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The Dow's Changing of the Guard

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On this day in economic and financial history...

Dow Jones & Company has a long, storied history in American financial journalism. Founder Charles Dow first created the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) in 1896 after experimenting with several "averages" of stocks as early as 1884. This attempt to index the stock market predates the founding of The Wall Street Journal by five years, and these two financial icons have represented Dow Jones to the public ever since. (Read more about the history of the Dow by clicking here.)

The link between Dow Jones and its market indexes and flagship newspaper lasted for 105 years, until Dec. 13, 2007, when Rupert Murdoch and his News Corp. (NASDAQ: FOX  ) finally completed a $5.6 billion acquisition, making The Wall Street Journal kin to Fox News and The Sun tabloid of Britain.

Murdoch's aggressive pursuit of Dow Jones, and the ultimate capitulation of its controlling Bancroft family, later became the subject of the book War at the Wall Street Journal by Sarah Ellison. The changing of the guard at the Journal was also hotly debated at the time, as its takeover by an arch-conservative news mogul could create the appearance of partisan bias in a typically above-the-fray financial publication. After the acquisition, the Journal did indeed change in tone, reducing its business coverage and focusing more on political affairs and lifestyle issues -- in essence, competing more with The New York Times as a general-interest publication.

The Wall Street Journal has since become the centerpiece of News Corp.'s online efforts, and it will also be the centerpiece of a new, separate publishing company set to be spun off from the rest of News Corp. More than 34 million unique visitors read the Journal every month online, and the brand has 1.3 million paid digital subscribers. Acquiring Dow Jones wasn't without its problems, though: News Corp. wrote off half its $5.6 billion purchase as a loss a year later.

The Dow Jones Indexes, which maintains the Industrial Average, as well as more than 130,000 lesser-known indexes, remained under News Corp. control until 2010, when CME Group (NASDAQ: CME  ) , operator of the world's largest derivatives marketplace, acquired a 90% stake. Prior to changing hands again, the Dow Jones Industrial Average underwent three changes to its component makeup during its News Corp. ownership, twice in 2008 and once in 2009.

The Dow's worst change during its News Corp. tenure was its first change, made in February of 2008. Altria (NYSE: MO  ) was removed and replaced with Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) . Since the change, Altria has doubled, and Bank of America has lost 73% of its value.

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