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Exclusive: News Corp, popular tech blog contemplate split - sources

By Peter Lauria and Nadia Damouni

(Reuters) - AllThingsD, the widely read technology blog run by Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg, has begun discussions with owner News Corp about extending or ending their partnership, sources familiar with the situation told Reuters.

According to these sources, AllThingsD's contract with News Corp expires at the end of the year. One of the sources said Swisher and Mossberg have to deliver a business plan by next week to Robert Thomson, the former Wall Street Journal managing editor who will helm News Corp's publishing unit as CEO after it is spun off.

The fact that AllThingsD's contract is up this year is well known, and sources said the website is receiving a lot of "inbound interest" from potential buyers parallel to its talks with News Corp.

Among the names mentioned as having reached out to AllThingsD were Conde Nast, where Swisher recently signed to work as a contributing writer for Vanity Fair, and Hearst.

Sources also speculated that former Yahoo and News Corp executive Ross Levinsohn might be looking at the website given his new role as Chief Executive of Guggenheim Digital Media, which comes complete with "significant capital to acquire and invest in new media companies." The private equity shop already owns Billboard, Hollywood Reporter, and Adweek.

AllThingsD has reported that AOL expressed interest in acquiring it in the past, but said those talks "were preliminary at best."

Calls to AllThingsD were referred to a News Corp representative who declined comment. A Conde Nast representative declined comment. Calls to Hearst were not immediately returned. Calls and emails to Ross Levinsohn were not returned.

While AllThingsD is recognized as the brainchild of Swisher and Mossberg, News Corp actually owns the website and its name. However, according to provisions in their contract, Swisher and Mossberg have approval authority over any sale, the first source said.

Technically, News Corp could retain the AllThingsD name in the event of a sale, forcing Swisher and Mossberg to start a new venture under a different brand name. But historically in these types of situations a deal is usually worked out to allow the founders to take the company name with them as part of a settlement.

Sources described the website and conference business combined as profitable. It has grown into a technology industry must-read, and features a popular conference division known for snagging A-list corporate executives for intimate interview sessions. Apple's Steve Jobs, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and virtually every other major technology executive has spoken at the D Conference, as it is known.

Earlier this week, AllThingsD's well-regarded media writer, Peter Kafka, led a media-centric conference for the website that included panels with Intel's Erik Huggers, Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino, and Netflix's programming boss Ted Sarandos, among others.

The website has two more conferences on the docket for this year: a mobile one that was postponed until April due to Hurricane Sandy, and the main D Conference in May.

Sources described the relationship between News Corp and AllThingsD as amicable but stressed.

"Like all partnership, there could be more cooperation between the two," said one source. "There is tension between AllThingsD and the Wall Street Journal, for example."

As a result of management changes, over the last few years the website has reported to numerous News Corp executives, among them Gordon Crovitz, Les Hinton, and now Lex Fenwick and Robert Thomson.

Should the two sides reach a deal on a new contract, AllThingsD would be included as part of the publishing unit in the News Corp split.

(Additional reporting by Jennifer Saba; Editing by David Gregorio)

(This story corrects the 10th paragraph to show source said website is profitable in combination with conference business, instead of website is profitable. Corrects spelling of Erik Huggers name in paragraph 11 to Erik, from Eric)

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