Extra! Extra! News War Hits Big Apple!

We live in an era when most major American cities are served by a single newspaper. A few megalopolises, like Boston, Chicago, and Washington DC, manage to support two major papers.

But how many newspapers are slugging it out for dominance in the Big Apple? Well, there is the broadsheet New York Times, as well as its tabloid competitors Daily News and Post. Although Newsday also serves the Eastern suburbs and the Star Ledger the western suburbs, only the Times, the News, and the Post serve all five of the central boroughs.

Last week, though, a fourth major daily newspaper jumped into the mix with a new section of local New York news coverage. And oddly enough, it’s considered the new kid on the block even though it has been in continuous circulation in all five boroughs since 1889.

Introducing … The Wall Street Journal!

Yes, it’s the Wall Street Journal, originally launched by the men who created the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Several years ago, the Australian business tycoon Rupert Murdoch bought the Journal to add to his media empire; last week, he took aim at the New York Times by introducing a local New York edition.

This bold step wasn’t simply plucked out of thin air; the Journal has been moving methodically into mainstream news reporting for quite some time. Originally a pure investment news publication in the mold of today’s Investor’s Business Daily, the Journal subsequently diversified by offering general business news, a daily MarketPlace section, and a Friday Personal Journal section. More recently, it introduced regularly scheduled sections of local information for the metropolitan regions of Chicago and San Francisco.

All of these steps, though, pale in comparison to Murdoch’s bold new gambit in the media capital of the nation. But why would Murdoch, who already owns the New York Post as a personal investment, challenge the New York Times for local newspaper supremacy? Isn’t newsprint a dying industry?

Filling A Void

Interestingly, although newsprint itself may indeed be a dying form of communication, the local news that is printed upon it is more marketable than ever. In other words, even though fewer and fewer people are staining their finger tips with newspaper ink, more and more of them are demanding access to local information on their iPhones and Blackberries.

In fact, the hottest new trend in mobile computing combines Global Positioning System technology with web delivered product and service information. How often do people walk through Times Square, for instance, and search for a great Chinese restaurant? Google hopes that they’ll use Google Maps to access local restaurant reviews and then locate a promising establishment; in fact, it has added Walking, Bicycling, and By Public Transit options to its default By Car option to help them do so. And foursquare hopes that they’ll use their service to pinpoint the precise locations of the friends whom they’ll be joining for dim sum.

Considering that the Wall Street Journal has long published restaurant reviews for business travelers in major cities, why wouldn’t Rupert Murdoch want every one to think of that newspaper as a reliable resource for dining information in New York? As well as film, concert, and retail store information, as well as any other business that is traditionally featured in local newspapers?

Content vs. Distribution

In fact, the desire for news content is arguably as strong as ever. Politico, for instance, launched shortly before the 2008 Presidential election and is now considered a preeminent source of American political news. Newser has likewise grabbed the attention of journalists as an emerging internet age news aggregation service. And small online start-up news services like the New Haven Independent have charged into the void left by fading but venerable traditional newspapers like the New Haven Register with gritty coverage of intensely local issues and events.

All of these modern news organizations, though, share a strikingly similar business strategy. Namely, they are utilizing new internet based distribution methods to publish the content that is researched and written by journalists. In other words, they’re not simply selling old wine in new bottles; instead, they’re thoroughly reinventing the method by which their readers consume their product, although the product itself is arguably the same type of information that has been published for centuries.

When viewed in this context, Murdoch’s repositioning of the Wall Street Journal as a local newspaper isn’t an attack on a dying industry at all. Instead, it can be viewed as a savvy interim step towards a strategic long-term goal to compete against newly emerging web based industries by building on the foundation of a 120 year old news franchise, one offering what is perhaps the most well recognized and highly trusted brand name in the industry.

And in the meantime, while Murdoch pursues this long term goal, we can all stand and watch what is now being called the Last Great Newspaper War. So the next time you find yourself in Manhattan, feel free to stop at a news stand and join the battle by purchasing an ink stained paper!