Does Rupert Murdoch really want to kill the New York Times?

‘The Old Gray Lady’ as the New York Times is known in the US is flagging a bit, burdened by huge debts as the advertising tide has gone out and, its critics would say, hamstrung by too many hacks who only want to win Pulitzer prizes and the quarrelsome family ownership, which boasts no evident brilliant talents.

Much the same as the Wall Street Journal was said to be, before Murdoch bought it two and a bit years ago for $4.5bn from members of its equally fragmented owning family.

Now Murdoch is increasing the heat on the NYT by launching a New York-specific edition of the WSJ and slashing its ad rates. Rupe has always been a great believer in the blitzkrieg theory of newspaper marketing (which doesn’t always work, it failed to see off the Daily Telegraph in the UK although it made life difficult for a few years).

But does Murdoch, who has always seen himself, justifiably, as the great champion of newspapers, really want to bring one of the world’s few remaining great papers to its knees? On competition grounds he surely wouldn’t be allowed to buy it.

Murdoch’s tabloids, the Sun and the News of the World in the UK and the New York Post in New York, are hardly ornaments to anything apart from the rough and ready skills of attracting easy to please readers and, in the case of the UK papers anyway, ad revenue.

But in the UK he’s left his ‘quality’ papers The Times and the Sunday Times alone mostly, so long as they toe his political party line.

But all the gloves seem to off now in the US with former Times editor Robert Thomson in his role as editor in chief of the WSJ leading the charge. Thomson used to be the Financial Times’ Asia editor and his current demeanour gives some credence to that old joke that FT hacks really wish they were hedge fund managers.

Murdoch, who’s 79 I think, knows his time is running out and wants a big win.

But a kamikaze assault on the NYT (that is, one that will costs both organisations huge amounts of money for no material gain) is hardly the best way for him to secure his legacy.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.