This article originally appeared in the October 26, 1982 issue of the Boston Phoenix.
The long-rumored entry of Australian media baron Rupert Murdoch into the world of Boston journalism seemed suddenly very real, and very serious, last week, making it seem more likely that this will remain a two-newspaper town regardless of the fate of the failing Herald American. At the same time, the appearance of Murdoch representatives at the Herald’s plant seemed to make the eternal anxiety at that paper a bit worse.
A team of men reliably reported to be emissaries from News-America Inc., the New York-based holding company for Murdoch’s chain of US newspapers, began touring the Herald’s Harrison Avenue plant and interviewing department heads a week ago Thursday, and were still doing so as late as Tuesday of last week. Their presence in the building set off internal rumors, apparently untrue, that Murdoch — who made his mark by buying dying newspapers and reworking their personalities in daring attempts to turn them around — had already agreed to buy the Herald, or would do so imminently.
Murdoch began his career as a media mogul in Australia; he still owns scores of properties in that country and in Great Britain. His outlets in this country include the New York Post, which is reported to be losing as much as $15 million a year, as well as New York magazine, the Village Voice, the San Antonio Express and News, a group of weeklies in the Houston area, and the splashy, celebrity-crazed, and highly profitable National Star, which he introduced to the checkout-tabloid market 10 years ago. His most dramatic acquisition of recent years was the highly respectable but seriously unprofitable Times of London. Last year, however, Murdoch’s bid to purchase the failing Buffalo Courier-Express was withdrawn after the paper’s unions rejected the cost-cutting measures (including drastic lay-offs) he was demanding, and the paper folded.
Thus, the news that Murdoch might be taking over the Herald sparked fears at the paper that similar demands could be expected as his first move toward turning it around. Such nervous expectation is strengthened by the news that Robert Page, the Murdoch executive in charge of acquisitions and expansion, has paid repeated, if very quiet, visits to Boston for months, exploring the market and conducting research toward expanding Murdoch’s empire into the city — either by buying the Herald or by starting a new tabloid if and when the Hearst paper folds.
“They’re kicking tires,” said one reporter while three of Murdoch’s men were being led through the newsroom by general manager Dennis Mulligan a week ago Friday. “They’re counting heads,” countered an official of one of the paper’s craft unions after the men were shown the paper’s back shops over the weekend.
All this despite earlier reports, including a statement prepared in response to a query by the Lowell Sun this summer, that Murdoch had indeed explored the Boston market but had decided against buying the Herald. At that point, reports began circulating that he had decided instead to wait for the Hearst Corporation — which had all but ended its investment in the Herald in May — to shut it down before he moved in and began publishing a replacement.