Sale of 2 Murdoch papers may shift news climate in N.Y.; Chicago on course

The expected sale of two of Rupert Murdoch's newspapers could mean fewer -- or less sensational -- New York dailies. But Chicago will probably remain a two-paper town, with little change in journalistic style. Mr. Murdoch, through his spokesman Howard Rubenstein, has said he will not seek a permanent waiver from the Federal Communications Commission rule that bars a newspaper publisher from owning more than 5 percent of a broadcast station in the same city.

He and partner Marvin Davis are buying seven TV stations from Metromedia. One is in Chicago, where Mr. Murdoch owns the Sun-Times; another is in New York, where he owns the New York Post. Press reports have indicated that Murdoch will sell the two papers. Asked if that conclusion was correct, a spokesman said, ``I wouldn't take issue with it'' and confirmed several people have approached Murdoch about buying the papers.

Benjamin Compaine, author of ``Who Owns the Media?,'' notes, however, that ``No one in the world would want the Post except possibly the [New York] Daily News, probably to shut it down.'' The Post, whose losses have been estimated at $10 million a year, has cut into the Daily News's circulation, forcing the paper to become more sensational to compete with its splashy rival.

``If no one buys the Post or it is shut down, that's not good for journalism,'' Mr. Compaine says.

But Howard Ziff, director of journalism at the University of Massachusetts (Amherst), says closing the Post or merging it with the Daily News could raise journalistic standards in New York. ``If the Daily News didn't feel the Post's competitive pressure, it has a good chance of being a strong, responsible, working-class newspaper.''

In Chicago, the marginally profitable Sun-Times has felt relatively little change under Murdoch, and ``unless it's bought by an unsavory character,'' says Compaine, it will probably remain unchanged. Ziff concedes that the Sun-Times has not slid very visibly in its journalistic standards, but ``the handwriting was on the wall.'' He notes that the Sun-Times lost some of its best writers after Murdoch bought the paper in November 1983.

Murdoch's impact on style and news direction of his TV stations in both cities will be limited. ``Television is a mass medium. You go for the largest audience, and that creates a homogeneity of views,'' says Donald West, managing editor of Broadcasting magazine. ``I hope he will bring something new to the medium,'' he says, but in the regulated environment of the broadcast world, ``I don't know if broadcasting is diverse enough to retain a variety of voices.''

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