Thursday, April 24, 2008

How Marcus Brachuli and Newsday Are Linked

Forget All the Antitrust Stuff -- Murdoch and Long Island Are a Bad Mix

Rupert Murdoch is already treating Newsday as his, even though he may have to jump through a few hoops with the FCC and the Justice Department before the deal is sealed.
Sure, Mort Zuckerman is preparing a bid, and Cablevision and the not-very-deep pockets of New York Observer scion Jared Kushner may wade into the pool should Murdoch start drowning in the regulatory red tape of his own making.
But for the moment, let's assume Murdoch can convince regulators that the sickly newspaper industry can stomach Newsday and The New York Post having the same owner. The bigger question is, can Newsday's readers? The answer, for anyone who's been witness to events in recent days, should be an unequivocal no.
Exhibit A is Marcus Brachuli's ouster at The Wall Street Journal. Yeah, yeah, he resigned and I'm sure he'll get a very nice package for walking the plank.
Fact is, he was not Murdoch's guy and never was going to be. Life was already gloom and doom for Brachuli, who was fast being put in a position of implementing marching orders from Murdoch and Journal publisher Robert Thomson, rather than imposing his own vision, as Journal managing editors normally would.
Murdoch was able to get his way and, in turn, get around the limitations on his ability to fire the managing editor per the deal he made with the Bancroft family to buy the paper. We won't fire you, we'll just make you bloody miserable as soon as you walk in the door. They did, and now Brachuli's a "consultant" for News Corp.
What does this have to do with Newsday? Plenty. True, the deal is officially a joint venture so Tribune can avoid getting whomped with a hefty capital-gains bill. But everyone knows who'll be wearing the pants at the end of the day, and it won't be Sam Zell.
Murdoch has said both papers would be operated separately. As with anything, that's open to wide interpretation when Murdoch's involved. You could still have separate newspapers, but a ukase could be handed down that says both really don't really each need theatre critics, beat writers for the local sports teams or travel editors.
The result will be a newspaper that for years has been a shell of its former self being desiccated even further. It's been a long time since Newsday has been a consistently compelling read, and Murdoch's imprint could send even more readers scurrying elsewhere.
After all, the Post is reportedly losing $50 million a year. Murdoch covets Newsday's profits and captive audience on Long Island to help erase that deficit. Shedding personnel wouldn't hurt either.
Bear witness to the Post, which has never exactly been top heavy with reporters to begin with. The same can be said in recent years about Newsday, whose editorial ranks have been thinned by buyouts and the closing of its foreign bureaus, while its outposts in Washington and Albany have also been trimmed.
Murdoch has never been confused with a savior. That's why he's a billionaire. And it's also why his purchase would be bad news for Newsday, its employees and, most of all, its loyal readers.

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