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 93-year-old 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 on West 33rd Street 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. "You have to remember that most US journalists come from monopoly towns, so it doesn't matter if a story goes in today or tomorrow or a week on Monday."
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. "I am immensely proud and honoured to be leading one of America's great newspapers into a new era," he said in a memo. As he prepared to board a flight to New York he acknowledged there was an irony in his new role but that he was expecting to have fun.
Former colleagues of Myler said he felt at home during his previous stint in Manhattan, when his Widnes accent mixed with an American twang. "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. "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 $150 million (£97m) investment in the latest 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 was an error that contributed to the paper being forced to pay a record £60,000 in damages.
The last time Myler went to New York it was in the wake of another howler, an interview published 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 flying to 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.
The Mosley case notwithstanding, Myler, a practising Catholic, is credited with reducing the sleazier content of the News of the World and is described by an ex-colleague as a "very moral man". Having been cast aside by the Murdochs, he 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.
New York Post
Founded In 1801 by one of America's founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton. It was originally called the New York Evening Post.
Owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp since 1993, after a previous stint as owner between 1976 and 1988.
Circulation 512,067 on average between March and September 2011.
Best ever headline 'Headless Body In Topless Bar' 15 April, 1983.
Highs The paper's sensational shouting headlines are celebrated as exemplary tabloid writing.
Lows In 1980 the Columbia Journalism Review branded the paper "a force for evil".
Founded In 1919 by newspaper mogul Joseph Medill Patterson, who was also a co-founder of the Republican party.
Owned by Real estate magnate Mortimer Zuckerman.
Circulation 601,097 on average between March and September 2011.
Best ever headline 'Close But No Cigar' (Senate fails to convict President Clinton during his impeachment trial in February 1999).
Highs The editorial board won its 10th Pulitzer Prize in 2007 for a series of articles titled '9/11: The Forgotten Victims.'
Lows It was at the brink of bankruptcy in 1982 and the 1990s due to industrial action.