N.Y. tabloid wars: 'News' in bid to build circ, buzz

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The New York tabloid wars are heating up, with the Daily News plotting an ambitious drive to boost reader and advertiser buzz in the face of sustained circulation gains by archrival New York Post.

The News, owned by real estate mogul Mort Zuckerman, is expected to launch multiple internal sections devoted to cultural coverage, which could afford advertisers the opportunity to do broader advertising and marketing deals beyond simply buying space in the paper, according to insiders.

British tabloid editor Martin Dunn, who on Oct. 15 takes the reins at the Daily News as its editorial director, was mum on his plans. "There's lot of things I look forward to doing," he said last week, when reached in London. "I am not talking before I get there." Ed Kosner, the current editor in chief, exited in advance of his contract's expiration next March.

Les Goodstein, the News' president-chief operating officer, said the News will be "more promotional on a number of fronts, in terms of doing things to help sell the paper," but declined to disclose details. "We are not prepared to discuss our editorial and business plans," a spokesman said.

narrowing gains

The News, while still the larger tabloid, has seen its circulation gains over News Corp.'s Post narrow significantly in recent years. The Post has leveraged its brash amalgam of celebrity gossip, media-business news, sports and a cover price that halves that of the News, into a string of double-digit circulation increases at a time when most newspaper publishers are happy to stay flat. The Post also made bold marketing moves, such as its recent deal with Time Warner to distribute the latest version of America Online software in free papers the same day the company sponsored a Dave Matthews Band concert in Central Park.

"What the News isn't good at is generating buzz," said a News staffer.

Advertisers have noticed. "The Post is doing a lot of things right," said Geoffrey Klapisch, senior VP-director of media services at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, New York, citing its redesigned front page and "much better" color quality. He buys both dailies for his client Verizon, but his sense of tabloid dynamics may not cheer News executives.

"The News has to continue to make inroads into Manhattan," Mr. Klapisch said. An Audit Bureau of Circulations report for the year ending Sept. 30, 2002, shows average weekday circulation in Manhattan for the Post at 146,691, while the News had 118,477. For the six months ending March 30, the News' total weekday circulation was 737,030, while the Post's was 620,080. "Manhattan is important beyond the numbers," Mr. Klapisch said. "It's more affluent, and that translates into higher retail ad revenues, because everyone wants rich."

Mr. Goodstein, without divulging details, said the News' circulation for the six months ending this Sept. 30 would mark its greatest circulation gains in eight years, save for the period that included Sept. 11, 2001.

Col Allan, editor in chief of the Post, would not comment on what his paper would report for its next circulation statement. Through a spokesman, Lachlan Murdoch, Post publisher, declined to comment.

Recent moves testify to the far-reaching changes underway at the News. The News poached Lloyd Grove, the "Reliable Source" columnist at the Washington Post, to start up a gossip column, which made its debut Sept. 30. Former News editorial executive Arthur Browne left his position as Bloomberg News' enterprise editor and will return today as editorial page editor. Staffers, meanwhile, brace for more changes, as well as return to a more amped-up tabloid approach.

"Dunn will be brasher," said a tabloid veteran. "There is still more of an edge to a British tabloid journalist."

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