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
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
“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
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
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
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.”
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
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
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.”
“We’re doing asbestos abatement,” Dow Jones vice president Steven
Goldstein explained. “This is part of it.”
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.'”