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A Sunday Newspaper of a Different Stripe

February 16, 1996|PAUL D. COLFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Paul Colford is a columnist for Newsday

"Things happen when Rupert Murdoch is in town," said an employee of the media titan. Murdoch came to New York in late January and announced plans to start a 24-hour Fox news channel.

He passed through the city again earlier this month and word came that his raffish tabloid, the New York Post, will launch a Sunday edition April 14.

This will not be a thick collection of news and special sections like most Sunday papers. The Post plans a compact alternative to its competitors--a 50-cent paper that tells readers "all there is to know, without taking all day to read," in the words of Editor Ken Chandler.

"There'll be no supplements, no magazine, no TV book, nothing like that," Chandler said. "It'll really be very similar to the daily paper and will play to our strengths, which are sports, business and entertainment."

This will be the Post's third stab at a Sunday product. When Murdoch first owned the paper, he fielded a Sunday edition for a few weeks during the 1978 newspaper strike. During the reign of owner Peter Kalikow, a Sunday paper was shut down after eight months of publication in 1989 because it was unprofitable. Murdoch reacquired the tabloid in 1993.

It fell to Jerry Nachman, who inherited the last Sunday edition when he was named editor of the Post in 1989, to shut it down. Seven years later, Nachman, now the news director of New York's WCBS-TV, says he believes the relaunch is a great idea.

"I think you can't really be in the game as much when you're publishing only six days a week," he said. "A bulky Sunday paper is an anachronism. What the Post plans will be a painless way to get a read-in from people."

The demise of New York Newsday last summer, which had a circulation at the end of 231,000, is what gives the Post an opening on Sunday, said John S. Reidy, a media analyst at Smith Barney. "The market is less competitive than it was."

By many accounts the Post continues to bleed heavily--media analysts put the paper's losses at $5 million to $10 million a year.

"Murdoch wants a voice in the city," said Reidy. When counted alongside Murdoch's more than $1 billion in annual revenue from all of his holdings, the Post's losses "are not even on his radar screen. It's like a gnat that rests on your knee for a moment."

Is He or Isn't He? Now it can be told? Let's hope so.

Newsweek labels as "exclusive" a brief story, attributed to senior editor Jonathan Alter, that the anonymous author of the hit political novel "Primary Colors" is Luciano Siracusano.

Siracusano, 30, had worked as a speech writer for former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, "had a close contact" within the 1992 campaign of Bill Clinton and worked until recently as a speech writer for HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros. He told pals that he was writing a novel.

"I haven't confirmed it and I haven't denied it," the suspect tells Newsweek, "but I am interested in having the book sell."

On Sunday, "Primary Colors" will lead the New York Times' national bestseller list.

This column is published Fridays.

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