“Boston is one of several major cities that interest us,” Page told the Phoenix. “We like the Boston market. It’s dynamic.” Page added that he is “aware that the Herald American is for sale,” but claimed that no negotiations were under way between Murdoch and Hearst. And what about a successor tabloid? “We’ve talked to several printers in the Boston area, but we’ve signed no contracts with any of them,” Page said.
Included among those printing possibilities Page was exploring this summer were the Middlesex News in Framingham and the Beverly-Peabody Times on the North Shore. Indeed, James Hopson, publisher of the Middlesex News, told members of the paper’s employee-relations committee to prepare for the possibility of sharing the paper’s computers and printing facilities for a period of time until the Murdoch tabloid could find its own Boston plant; the idea, presumably, would be for the new paper to avoid the Herald’s costly union contracts and confused distribution system. Unlike the Herald (the only newspaper in the Hearst chain that has yet to be computerized), the two suburban papers have modern, photo-offset printing capabilities and United Press International photo and news services. One industry source in a position to know says Murdoch’s market research revealed that cutting costs in such ways would make it possible to turn a profit by selling 250,000 or more daily papers — meaning the new paper would not have to go head-to-head with the Globe for circulation.
Rupert Murdoch himself is reliably reported to have visited Boston several times this summer, and to be “excited by the idea.” Three weeks ago, Channel 7 reported that Murdoch was in town, dining with Herald editor Don Forst and discussing the Boston newspaper market in general terms. Forst told Herald staffers he and Murdoch are “old friends”; indeed, Murdoch once offered Forst the editorship of New York magazine. This leads to speculation that if Murdoch did choose to buy the Herald, Forst would be kept on as editor and would be able to bring aboard selected Herald editorial employees with him.
So what might a Murdoch paper in Boston be like? “It would not be an effort to re-invent the wheel, or duplicate the Globe,” said Page. Page, as it happens, is not unfamiliar with Boston journalism, having worked here as Northeast Division Chief for UPI in 1970 and ’71. Over the next few years he moved up the UPI ladder to the post of vice-president and general manager in New York, and then, in July of 1980, quit to become assistant publisher and general manager of Hearst’s San Antonio Light. After a year with Hearst, however, he and the chain had a falling out, and he jumped to the post of general manager of the competing San Antonio Express, which happens to be owned by Murdoch. Now, ironically, he’s considering moving Murdoch into another Hearst city.
“We would find a niche, a segment of the marketplace that’s not being served,” Page said. “It’s safe to say that any newspaper we produced would be a bright, colorful, aggressive tabloid-format with hard-news coverage.” That does, of course, sound a little like what Hearst has been attempting here of late. The aforesaid industry source said, “Actually, what they have in mind is similar to the Sun of London — a nipples paper. I don’t know if it would be as full of sex and crime and sensation as that, but that’s the general idea.” Another authority on Murdoch’s movements toward our town contended, however, that a Boston entry would be a good deal less racy than the New York Post — more consistent with the Hub’s presumed gentility, and very strong on our town’s reputed favorite pastimes, sports and politics.