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Watch for the rising New York Sun

BY DAN KENNEDY

An account in the Financial Times of plans for a new daily newspaper in New York closed with this mysterious, unattributed line: "It has been described as a cross between the New Yorker and the New York Observer."

Never mind that the New York Sun is expected to stake out ideological ground somewhere between neoconservative and right wing ó a far cry from that of the staunchly liberal New Yorker and the ideologically eclectic Observer. The idea, apparently, is that the Sun will be a hip, arch alternative to the New York Times for those few members of the Manhattan smart set who didnít vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton last fall.

Reportedly funding the publication on a shoestring budget of $15 million, the Sunís backers include international media mogul Conrad Black and Democratic Party activist Michael Steinhardt ó the latter also mentioned in a gossipy New York Daily News item last week as a possible buyer of the neoliberal New Republic. (Current owner Marty Peretz told the News that there was nothing to it, but stay tuned.) The Sunís editor will be Wall Street Journal columnist Seth Lipsky, who was ousted as editor of the Jewish Forward in 2000 because of a dispute over his political conservatism. Lipsky will be assisted by Ira Stoll, another Forward alumnus and the impresario of SmarterTimes.com, a hugely entertaining Web site devoted to bashing the Times.

But letís get back to that comparison to the New Yorker and the Observer. When I called them, both Peter Kaplan, editor of the Observer (which broke the story of the rising Sun last week), and Hendrik Hertzberg, editorial director of the New Yorker, expressed some doubts as to whether the Sun can make inroads against the cityís existing conservative daily, the Post. Both, though, said they respect, even admire, Lipsky.

"Look, I do think Seth is a terrific editor," said Kaplan. He added, though, that he was puzzled by the notion that the Sun seeks to emulate the Observer ó "although they might want to rip off some of our slightly antediluvian style. But listen, we borrowed it from the New York World. So anyone who has our affection for that stuff is welcome to use it."

For the Sun to achieve its stated aim of serving as a conservative alternative to the Times, Kaplan noted that it first will have to elbow Rupert Murdochís Post out of the way ó and thatís not likely to happen soon, if ever. "We love the New York Post at this paper," Kaplan said. "It just feeds us every day. Conrad and the boys are going to have a hard act to follow doing that kind of reporting. What Murdoch has paid for is a ton of reporting. Reporting is expensive. Sensibility is cheap."

According to Hertzberg, the Sun wonít just be an alternative to the Times ó it will be a virtual adjunct to it. "It wonít have a single reader who doesnít already read the New York Times," he said. As for the Sunís position relative to the Post, he said, "We donít need another conservative daily, although I guess we need a smart conservative daily." Hertzberg figures that the Sun will be "quite good journalistically" ó sort of like a conservative version of Franceís Libération, a comparison that left me completely flummoxed. (When I expressed my state of flummoxation, Hertzberg, trying to be helpful, said maybe the Sun would be like a daily version of the Weekly Standard.)

"He can compete with the Post," Hertzberg said of Lipsky. "He can make it lively, he can make it intelligent, and he can go way, way up-market with it, with a raffish edge. Heís going to have more fun than anybody in the world. I envy him, and I wish he were a liberal."

Issue Date: December 6 - 13, 2001

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