The announcement that Rupert Murdoch is angling to buy Newsday refutes the claims of the Long Island tabloid's executives, made more than twenty years ago, that the Post was doomed to economic failure. Instead, it is Murdoch and the Post who are humming along, in their fashion, and Newsday that is stumbling. And that should concern anyone who fears or disdains Murdoch's brand of journalism.
When I went to work at Newsday in 1985, the conventional wisdom at the top--related to me by my boss, the late, great Bernie Bookbinder--was that either the Post or the Daily News (and maybe both) had to fail because New York City could not support two tabloid newspapers. In anticipation of that day, and to keep both tabs out of Long Island, Newsday launched a city edition called New York Newsday.
New York Newsday, where I had my desk as Bernie's researcher, was a strong newspaper. While staffers at the News and Post mocked us as a "tabloid in a tutu," New York Newsday dished out great coverage of politics and neighborhoods, a superb roster of columnists, and a vigorous op-ed page. And if we thought the Long Island edition was a little stodgy, it was a model for an intelligent, comprehensive regional newspaper.
In 1995, however, New York Newsday was killed off by Mark Willes, then CEO of Times-Mirror. The larger Long Island edition remains, but since it has become part of the Tribune Company, suffered circulation scandals, and endured drastic cutbacks, it has withered into a shadow of a great paper.
The leaders of Newsday never took into account the allure of a New York City newspaper for a politically ambitious robber baron like Murdoch, who has been willing to lose money over the years at the Post in order to own a newspaper in New York City.
With the Post, Murdoch has a political mouthpiece. With the Wall Street Journal, Murdoch has a paper that can challenge the Times. With Newsday, which for all its troubles has a monopoly on Long Island, Murdoch would have an entrenched presence in one of the most important regions of New York State and the metropolitan area.
Of course, as he maneuvers for Newsday, he may make the same noises about editorial noninterference that he made when he bought the Post and the Journal. Don't believe them for a minute.
Murdoch likes power and he likes control. And he exercises both when he owns a newspaper.