By: Joe Strupp

News Corp. Continues To Invest In New York Tabloid

Anyone trying to predict the future of the New York Post
and its place in broadcast-hungry parent News Corp. may find the
crystal ball a bit clouded these days. News Corp. Chairman and
CEO Rupert Murdoch has offered mixed signals about his intentions
through a string of recent moves – some pointing to a
possible sale of his only U.S. newspaper, others to a long-term
commitment to it.

On the one hand, Murdoch shows signs of stepping up New York’s
tabloid war with last week’s hiring of veteran Australian editor
Col Allan, a newsman known as much for his raunchy behavior as
for his competitive fire. The planned opening next Sunday of a
$250-million printing plant in the Bronx, which Post
executives hinted could eventually expand to carry out contract
work, is another sign that News Corp. is not looking to unload
the Post any time soon.

On the other hand, Murdoch may be forced to sell the paper to
comply with the Federal Communications Commission’s ban on cross
ownership of newspaper and broadcast properties in the same
market. Although News Corp. was allowed to purchase Fox affiliate
WNYW-TV through an FCC waiver granted in 1993, the recent
acquisition of Chris-Craft Industries Inc. – a 10-station
chain that includes WWOR-TV, a station in the New York market
– must still receive FCC approval. If the body decides to
not issue a second waiver and Murdoch then must choose between
Chris-Craft and the Post, economics may require him to
take the lucrative TV deal and dump the perennial money-losing
paper. “We will face that decision if and when it comes,” said
News Corp. spokesman Andrew Butcher.

As in 1993, News Corp. is urging a waiver on the grounds that the
Post – estimated to be losing $10 million to $20
million annually – would not be a viable asset for sale,
despite New York Daily News Publisher Mortimer B.
Zuckerman’s recent assertion that he’d be willing to buy it.
“We’re hoping that once they study the financial reports, they
will see that a waiver is appropriate,” said Butcher.

Meanwhile, the FCC plans to begin reviewing its cross-ownership
rules this month amid signs that it now favors repealing or
revising them. Recently, the body chose to lift restrictions that
had barred the four major TV networks from buying either the WB
or UPN networks.

So, if the cross-ownership ban is scuttled, would News Corp.
build its U.S. newspaper strength? Butcher wouldn’t say. But a
company executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said
Murdoch’s eye is on broadcast. “We’re not in a buying mood when
it comes to newspapers,” the source said. “There is no interest
in that right now.”

Still, moves at the Post demonstrate a desire to take the
paper to new heights. Incoming Editor in Chief Allan will be in
New York this week, fresh from a successful stint at Murdoch’s
Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph in Sydney,
Australia, where he is noted for bold headlines, political
hardball, and a penchant for urinating in the sink.

Although considered by some a loudmouth and a raucous manager,
Allan’s skill as a tabloid editor, former co-workers said, made
the Telegraph a force in Sydney. “He will be very well-
placed to give [the Post] a shake-up,” said Stephen Mayne,
a former Telegraph business editor and current publisher
of Crikey.com.au.

Allan, 47, is replacing Editor Xana Antunes, a six-year
Post veteran, who is credited with both boosting morale
and improving the paper’s business coverage. But insiders said
she did not imbue the paper with the tabloid punch that Murdoch
wanted. “Col is one of News Corp.’s most senior editors,”
Publisher Ken Chandler said in a statement. “His appointment
underscores the company’s commitment to the Post.”

Another sign that News Corp. is in it for the long haul at the
Post is the new printing plant. “It’s something that could
generate additional revenue,” said Post Production
Director David O’Neill.

Joe Strupp (jstrupp@editorandpublisher.com) is an associate editor for E&P.

Copyright 2001, Editor & Publisher.

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