The old boy doesn't dissemble. "I am extremely happy with all of our newspapers," he says. "There has never been a greater appetite for news in the community - and we will be able to capitalise on that pretty well." But listen to the analysts agonise as Peter Chernin, News Corp's chief operating officer and Hollywood head honcho, departs. Listen as the New York Times (for heavens sake!) pronounces Rupert Murdoch's love of printed news his Achilles heel. Listen to the drumbeats of doom as the media giant that Rupert built has to be rescued by a bevy of variously talented Murdoch kids and a battered boss lighting 78 candles on his birthday cake.
Is this, as some woe merchants now proclaim, the beginning of the end of the Murdoch hegemony? Is the special one too wrapped up in family succession manoeuvres to keep vital hired talent happy? Is his corporate structure so wonky that he has to take over the Beverly Hills beat himself pro tem, a lost tycoon diagnosing the tastes of movie audiences 60 years younger? Doesn't he realise that most media dynasties self-destruct?
Well, perhaps... You can tick all those black boxes if you like. But consider a few countervailing points of extreme interest. News Corp doesn't lack good divisional film and TV management; removing the Chernin layer won't merely cut costs, but set them free. For the first time in recent years, the company may develop a structure that makes sense rather than a convoluted tug of war between east- and west-coast enterprises with little in common.
And then there's the markets' newspaper animus. Wasn't Murdoch mad to pay $5bn for the Wall Street Journal? Is he raving enough to go for the New York Times or LA Times? But real answers here offer only calm. First, the boss says he isn't interested in buying more prints just now. Second, it might not be a grotesque deal if he did.
Examine just a few of the biggest current newspaper basket cases (as dissected by Advertising Age). There's Lee Enterprises, owner of over 50 US dailies, including the St Louis Post-Dispatch, scrabbling anxiously to re-phase some terrible debt charges. But its operating profit last year, before all that debt weighed in, was 20% of revenue. There's McClatchy, another desperately struggling chain, making 21.5% on similar terms. There's Gannett, the monster field leader and owner of Newsquest in Britain, returning 18% on revenue once you strip repayments, depreciation and the rest out of the equation.
All this, culled from 2008 results, was heading down into recession rather than touching rock bottom, to be sure.
But it highlights a vital truth. Many American daily papers - like many British papers - remain good, profitable businesses with ratios to turn Tesco green with envy... as long as you didn't build yourself a debt mountain when you bought them. The main survival threat here is to owners who got it wrong, not to newspapers working across level playing fields. And News Corp, with cash reserves of $3.6bn and making $818m operating profit on revenue of $7.9bn in the last quarter, has learnt the hard way about carrying too much debt.
In short, Rupert Murdoch's newspaper obsession could still be Wall Street wisdom a couple of years hence. In sum, buying the Journal could seem a brilliant move. In retrospect, rebalancing the leadership of the group on a more rational basis could look pretty smart. If only, that is, they can get the dynastic dilemma settled before the next family Christmas.
• Before Fred the Shred becomes total mincemeat (at the hands of a rampant Times and Sun, for starters) pause for a second over the severance package for Pete the Sweet, as doled out to the aforementioned Mr Chernin by Rupe the Soup.
Business Week lists it as follows: the $28.8m he earned last year, plus $27m in deferred compensation, plus $11m in pension funds, plus a six-year movie and production deal insisting that Fox must buy two films a year from him at high (2004-set) prices, plus the continuation of company pension contributions during those six years, plus continuing stock options, plus 50 hours' annual use of a News Corp jet, plus a company car, full secretarial support and his country club fees. It's a pity he didn't indent for an RBS hospitality suite at Twickenham, too.
Who's afraid of the big, bad Woolf report?
Let's cry (Lord) Woolf in two separate arenas. Here, from the Media Standards Trust report he helped write a couple of weeks ago, is our former lord chief justice on one pressing press problem: "Because the system of self-regulation is not sufficiently effective, some people are bypassing it in favour of the courts." And then there's the other Woolf report from 14 years ago, the one that brought us "no-win, no-fee" arrangements.
In 1995, as Woolf wrote his report, there were 560 libel actions against the media filed in London. The number has withered ever since to about 200. So, the MST verdict here misleads: libel numbers are going down, not up. But don't hang your wigs on crude statistics.
The first dip in cases came because Woolf (with government support) put a damper on zillion-pound libel awards so they became proportionate to areas such as personal injury damages. Who wanted to put wounded reputations on a par with wounded knees? Silky business hit a rough patch.
But then, apart from the wonders of privacy legislation under the Human Rights Act, the media solicitors and barristers discovered the wonders of no-win, no-fee, where conditional fees suitably arranged meant that, in victory, your firm could charge up to double its costs - often eye-watering sums.
How much? An Oxford University survey found London libel costs were 140 times the European average, with the rest trailing pathetically in the rear. The system, with duplication of roles, fattening of fees and stretching of timescales, is a fantastic earner. And even HMG, launching an inquiry into libel costs last week, would seem to agree. Woolf Mk 1 was about bringing justice to ordinary punters. Woolf Mk 2 brought a bonanza to libel lawyers.
It's a difficult case to make in the court of public opinion. While the US Congress moves to protect Americans from libel tourism, as facilitated by our unique defamation regime along the Strand, editors making the argument in public can endure a rough passage. (the Guardian's editor, doing so last week, got too much blogging vituperation for his pains). The libel game's byzantine rules aren't widely understood. Joe Public still seems to see the issue as some wider verdict on, say, the ordeal of the McCanns, rather than what it usually is these days: a demand for payment from some local newspaper over a libel, real or alleged, that will never be proved because the editor is too damned poor to spend £100,000 going anywhere near a court.
That's chilling. That dampens free speech (and investigation), which the US sees clearly as it curls its lip over British practice. That's an urgent, cogent reason to move Woolf further away from the courtroom door.
Net gains for news? Search me
It's a crucial question for newspapers heading online. How do you measure success? The most common way is counting individual (or unique) site visitors each month - including a record of nearly 30 million for the Guardian in a splendid January for top British news sites - but there's a strong lobby for adding "time spent" screen reading.
Yet just look at the latest year-on-year time results as monitored by Nielsen Online in the US, and scratch your heads. USA Today up from 13 minutes a visit in January 2008 to 22 minutes in 2009. The Wall Street Journal, up from seven minutes and 50 seconds to 14.22. But the New York Post down from 14.22 to 8.05. Big swings? Undoubtedly, prompted by everything from credit crunches to football games. But useful information advertisers can bank on next month? Not really.
Star loses five points
The headline of the week, encapsulating thousands of words across Fleet Street, surely belongs to the Daily Star. "Your starter for 10... Is swot Gail hateful, smug - or just sexy?" Thus consigning a suddenly famous Ms Trimble supreme victor of University Challenge, to the outer circles of Dantean despond.
Editors often talk about "trust" as though it were the defining virtue, compelling reader respect. But here's a simpler question: is this coverage humane and intelligent - or just bullying and pig ignorant?