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"It shows it's not dead," says Maurice "Mickey" Carroll, a former Times and Newsday reporter who is now a pollster for Quinnipiac University. "In the first place, no one can read news online. Yes, you can skim it. So I think you're going to have to have something in your hand."
Veteran newspaper-industry analyst John Morton says bluntly, "The Daily News is owned by someone with the resources and the will to keep the paper going. The purchasing of the presses shows he intends to stay."
But Doctor says the purchases "seemed anachronistic," adding, "There is some money to be made from better presses, but you're investing significantly in a declining business."
News spokesman Robert Leonard wouldn't discuss the company's finances, but he did say the paper has no plans to charge for online content.
Doctor does say that he likes one idea of Zuckerman's: allowing sports gambling on the Daily News website, a practice that is currently against federal law. He floated the idea in an interview with Forbes earlier this year. "There is something that can be done [to save newspapers], and the federal government ought to do it: allow sports betting on newspaper websites," Zuckerman said at the time. "Plenty of British papers do this—for them, it's a crucial part of their net revenue stream. I know a major newspaper in London that makes $15 million a year from sports betting alone."
WALL STREET JOURNAL
No other city in the country has such a powerful business paper, but no other city has Wall Street, either. The Journal is unique among the city's big dailies: Only one in nine of its readers lives in New York State. Even more than the New York Times, the Journal is a national and international newspaper.
Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.—already an international empire, with papers in London, the Fox network, and satellite companies—bought the Journal and Dow Jones in 2007 for $5 billion. There was some hair-pulling about Murdoch's well-documented history as a meddler in many of his media properties, which include tabloids like the Post, serious papers like the Times of London, cheesy soft-core rags, and partisans like Bill O'Reilly. A cluster of Journal reporters pleaded with the Bancroft family not to sell the paper to Murdoch, arguing that the mogul would try to influence the paper's coverage of the burgeoning economy in China, where he has business interests. The sale went through anyway, and though the paper hasn't been remolded into the Post, it has been, as media analyst Lauren Rich Fine put it, "migrating" toward more of a general-interest style.
The Journal has been charging for Internet access for years, and the strategy has worked. News Corp. claims that the Journal's website is more successful than almost any other paid website.
Still a work in progress is how Murdoch plans to integrate the Journal into his empire, which includes the embryonic Fox Business News channel. "News Corp. needs to figure out how to use Journal content with its worldwide infrastructure," Doctor says. "When he bought it, the question was, 'How much did he overpay?' But the payoff is that they could be the No. 1 business brand in the world."
Always ahead of most other old-media companies in figuring out how to make money through new technology, the newspaper will start new charges next month for content sent to mobile phones. The fee will be $1 for subscribers and $2 for non-subscribers. The paper also has plans to start a San Francisco edition.
It wasn't only the Great Recession that dragged the stock price of News Corp. down to as low as $6 a share, from $24 in 2007. The price started dropping right after Murdoch bought the Journal. Like many other stocks, however, News Corp. has rebounded: It's now selling at $14 a share.
NEW YORK POST
The brash Post gets a lot of attention for its snappy headlines and gossip-mongering, but its bottom line is no laughing matter. In an SEC filing earlier this year, News Corp. acknowledged that the paper's revenues were falling because of competition from new media and "shifting preferences among some consumers."
"The Post has been losing money for decades," Morton says. "But Murdoch has made clear that he intends to keep it going." Jarvis calls the Post "Murdoch's bully pulpit."
The paper and the Daily News are locked in a neverending tabloid-to-tabloid contest. When the Post slashed its newsstand price to a quarter, circulation jumped; when the price went back up to 50 cents, circulation naturally dropped back down. The paper's circulation, in fact, rose dramatically from 2000 to 2005, but has fallen 16 percent since then.
A recent makeover of the Post's website makes it much easier to navigate, but the free ride for online Post readers may be about to end. "Quality journalism is not cheap," Murdoch said in early August. "We intend to charge for all our news websites." The Post will not only start charging for its online content (probably sometime next year), but also may aggressively go after people who lift its content and post it elsewhere for free.
The Journal has been successful in charging for access, but the Post is not exactly full of specialized data and news pored over by lawyers and corporate types. Putting up a pay wall for the Post, says Doctor, would be a mistake. "It's like putting up a white flag of surrender," he says. "It just doesn't seem to fit."