Power Punk: Lachlan Murdoch

Crown Prince Lachlan remakes the New York Post in his own image; 76,000 readers to go; into the breach!

It’s the only great newspaper war in the country-and Lachlan Murdoch, Aussie media scion and deputy chief operating officer of the News Corporation as well as publisher of the New York Post, is damned if he’s going to lose it.

Coming to town in 1999, his preppy good looks balanced with an Outback-y braided tattoo over his left forearm, he was a man on a mission.

The Daily News had dominated the Post in circulation for several years, bullying it with its reputation as the thinking workingman’s paper, the true New Yorker’s 8 a.m. read. It held a circulation lead of over 260,000. Try as he might, like a battered Rocky, this was one fight Lachlan wouldn’t win.

Oh, but tell that to Prince Lachlan! Into the breach! Under his stewardship, Mr. Murdoch has led the paper to a 10 percent circulation growth in six consecutive quarters. Overall circulation has grown in three years from 443,951 to 652,426. The News’ circulation lead now stands at a little more than 76,000. While it continues to trail the News and still loses money, Mr. Murdoch said the Post should break even in two years.

To be sure, even for a company with billions in revenue whose future is satellite television, this means something. While Mr. Murdoch oversees the company’s 35 domestic television stations and its publishing arm, HarperCollins, it’s the Post that represents his most public test. Will News Corp. shareholders be convinced that he has the chutzpah to take charge whenever his father, now 72, decides to step down?

Certainly this isn’t a boot-straps story. Despite peppering his conversation with anecdotes from a recent stint on jury duty and his commute on the F or V train each morning, he is Lachlan Murdoch. He is the heir apparent to his father, Rupert. He did go to the Trinity School and Princeton. He is married to a Wonderbra model (Sarah O’Hare, since 1999). And that commute? He’s making it from a grand Soho loft in a building choked with media and Hollywood celebrities.

But he could have had the rich kid’s alternate ending. He could have dropped out of school at 16, ending up in an East Village apartment with a bunch of phone bills from Working Assets collecting dust on the kitchen counter. Instead, he learned his father’s business-first by sweeping the floors of his father’s Australian presses, then by rising through the ranks of the company in Australia till finally he came back to the States four years ago.

Once here, he remade the Post in his buffy, affable image. He directed its aesthetic transformation from a smudgy, black-and-white fish-ready wrap to a testament to the modern color printing press. He brought in editor in chief Col Allan from Australia, and then forced former publisher and long-time Murdochian stagehand Ken Chandler aside. And he did it all with a spiky haircut that would best Clay Aiken’s.

“He expects results,” Mr. Allan said. “He sets targets, and these are not maybes. These are things he wants done and better be done.”

And what does Mr. Murdoch want?

“Total victory,” Mr. Allan said. “That’s about it.”

-Sridhar Pappu