Magazine article Editor & Publisher

He's Back: By Popular Demand, Hirschfeld Sent Packing and Rupert Murdoch Returns in an Effort to Save the Topsy-Turvy New York Post

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

He's Back: By Popular Demand, Hirschfeld Sent Packing and Rupert Murdoch Returns in an Effort to Save the Topsy-Turvy New York Post

Article excerpt

RUPERT MURDOCH RETURNED triumphantly to the bankrupt New York Post March 30 after a coup by journalists and creditors ended parking lot millionaire Abe Hirschfeld's twoweek reign as publisher.

Murdoch, who has said he lost $150 million when he owned the Post from 1976 to 1988, is the fourth publisher in three months.

A lifelong newspaperman who heads the $7 billion-a-year News Corp. of Australia, he follows a string of increasingly unstable publishers who had no newspaper experience and who drove the paper to the edge of insolvency.

Murdoch rode a wave of support, stretching from the nation's capital to the

state's capital, founded on the premise that he offers the best hope, financially and journalistically, for keeping the Post in business.

For about $3 million - $2.5 million to reimburse Hirschfeld and $500,000 in operating cash that Hirschfeld had committed but failed to pay - murdoch assumed management control for 60 to 90 days.

During that period, Murdoch has to negotiate a purchase agreement with creditors and unions and to win a Federal Communications Commission waiver allowing him to own the Post and WYNY-TV Channel 5 at the same time.

With staffing now at about 700 - just over half what it was when he owned it before - murdoch cannot cut much more. Instead, he will focus on work rules, he told the New York Times.

Murdoch was forced to sell the Post after politicians, led by Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, a prime target of Murdoch's Post and Boston Herald, killed chances for waiver extensions. But most of the political opposition has evaporated in a campaign to save the irreverent and so far unsinkable tabloid.

Gov. Mario Cuomo, a liberal Democrat and another frequent recipient of the conservative Post's scorn, spearheaded efforts for a Murdoch return because "I respect the value of a vigorous, independent, journalistic voice "

In a letter to Rep. John Dingell, whose committee oversees the FCC, Cuomo pleaded for a waiver so that Murdoch can see the Post through "the most severe financial crisis in its 192-year history."

Cuomo argued that FCC enforcement of its cross-ownership rule barring a single owner from running a television and newspaper in the same market would kill the Post and turn on its head the rule's goal of preserving media diversity.

After creditors and journalists pleaded to a bankruptcy judge that Hirschfeld was refusing to pay bills and withholding some paychecks, the court removed Hirschfeld from control. The following Monday, Murdoch's offer was approved.

Within hours on March 29, Murdoch led his new management team into the Post's newsroom to cheers and applause in what he called "an emotional experience."

He praised the news staff's "great courage" and editor Pete Hamill's leadership.

Hamill, a novelist and popular local columnist whose firing by Hirschfeld inspired a mutiny in which Post news columns attacked its publisher, was offered a column but refused. …

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