That question seems to intrigue News Corp watchers far more than any debate about succession plans following today’s announcement that Deputy COO James Murdoch is relinquishing his role as executive chairman of the UK publishing unit. News Corp shares are up about 2% at mid-day, a contrast to the overall market which is slightly down. And many believe it’s because James’ departure from the publishing business gives investors a little more reason to hope that Rupert might ditch some or all of his newspapers. He loves the assets, but the Street considers them to be growth-challenged distractions. Wells Fargo Securities analyst Marci Ryvicker calls the news about James “one sign” that newspapers “may be spun, sold or otherwise shed.” Yesterday COO Chase Carey said that News Corp recognized such a move might help its stock price, which he says is “woefully undervalued.” But he tried to douse any belief that a plan to unload newspapers is on the company’s front-burner. “Our focus is on managing these businesses and improving profitability,” he said.

Why so little attention to James and his role in the line of succession?  It’s now a foregone conclusion that (more…)