Rupert Murdoch and his biggest New York rival Mort Zuckerman are reportedly working on something media-watchers in the US find hard to believe, even unthinkable: cooperation.
It’s not an editorial deal, but a pact that would combine some of the business functions of Murdoch’s New York Post and the NY Daily News, which is owned by Zuckerman , a wealthy American real-estate developer.. Both men have been rivals for years.
Representatives of both have been holding secret talks for several weeks, the New York Times reports.
The talks began back in May when Newsday, the Long Island daily, was sold to Cablevision, an American cable and electronics company, for $650 million (£350 million) after both Murdoch and Zuckerman had made bids for the title.
One executive involved has described the talks as “preliminary”, but both sides are committed to an agreement, according to the New York Times’ account. The talks, the paper added, are at a delicate stage. The two publishers have not yet met face to face.
But lawyers are working on a deal that could involve combining the papers’ printing, distribution and other back-office functions, a move that could save both papers many millions of dollars annually. There is no thought, the report adds, of combining news staffs.
One big hurdle is deciding whose printing plant would be used. A few years ago the Post invested nearly $300 million (£150m) in new facilities in New York’s South Bronx. Recently the News said it was also investing heavily in new presses which would enable the paper to print colour on every page.
Although the News is said to break even financially, the Post reportedly loses around $1 million (£500,000) a week. A deal with its rival would not make the Post instantly profitable but would help reduce the paper’s losses, the New York Times points out.
It is not the first time the two papers have considered sharing costs There were exploratory talks back on 1999 – but nothing resulted. Now with newspapers costs – and losses – escalating there is new reason for talks.
Sharing printing costs and buying ink and paper are not expected to create legal problems. A bigger problem might be joint selling of ads.
Over the years, close to 30 papers in the US have reached joint operating agreements, but today the number has declined to less than a dozen. But few papers have a bigger history of battling over not just stories and pictures, but also pricing. The Post and the News also have a history of name-calling.
The Post’s nickname for the News is “The Daily Snooze” and in 2004 published a story that the News was guilty of inflating its circulation figures. The News retaliated by claiming the Post was “dumping” thousands of copies at a city recycling centre.
Two years ago, the Post briefly jumped ahead of the News in sales, mainly because it cut its news-stand price by half to 25 cents – around 13p.
The most recent figures show both papers roughly equal on weekdays (both papers sell just over 700,000 – with the News slightly ahead). On Sundays, the News is substantially ahead: 704,000 compared to the Post’s 401,000.