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Read All About It: Newspaper War In New York

Where do New Yorkers turn when they need to know if the Metropolitan Transportation Authority plans to cut subway service again, or if that new exhibit at the Guggenheim is worth seeing? Rupert Murdoch wants the answer to be The Wall Street Journal.

The Journal, acquired by Murdoch’s News Corp. in 2007, recently launched its new Greater New York section, with which it hopes to lure New York residents and advertisers away from The New York Times.

The Journal’s new section is available on its website (with the full content available only to paying subscribers) and in paper copies delivered to subscribers and newsstands throughout the New York area. The section also is included in the electronic subscription I receive through my Amazon Kindle.

The Greater New York section provides coverage of news, sports, culture and real estate. Last Friday’s edition gave front-page treatment to an article on plans to refurbish the fountains at the Met. The section also covered a recently approved ban on the use of loudspeakers by open-air tour bus companies and trends in New York City apartment buildings’ pet policies. The sports department, of course, reported the fortunes of the Yankees and the Mets. Readers of the culture page could learn how an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease on cattle farms in Japan might affect the menus at New York’s elite restaurants.

Since News Corp. bought The Journal two years ago, the paper has become a closer competitor to The Times as it has shifted its focus from nitty-gritty business news to topics of more general interest. Both papers publish editions across the United States, with The Journal dominating circulation outside metro New York while The Times has a commanding lead on its home turf.

News Corp. is expected to spend about $15 million a year on the new section. About 35 reporters, many of whom previously worked at the now defunct New York Sun, make up the initial staff. Still, that leaves The Journal at a pronounced manpower disadvantage against The Times’ local staff.

That New York dominance may be the only advantage The Times still has. Murdoch commands a global media empire whose holdings can contribute content to one another. Within the United States alone, the Fox News Network on cable and its broad set of local TV affiliates can provide boots on the ground to augment The Journal and its associated Dow Jones newswire. The Times has a much more limited set of resources.

The Journal has made no secret of its desire to challenge The Times’ dominance in New York. At a news conference about the section’s launch, Robert Thomson, managing editor of The Journal, told the assembled crowd, “If you really must read The New York Times, read it on the Web for free and then buy The Wall Street Journal.”

Janet Robinson, CEO of The New York Times Co., and Arthur Sulzberger, the publisher of the paper, replied with a memo deriding the Journal’s previous lack of coverage of “New York north of Wall Street.” They invited Wall Street Journal reporters who might be puzzled about the city’s inner workings to “check out NYTimes.com’s always very helpful archive.”

David Carr, author of the New York Times’ Media Decoder blog, called the rivalry between the papers “a real, actual newspaper fight,” worthy of cueing “the comic book sound effects.”

I wish both papers success. For too long, The Times has lacked true competition in local and regional coverage, which has led it to take its readership for granted.

I have read both papers almost every day for many years, and I find that The Times, much more than The Journal, is prone to a distinct and nasty bias against readers like me. The houses inhabited by prosperous suburbanites are often described as “McMansions,” and the occupants of those McMansions are “shrimp-eaters,” in the description of Times sports columnist George Vecsey. That’s a strange way to treat the sort of hard-working, highly educated people who subscribe to quality local newspapers like The New York Times — or, now, The Wall Street Journal. Why do I need to buy a paper that gratuitously insults me?

This hostility is evident even though The Times does not do much day-to-day reporting in the city’s sprawling suburbs. On the other hand, I don’t expect to see the thinly staffed Journal’s new section providing much coverage of my county or town’s government, taxes and (anti-)development initiatives, either.

With so many local newspapers across the country closing their doors and cutting staff, it is exciting to see that at least two papers still care enough about local and regional news to fight for it. As The Journal was running its first week’s worth of Greater New York inserts last week, Philadelphia’s two major papers, The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News, were being sold off at a bankruptcy auction.

So let the battle begin.

Larry M. Elkin is the founder and president of Palisades Hudson, and is based out of Palisades Hudson’s Fort Lauderdale, Florida headquarters. He wrote several of the chapters in the firm’s book, Looking Ahead: Life, Family, Wealth and Business After 55. His contributions include Chapter 1, “Looking Ahead When Youth Is Behind Us” and Chapter 4, “The Family Business."

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