Taking Dad’s Reins, Young Murdoch Says Post is a Business

Lachlan Murdoch has a childhood photograph of himself hanging

behind his desk at the News Corporation headquarters on Sixth Avenue. In the

photo, he’s 8 years old and dressed as a paper boy in a street-urchin cap. He’s

pretending to hawk a copy of the New York

Post.

Today, Lachlan Murdoch has a very real and critical role in the

future of the Post . At 30 years of

age, the eldest son of News Corp. chairman and chief executive Rupert Murdoch

has evolved into the driving force behind the tabloid newspaper, which turns

200 years old on Nov. 16.

In recent months, the younger Mr. Murdoch has overseen dramatic

changes in the paper’s newsroom, is presiding over its conversion to color, and

has vigorously sought to turn his 70-year-old father’s longtime labor of love

and American mouthpiece into a profitable business.

All the while, the usually media-shy Mr. Murdoch, who is News

Corp.’s deputy chief operating officer and the Post ‘s chairman, has shown signs of increasing comfort with the

spotlight-as well as his growing role in his father’s still-widening media

empire. It was Lachlan Murdoch’s call, for example, to oust the Post ‘s previous editor, Xana Antunes,

last spring and replace her with Col Allan. And last month, the spiky-haired

Mr. Murdoch stood up and met the cameras and microphones along with Mr. Allan

and publisher Ken Chandler when word broke that one of the Post ‘s employees had

contracted anthrax.

“When I’m in New York, which is most of my time, [the Post ] is a third to half of my time,”

Mr. Murdoch said in an interview at his spacious News Corp. office. He said of

the paper: “It’s the most fun part of my day. Even though there’s a lot of

demands on my time, it’s rewarding.

“It’s the Post ,” Mr.

Murdoch added with emphasis.

But clearly, Mr. Murdoch doesn’t view the Post as some kind of entertaining diversion. Since Rupert Murdoch

bought the paper in 1976 and then repurchased it in 1993, analysts have

estimated that it loses between $10 million to $20 million a year. The paper’s

primary value, it was long held, was to serve as a brash, block-lettered sounding

board for Rupert Murdoch’s political and business causes.

That’s supposed to change under Lachlan Murdoch, however. If the Post ‘s guiding principle was once to

keep his father happy, Lachlan Murdoch’s chosen mission is to turn the paper

into a money-making business.

In terms of sheer numbers, he’s off to a prodigious start. Citing

its filing with the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the Post recently announced that for the six-month period ending on

Sept. 30, the Post ‘s daily

circulation rose an unprecedented 22 percent. Though some of this rise is due

to the paper’s slashed 25-cents-per-copy price-as well as to increased

readership after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks-Mr. Murdoch and his colleagues

also attribute the gain to a repositioning and revitalization of the paper,

both editorially and entrepreneurially.

“People thought the Post

was a great brand and that there was this aura around it and that it could

never change,” Mr. Murdoch said. His obvious message? Nothing’s sacred, and

he’s going to keep on making changes.

He has already made substantial changes, of course. The first

indication of Lachlan Murdoch’s burgeoning control of the Post came back in April, when Ms. Antunes-who had produced a lively

paper largely dependent upon gossip, business and media coverage-was replaced

by Col Allan, who had been a News Corp. editor in Sydney, Australia. While

Rupert Murdoch was in Detroit trying to negotiate a deal for the acquisition of

the DirecTV satellite-television operation from General Motors, Lachlan introduced

Mr. Allan to an apprehensive Post

newsroom.

Since then, Mr. Allan-with Lachlan Murdoch’s consent-has

aggressively remodeled the paper’s newsroom and the product itself. In June,

Mr. Allan fired a number of longtime staffers, including two top editors and

columnist Jack Newfield. Not long afterward, the Post ‘s look changed, too, as Mr. Allan reworked the famous front

page into a blockish arrangement that often touted multiple stories at once and

increased photography in the paper.

At the same time, a handful

of media outlets -including this column-sharply criticized Mr. Allan for

remodeling what some considered to be a prized, fun-to-read tabloid.

Unfazed, Mr. Murdoch and Mr. Chandler, the publisher, stayed the

course and stood behind Mr. Allan. “What Col brings to it is incredible

journalistic instincts, and he is evolving the paper very quickly,” Mr. Murdoch

said.

In Lachlan Murdoch’s mind, the Post had long been in need of an overhaul, and had lagged behind

News Corp.’s other properties overseas. Indeed, Mr. Allan was only one of a

number of Australians and Brits that Mr. Murdoch had brought in from other

parts of the News Corp. empire to work on production and the transition to

color at the Post . For example, Geoff

Booth, who was the general manager of the Herald

Sun in Melbourne, came to New York as the Post ‘s general manager.

“We really dropped the ball

for a while, because we weren’t leveraging our skill sets in the U.K. and

Australia,” Mr. Murdoch said.

And now, with the new circulation report and the 22 percent jump,

the Post ‘s newsroom is feeling a

pretty big blast of vindication. The recent terrorism-and-war-driven spike in

readership has also helped. Mr. Chandler, who also attributes the gains to the

paper’s improved reproduction at its new $250 million plant in the South Bronx,

said the tabloid is currently selling about 600,000 papers a day.

The circulation gains have come at a cost. Mr. Chandler said of

the 25-cent price cut, “It’s like any other promotion. It’s expensive. We could

have taken the money we’ve invested in the 25 cents and we could have spent

several hundred million dollars on TV campaigns, and kept the price at 50

cents.”

But the Post ‘s biggest

challenge-the true goal-is to find more advertisers for the paper. In the

advertising market, the Post has long

been caught between The New York Times on the high end and the Daily News for the mass market. Most of

the Post ‘s readers, the theory goes,

also read one of the other dailies. So while the Post has some high-end readers, advertisers figure they can reach

them by buying an ad in The Times .

Likewise, the Daily News already

offers more reach to a middle-class and minority audience.

The trick for Lachlan Murdoch and the Post , then, is to raise circulation high enough so that advertisers

can’t ignore the tabloid anymore. Daily

News officials, naturally, are skeptical that the Post can make inroads on advertising until the tabloid has a

sizable readership of its own. “The reason we’re so important is that over half

our audience reads no other newspaper,” said News president Les Goodstein. “They don’t bring a lot to the party

in terms of mass or exclusive readership.”

But this is where Lachlan

Murdoch believes color will be his ally. Mr. Murdoch is banking that the end of

the black, white and red era will boost readership-the Post published its first color cover on Nov. 13, the day after the

crash of Flight 587-and is trying to lure advertisers with color ads. When all

the kinks of printing color have been worked out on all four presses in the

plant-a process which Mr. Chandler estimated would take until at least early

2002-the Post will be able to print

color on 64 pages per issue.

At the same time, Mr. Murdoch clearly has his sights set on the Daily News . There’s a piece of

conventional wisdom that says New York can’t support two profitable tabloids

along with The New York Times . And

this axiom has always-no matter how much the two tabloids diverge

editorially-set the Daily News , which

makes money in a good year, against the Post .

Lachlan Murdoch, relatively new to the clash but very much in

charge now, didn’t back down a bit.

“The Post and the Daily News are in a battle,” he said.

“It’s the last of the great newspaper struggles in America.”

-Gabriel Snyder

Wall Street Journal staffers might not

know when they’ll be returning to their offices at the World Financial Center,

which they evacuated on Sept. 11, but they might start getting their stuff back

… soon.

In a tongue-in-cheek memo sent last week, WSJ assistant managing editor Cathy Panagoulias wrote that workers

had begun the process of taking everything on and in people’s desks, cleaning

the items and bagging them. More urgent items, she wrote, could come back to

their owners first.

But those yearning for their Filofaxes, business cards and new

pairs of New Balance running shoes are out of luck.

“These things,” Ms. Panagoulias wrote, “can wait.”

Among the items that could make the cut? Eyeglasses “purchased at

the extremely expensive eye doctor in the lobby,” divorce papers and “notes for

a leder that has been in the works for a year and that you are actually going

to write.”

In addition, she wrote, “Because each piece of paper has to be

vacuumed (yes, really!), we want to know if there are file cabinets of old

stuff that you can just abandon. Those of you who have many file cabinets,

please consider this request seriously.”

Vacuumed?

“We’re doing asbestos abatement,” Dow Jones vice president Steven

Goldstein explained. “This is part of it.”

-Sridhar Pappu

Two weeks after Time

magazine boasted that it got an exclusive “first look” at Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (produced by AOL Time Warner

corporate subsidiary Warner Bros.), the Nov. 19 issue revealed what the

magazine’s movie critic, Richard Corliss, thought of the film.

And woo- wee! Let’s just

say that you’re unlikely to see a quote from Mr. Corliss in the trailer. The

veteran critic dubbed H.P. a “movie

by the numbers” and “often stodgy, humorless.” The worst slight of all was

calling H.P. a “magic act performed

by a Muggle.” For the uninitiated, “Muggle” is Potter-speak for a non-wizard.

Mr. Corliss’ review was a dour detour from Time ‘s previous H.P. gushfest, in which writer Jess

Cagle piled on the superlatives like “eye-popping grandeur,” “dazzling special

effects” and “sumptuous production values.”

So how did Mr. Corliss feel about raining on the Potter parade? Not too bad. He didn’t

think he gave the movie a total pan, calling his review

“mixed-mixed-mixed-mixed-negative.” And Mr. Corliss said it was a lot easier to

review H.P. than it was reviewing Batman in 1989-the first big Warner

Bros. movie after the Time Inc.–Warner merger. That time, Mr. Corliss was

assigned to write both Time ‘s cover

story on the movie as well as the review. That was hard.

“I didn’t think it fair to have

a quote from Tim Burton saying, ‘This is the most wonderful movie I’ve ever

worked on,’ followed by a quote from me which said, ‘No, it’s not.’”

-G.S.