Conrad Black: the media baron's plans for a New York paper

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The Independent Online

The song "New York, New York" has the famous line "If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere". Maybe that is why Conrad Black, fresh from having to sell his half share in The National Post, the loss-making Canadian daily, is attempting to export his style of homespun right- wing journalism to the Big Apple.

Lord Black of Crossharbour, as he is known now he has been able to take up his seat in the British House of Lords, is leading a stable of investors backing a daily newspaper to be called The New York Sun. It will appear in the early part of next year when, Lord Black hopes, the advertising recession will be abating. And, according to his right-hand man, Dan Colson, the Sun will "be very upmarket, certainly neo-conservative in its ideological views". In that way it will be similar to The Daily Telegraph, The Jerusalem Post and The Chicago Sun-Times, all of which are owned by Lord Black's Hollinger Group, whose shares have lost a third of their value in the past six months.

The paper will be edited by Seth Lipsky, a former editor of The Forward, who left the Jewish weekly last year after falling out with its backers. He will be aided by Ira Stoll, who edits a website, Smartertimes.com, lampooning the venerable New York Times, a paper with the upmarket readership Lord Black craves and the liberal politics he abhors.

New Yorkers have not taken kindly to his appearance on the scene. For a start, they tend not to like foreigners owning New York papers. When Robert Maxwell bought the Daily News, he claimed he had the support of the ordinary working Joe, but this did not materialise and his love affair with the city did not last. Rupert Murdoch changed his nationality from Australian to American when he bought the downmarket New York Post, yet the paper still loses money for the media tycoon.

Second, Lord Black has twice tried to buy into the New York market and failed. In 1993 he failed to acquire the Daily News and last year he was unable to strike a deal that would have bought him a large stake in The New York Observer, the smallest of the daily papers in the city.

Media experts in New York are cynical about his plans. Clay Felker, a leading media writer, predicted that he would use the Sun "to pressure [Observer owner] Arthur Carter to sell". Others say the commercial environment is terrible for a new entrant.

There is also a question about where the space is for a new paper in the already competitive New York market. Mr Colson said last week: "This is not a rival to The New York Times" – a comment seemingly at odds with being "very upmarket". The obvious conclusion is that the paper will be up against The New York Post, which will renew the UK battle between The Daily Telegraph and The Times, owned by Mr Murdoch

The worry among many followers of Lord Black is that his tilt at the New York market is rather like his fateful foray into national newspaper publishing in Canada. After launching The National Post in 1998, he sold his stake in the paper to his joint-venture partner CanWest Communications this summer, having lost an estimated £75m on the venture.

At the same time, Lord Black decided to move out of his native Canada and now divides his time between homes in New York and London.

"I've heard about people making it in Toronto after failing in New York, but not vice versa," said one long-time Black watcher, who added, "Conrad's not very forgiving, so please don't use my name with that quote."

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