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Rupert Murdoch Vs. FCC In Battle To Control New York Media — And Wage War Against The New York Times

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Several stories this morning highlight Rupert Murdoch's battle to control New York media — first by ousting the editor of the Wall Street Journal so he can have more control in the fight against the New York Times, and then by attempting to acquire Long Island newspaper Newsday, which may have him finding himself in hot water with the FCC.

The Wall Street Journal's Jessica Vascellaro, Merissa Marr, and Sam Schechner have a front-page story claiming that Managing Editor Marcus Brauchli was forced out so Murdoch could speed changes at the paper:

Mr. Brauchli's departure likely heralds a more dramatic shake-up at the Journal, which has seen a shift in focus since News Corp. bought the Journal's parent, Dow Jones & Co., in December for $5.16 billion. In recent months, the paper has begun putting more emphasis on shorter news stories and more general news, as part of a push by News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch to broaden readership and to compete more directly with the New York Times.

Mr. Murdoch was impatient with the pace of change, say people close to the situation, and whoever takes over is apt to speed up the change process. The identity of the next editor isn't clear. Dow Jones said in a statement it would "begin a search for Mr. Brauchli's replacement immediately."

A piece from the New York Observer's John Koblin, titled "Rupert Rex," connects Brauchli's departure with Murdoch's attempt to compete against the New York Times:

Back in January, at a bureau chiefs' conference, editors in the room noticed Mr. Murdoch and Robert Thomson, the publisher of the paper, circling news stories on a few different newspapers. They were doing it quietly, but some speculation spread: What in the world are they doing--and is this what we're going to be doing from now on?

"I used to teach my journalism classes that the great thing about The Journal was that it was a paper that assumed you already knew the news, but then gave you some sort of angle on it," said the journalist, editor and entrepreneur Steven Brill in a phone interview. "Look at the way The Journal covered 9/11: On Wednesday the 12th, The Times was telling you the news of 9/11, which everyone already knew, but The Journal was giving you the financial and business take on those news. Now it's more straightforward."

And some early indications are that Mr. Murdoch has already made an impact with the scene-leaders he'll need to capture if he wants to reverse that conventional wisdom about The Times and The Journal as the yin-yang news sources of America's power elite.

"It's being presented less as a paper for businesspeople and more as a paper for people who like to read newspapers," said Nicholas Lemann, dean at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

But as if the fight to compete with the Times isn't enough, the New York Times today confirms yesterday's report that Murdoch is moving closer to buying Long Island newspaper Newsday for $580 million:

Rupert Murdoch is moving to tighten his already-imposing grip on American news media, striking a tentative deal to buy his third New York-based paper, Newsday, and getting his first chance to appoint the top editor of The Wall Street Journal, after the resignation of the editor on Tuesday.

His $580 million bid for Newsday and his urgency in remaking The Journal worry his competitors and cause angst in many newsrooms, including his own. And both moves are vintage Rupert Murdoch, a man who operates his sprawling News Corporation like an old-style media mogul, making big bets on old and new media -- bankrolling the new Fox Business Network, aggressively pursuing a deal for Yahoo, and buying Dow Jones & Company, publisher of The Journal, for far more than analysts thought it was worth. And that was just in the last year.

His first love, however, remains newspapers. The purchase of Newsday from the Tribune Company would put Mr. Murdoch in control of 3 of the nation's 10 largest-circulation papers (the others being The Journal and The New York Post). Owning Newsday, which is based on Long Island, would also open an eastern front in the long-running battle for New York tabloid supremacy and, by combining some operations, could allow News Corporation to end decades of heavy losses by The Post.

Of course, the Times also reports that owning three newspapers in a major market, as well as two TV stations, could put Murdoch front and center on the FCC's target list:

Even without Newsday, Mr. Murdoch was in the process of seeking waivers to continue to control two newspapers (The Wall Street Journal and The New York Post) and two television stations (WNYW and WWOR) in the New York area.

With those waiver requests pending at the F.C.C., the Newsday deal means that Mr. Murdoch must now apply for a waiver to own the two television stations and three newspapers in the same market.

The new rule, approved by a deeply divided commission in December, permits a company to own just one paper and one television station in the same city in the top 20 markets so long as there are at least eight other independent sources of news and the station is not in the top four. (The stations controlled by News Corporation are the fourth- and sixth-largest in the New York market.)

The architect of the rule, Kevin J. Martin, the chairman of the commission, has made clear that there is a strong presumption against granting waivers.