Press gangs of New York prepare to greet old foe

Former 'News of the World' editor Colin Myler is to head Murdoch's arch rival in the Big Apple. Ian Burrell reports

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The Independent Online

The smell of blood was in the nostrils of the New York media pack even before Colin Myler had stepped off his flight from London yesterday on his return to the Big Apple. "Let the New York Newspaper Wars Begin," wrote blogger Kristina Chew, as Myler, the final editor of the defunct News of the World, prepared to start his new job on Tuesday at the helm of the New York Daily News. Only five years ago, he was producing the paper's deadly rival, the Rupert Murdoch-owned New York Post. His former Post colleagues opened hostilities yesterday by describing his appointment as "a new round of turmoil" for the paper they deride as the "Snooze".

According to Murdoch's son Lachlan, who once ran the Post for his father, the duel between these two famous tabloids is the "most exciting newspaper battle in America and maybe the world". During Myler's last stint in New York, the Post – where he worked as managing editor and executive editor – bought a giant poster space right outside the Daily News building for an image of a Godzilla-creature, dressed in a suit made from front pages of the News Corp paper, rampaging across Manhattan.

The intensity of the rivalry was captured in Tabloid Wars, a documentary made inside the Daily News the following year. It featured the memorable observation from the paper's deputy editor, Michael Cooke: "We put our foot on their throat every day and press down till their eyes bulge and leak blood but they still won't die. We just have to keep at it until they do die. And die they will."

It is the language of Fleet Street red tops and Cooke (now editor of the Toronto Star) is indeed a Brit, as was his then boss Martin Dunn, a former New York correspondent for The Sun. "Brit journalists have a sense of competition that American journalists find difficult to comprehend," said Dunn during his seven-year stint as editor-in-chief of the Daily News, which ended last year. "Most US journalists come from monopoly towns, so it doesn't matter if a story goes in today or tomorrow."

In his latest move, Mort Zuckerman, the Canadian-born property magnate who owns the Daily News, has sent for another Briton. Except that Colin Myler, 59, is no ordinary newspaper veteran. Even in the New York tabloids, the exposure of Fleet Street's dark arts has been big news. The Daily News' coverage of Rupert's appearance before Parliament in July featured the glum-faced mogul beneath the headline "Humble Pie". And yet now the very man who Murdoch entrusted with control of his British behemoth is going to take him on. As he prepared to board a flight to New York, Myler said he was expecting to have fun.

Former colleagues of Myler said he felt at home during his previous stint in Manhattan. "He felt he was a real New Yorker and if it hadn't been for Rupert asking him to come back [to edit the News of the World], he would have stayed at the Post," said one.

But Myler will find a changed New York tabloid market from the one he departed in 2007. "I think he's going to find it a bit different from London, where tabloids count for something," said Michael Wolff, the Murdoch biographer and media commentator. "Even since 2007, I think [the market] has changed considerably. The Post, since Murdoch bought the [Wall Street] Journal, is a non-starter. And the Daily News, if it has any presence, it is an outer boroughs newspaper."

Zuckerman would not agree. In the six months to the end of September, the Daily News recorded a combined print and app circulation of 605,677 (keeping it ahead of the Post's 512,067 despite years of Murdoch price-cutting). The Daily News must also justify Zuckerman's $150m (£97m) investment in printing presses.

Myler's brief includes greater digital integration and enhancing the paper's website. His track record in this regard is mixed at best. The decision by the News of the World to publish video of a sex orgy involving former motor racing executive Max Mosley led to the paper being forced to pay a record £60,000 in damages.

The last time Myler went to New York was in the wake of another howler, an interview in the Sunday Mirror under his editorship in 2001 that caused the collapse of a high-profile trial involving two Leeds United footballers.

He presided over an early flawed investigation into hacking but has persistently challenged claims by his former boss James Murdoch, the News Corp deputy chief operating officer, who denied Myler had later informed him of the wider scale of the practice.

Suddenly Myler finds himself in the city where James headed earlier this year as hacking threatened to engulf his career. His Daily News will sit on the news-stand alongside the New York Times, which reignited the hacking scandal with its investigative reporting and helped bring down his last paper.

Having been cast aside by the Murdochs, Myler will be a formidable opponent. Clint Hendler, deputy editor of the Colombia Journalism Review, said that the new editor's "number one challenge will be besting his old boss", but he noted that New York's tabloid culture was "really tame" compared to Britain's. Myler must win without the dark arts.