Lachlan Murdoch’s Departure Ushers in ‘Changes’ at ‘New York Post’

By: Joe Strupp

Now that Lachlan Murdoch has announced he will no longer be publisher of the New York Post, the future of the 204-year-old daily remains a mystery. As the only U.S. newspaper owned by media giant News Corporation, the Post has held an unusual position as a major money loser, but a prominent conservative voice for Lachlan’s father, News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch.

Speculation about who might head the paper after Lachlan Murdoch leaves at the end of August has been brewing since Friday, when the younger Murdoch announced he would not only leave the Post, but also give up his responsibilities running all of News Corp.’s U.S. television stations, 100-plus Australian newspapers, and HarperCollins books.

Post General Manager Geoff Booth said he did not know who would replace Murdoch, but agreed the change will have an effect on the paper. “It is going to change the newspaper,” he told E&P Monday. “I don’t know how. But things change and whatever those changes are, we’ll get on with it.”

One key question would be whether someone from within the newspaper, such as Booth, would move up to publisher, or if an outsider from another News Corp. entity would take over. Booth, who has been general manager for four years, said he had not been approached about running the paper and did not know who might be under consideration. “I have no idea,” he said. “It is impossible to say.”

Booth said he was surprised when the announcement came Friday that Lachlan Murdoch, who became publisher in 2002, was leaving. He claims he did not ask the publisher about the decision when the two met that afternoon. “We were just talking about the Post. What was coming up,” he said. “A normal business conversation.”

The junior Murdoch said in a statement that he wanted to relocate to Australia with his wife and child and did not indicate any negative feelings toward the company or his father. But other reports, such as those in today’s New York Times, claim that Lachlan Murdoch was tired of having his father meddle in the day-to-day operations. The Times also reported that a recent change by Rupert Murdoch in how the family’s trust would benefit his two youngest children from his third wife had added to the rift.

One change that could affect the Post would be how much time the new publisher devotes to the newspaper. As a man with many responsibilities — often spanning two continents — Lachlan Murdoch usually invested only about one-third of his time in the New York paper. Booth contends that the paper will run well no matter how much time a publisher is on the job.

“The process worked very, very well the last four years,” he said. “It is not a concern in any way. Whether there is someone who is dedicated to the Post or has the title and less responsibility, this will work and things will still happen.”

Murdoch is also leaving the publisher chair at a time when the Post has hit some difficult times. Despite having regular double-digit circulation growth in recent years, at least partly from a single-copy price drop, the paper reportedly remains in the red.

This past reporting period was the first time the Post took a circulation hit since 1999, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. For the six-month period ending March 2005, daily circ at the paper was virtually flat, increasing .01% to 678,086 copies. Sunday circulation, meanwhile, fell 4% to 427,039.

“The circulation [slowdown] is just part of our natural growth,” Booth says. “We can’t continue to grow at 10%, it is going to slow down.” He blamed some of the hit on the free Metro and AMNew York papers that have flooded the market in the past year. “That started to impact us a little bit, but things are looking okay,” he added.

Booth said no plans or talk is in the works to sell or close the paper. “The New York Post is an asset of News Corp. and we have been investing in that asset and have made great strides,” he said. “I don’t know what changes will come, but we will still be the New York Post.”

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