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04.26.10

Newspaper War!

The Wall Street Journal launched its New York section today, sparking a slugfest with The New York Times. Who wins round one? Harold Evans keeps score.

Today, Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal (and editor Robert Thomson) tries to beat up Arthur "Pinch" Sulzberger’s New York Times (with editor Bill Keller)—right there on the Times’ front lawn.

The Journal devotes a whole new separate section, titled Greater New York, to city news, arts, and sports. That must be news because The New York Times says so. Its management has sent out a memo “welcoming” a new competitor as having woken up to the city after 120 years of hiding south of Wall Street: “Some folks just have a different learning curve…we know just how difficult it can be for start-ups to develop a following” and there follows a “fair and balanced” (ouch) summary of the Times’ good numbers in market share. (Hey, and don't forget there's the welterweight fight between Murdoch's New York Post and Mort Zuckerman's Daily News.)

The Daily Beast asked long-time newspaper editor Harold Evans to score the opening rounds editorially. His comments:

Just scoring for news, you’d have to have been bribed to mark this against the Greater New York (GNL). Rupert and Robert could hardly fail with nine news pages against Arthur and Bill’s six. (I don’t count the two for sport and two for the arts in the GNL package—there The Times wins because it already has two separate sections).

But what about the broader picture? My marks against ten:

ORGANIZATION
WSJ: 9 points
NYT: 1 point

The GNL front page is an attention grabber “Police Let Terrorist Slip Through…Rats Mob the Upper East Side…Angels Slide Past Yankees…” What the hell is the city coming to? Bill and Arthur know they’re up against it when they have to bury their New York section on page A16. They’ve gone for full-page splashes with big pictures and graphics with a gossipy lead in from the front on Mayor Bloomberg’s retreat in Bermuda. Nice try but no cigar.

STORY COUNT
WSJ: 20 pieces
NYT: 11 pieces

DESIGN
WSJ: 8 points
NYT: 3 points

The NYT is stuck with its stodgy type-faces and slab layout that looks flabby and middle-aged against the leaner, faster-punching kid from downtown. The Times gets its points for its graphics, one on the rebirth of Jamaica Bay and one on subway traffic (marred by type you can’t read on station identifications).

RELEVANCE
WSJ: 7 points
NYT: 8 points

The three main stories in The Times run on the long side—Jamaica Bay, and subway traffic, and one on a Brooklyn school defying the odds—but they are well explained. Best thing in the WSJ are the property pages.

WIDTH OF APPEAL
WSJ: 9 points
NYT: 2 points

The page called Heard and Scene is a big winner for the WSJ—at last an attempt to recognize there is a whole throbbing social life in the city. Marshall Heyman reports from a Brooklyn benefit ball: "the piece de resistance was a 20-foot tall pinata of Andy Warhol's face which several women in party dresses took to maniacally with a baseball bat." A neat idea is a donor of the day feature (the backers of the movie Precious gave $1.3 million to The Fresh Air Fund). The Times Metropolitan Diary is a nicely written individual viewpoint—but easy to miss, tucked away with only a label headline.

Opening round summary: That learning curve is more like a vertical. The Journal comes out on top…so far. I'll continue to score thoughout the week.

Harold Evans, author of two histories of America, just published his memoir, My Paper Chase . Editor at large of The Week, he was editor of The Sunday Times from 1967-81 and The Times from 1981-82, founding editor of Condé Nast Traveler, and president of Random House Trade Group from 1990-97.