Kara Swisher

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MySpace CEO Van Natta Was Fired by News Corp. Digital Head Miller in Late Afternoon Meeting

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The long-running telenovela that has been MySpace over the years took yet another dramatic turn late today when News Corp. Chief Digital Officer Jon Miller fired MySpace CEO Owen Van Natta, whom he had hired only nine months ago to turn around the troubled social networking site, according to several sources.

(The pair are pictured above in happier times, with Van Natta on the left, during an interview Walt Mossberg and I did with them at the seventh D: All Things Digital conference in May. You can see the full video below.)

While News Corp. tried to paint the departure as more mutual in its official statement, it was most definitely not, as problems among top execs finally came to a head today.

(Full disclosure: News Corp. owns Dow Jones, which owns this site.)

Among the issues were tensions between Miller and Van Natta, as well as growing tensions with his top two execs, COO Mike Jones and Chief Product Officer Jason Hirschhorn.

Miller hired Van Natta, but the CEO didn’t bring in the two executives directly beneath him: Both Jones and Hirschhorn were hired by Miller, along with News Corp. (NWS) CEO Rupert Murdoch, who signed off on both men.

Sources also noted that Van Natta, a former Facebook and Amazon (AMZN) exec, had begun to bridle at not being able to select his own execs and at increasing meddling in the MySpace turnaround by Miller.

“There were three senior thinkers put in place to fix MySpace and it became clear that not all those voices were needed anymore,” said one person close to the situation. “So, Owen was the odd man out.”

And out he went in a flash, with Miller flying to Los Angeles early in the week to deal with rumors that it was Hirschhorn who was on his way out.

In fact, the well-known media exec had been vocally complaining for months about the harder-than-expected struggle to right MySpace’s once innovative business and had told many he was contemplating leaving within the next few months.

Today, several sources said, he conducted an all-day review of the plans Van Natta, Jones and Hirschhorn had been working on to revive MySpace and morph it into an entertainment and music hub.

After it was over, multiple sources said, Miller met with Van Natta and told him his tenure at CEO was over.

The move came as a shock to the staff at MySpace, as it was not expected, although it was clear that top execs at News Corp. were aware of the decision made by Miller.

“Simply put, it was a power struggle and Jon won,” said one source.

Miller has not returned my emails or phone calls about the situation, and a News Corp. spokeswoman declined to comment.

Ironically, after fixing a range of technical and product issues over the last several months, MySpace was beginning to see stabilization in the bleeding of users.

Comparatively, rival Facebook has seen explosive growth, reaching 400 million global users this week.

More details to come, but here is the D7 interview with Miller and Van Natta:


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— A key point of etiquette in interacting with customers, as taught to Apple Store trainees, according to a New York Times report on them.