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AllThingsD nears split with Dow Jones

August 27, 2013: 8:41 AM ET

Maybe the "D" in AllThingsD should stand for "Deal."

By JP Mangalindan and Dan Primack

Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher.

Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher.

FORTUNE -- The future of influential tech website All Things Digital is close to being decided.

Reuters reported in February that AllThingsD co-executive editors Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg had begun discussions with owner Dow Jones, a subsidiary of News Corp. (NWS), about either ending or extending their partnership, which is set to expire on December 31.

Since then, Fortune has learned that AllThingsD is working with investment bank Code Advisors to find outside investors at an enterprise value that could exceed the $25 million that AOL (AOL) reportedly paid in 2010 for rival site TechCrunch. One source says that the asking price is between $10 million and $15 million for a 25% or 30% stake in the company.

Swisher and Mossberg appear to be steering clear of traditional venture capitalists and tech billionaires, likely in order to minimize potential conflicts of interest. Instead, their focus has been on finding a partner from the media sector.

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So far they have received proposals from three media companies, one of which is said to be NBCUniversal, a subsidiary of Comcast (CMSCA). A fourth is circling, and it is possible that the final transaction could include multiple parties.

Other companies said to have been approached include Bloomberg, Condé Nast, and The Washington Post Company (WPO).

"It's not complex," Swisher told Fortune in a statement. "Walt and I are interested in taking the online journalism and conference efforts we have been successful at building over the last 12 years and expanding them. There are lots of ways to do that, and we are thinking about the best way to evolve what we believe is an even bigger opportunity in the years ahead."

It remains unclear if Swisher and Mossberg are seeking outside money because talks have completely broken down with Dow Jones, or because they are seeking leverage in the 11th hour of negotiations. One constant point of contention has been hiring flexibility, with prospective investors told that proceeds would be used to substantially increase headcount (including the addition of several new reporters and video producers).

Dow Jones officially owns the AllThingsD brand, website and content. It also manages the site's ad sales, but only Mossberg is an actual Dow Jones employee. Swisher and the rest of her AllThingsD editorial colleagues are contractors paid via an independent limited liability company. One scenario could involve the AllThingsD team leaving to start an independent venture with a new name, while Dow Jones retains the AllthingsD brand (and possibly the archived editorial content).

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"Within News Corp., AllThingsD is very small in terms of money but very large in terms of profile," says a source familiar with the situation. "Rupert will probably make the final call on what happens."

The loss of Mossberg and Swisher would be a serious blow to Dow Jones.

Mossberg's Personal Technology column has run in the Wall Street Journal for over two decades, with Wired once stating Mossberg has the ability to "shape an industry's successes and failures." If a split does occur, Mossberg would likely give up his WSJ column in order to focus on AllThingsD.

A former WSJ columnist and current Vanity Fair contributor, Swisher cemented her reputation as an ace reporter, bringing exclusive scoops about Silicon Valley companies like Yahoo (YHOO). Mossberg and Swisher also co-host the popular "D" conferences, which are affiliated with AllThingsD.

Meanwhile, the WSJ is expanding its San Francisco bureau. According to Jonathan Krim, Technology Editor and San Francisco Bureau Chief for the WSJ and Dow Jones, the WSJ seeks to add more reporters to cover more companies and beats that include cybersecurity and big data. When asked whether other Dow Jones properties like AllThingsD influence the Journal's coverage, Krim answered simply, "It doesn't."

[Note: AllThingsD competes with Fortune and Fortune BrainstormTech conferences]

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