For years, Rupert Murdoch has done battle with The New York Times using the very imperfect weapon that is the New York Post—a classic scrappy tabloid, provocative and fun to read, but no match for the Gray Lady in clout, circulation or ad revenue.
Now, however, Murdoch has re-armed, and the Times should be afraid. Very afraid.
Murdoch's near-deal to buy Newsday for $580 million means that the Australian-turned-American press baron has the Times surrounded and hemmed in in a manner that any military strategist would appreciate.
Assuming the Newsday deal goes through, here's how Murdoch threatens the Times:
• From below, and in New York City, with the New York Post.
• From the side, in the Long Island suburbs—with potential to move elsewhere—with Newsday. Imagine Murdoch dusting off the old New York Newsday plan and giving The Times a real run for its money as the quality local newspaper in New York. Or what if Murdoch decided to expand Newsday beyond L.I. 'burbs and takes it into affluent Connecticut, New Jersey or Westchester, encircling The Times in markets in which it now has hegemony?
• From above, with top-notch financial and national coverage—and national distribution and influence—with The Wall Street Journal. You think the Journal's recent changes and expansion into broader coverage, especially of politics, is designed to increase it appeal to its core business audience? Of course not. It's a direct strike at The Times' strength as the only serious national newspaper.
• Bonus: Murdoch owns a couple of New York City TV stations, as well.
Put all those pieces together, as the savvy Murdoch is doing, and voila, The Times is surrounded. Everywhere it turns, it will see Rupert Murdoch. Checkmate
It's a fascinating scenario, and it still could be derailed by antitrust concerns (doubtful, really) or further deterioration in the advertising market. But if he can get Newsday, Murdoch will have the final weapon for a pincers attack on the nation's premier newspaper, in both its home and national markets.
And at that point, the end game for The Times is....what? Wow, suddenly the unthinkable, selling out to Murdoch, might be the inevitable outcome. This multi-front newspaper war is going to be interesting to watch.
More reading: Veteran media analyst Lauren Rich Fine has a slightly different take on what Murdoch is up to.
And another interesting opinion, from Alan Mutter, who believes the real threat is to the New York Daily News.