan was editor of The Courier-Mail, then editor in chief and editorial director of News Queensland from 2002-2013)

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