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Jewish World Review April 30, 2002 / 18 Iyar, 5762

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald
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Consumer Reports

10 Minutes with ... The New York Sun's Seth Lipsky | On April 16 The New York Sun rose again in The Big Apple.

The new wisp of a weekday newspaper - which has a retro look, a small but high-quality staff and a conservative editorial stance - was launched with great hoopla and national media attention.

Bankrolled by a reported $20 million from 14 investors and resurrecting a newspaper name that disappeared from NYC's streets in 1950, The Sun is emphasizing local news and commentary, aiming at high-brow readers and starting small.

It is printing 60,000 12-20 page copies a day in a city where the mighty New York Times' daily circulation is 1.2 million. But The Sun's backers hope in the long run to do what no upstart daily paper has ever managed to do in New York, New York - survive.

The Sun's hopeful editor is Seth Lipsky, 55, a life-long newspaperman who knows what he's up against. A former staffer at The Wall Street Journal and ex-editor of The Forward, the New York City Jewish daily, he was creeping through city traffic to his office when I reached him on his cell phone on Thursday:

Q: Starting a big-city paper these days is a fairly expensive, crazy idea. Why are you doing it and how's it going so far?

A: We are doing this because we think there is a need in New York and a benefit to New York to have a broadsheet that will focus on the city and cover the politics and policy debates, the business and labor issues, the philanthropic and cultural institutions, and the entertainment and sporting and spiritual life of New Yorkers. We think there is a need for it, a benefit to doing it, and we think there's a possibility of making it a profitable enterprise.

Q: Obviously you're still getting the kinks out, but is it worse or better than you had thought?

A: It's not a great story line, but I haven't been surprised by a great deal that's happened. Except that we've had a really very robust reaction on the newsstand and particularly in the home- and office-delivery market.

Q: What is it that The Sun is going to offer New York City readers that is new, exciting and different from what they have been getting?

A: Well, we're going to put stories about New York on the front page and we're going to hunt around for stories that raise larger issues. The first week that we appeared, The New York Times' news stories quoted The Sun by name three times. So even though we have a much smaller staff, we could see right off the bat that it was possible to come up with stores that the other papers are going to want to cover.

Q: Was The Sun started for journalistic reasons or political reasons, or both?

A: Well, there's never been a successful newspaper in history that didn't have a political element to its makeup, so I would say both.

Q: I used to work in L.A. at the Los Angeles Times and it was infamous for caring more about Beirut and South Africa than what was going in the streets below its windows.

A: It's very interesting to read that after The Sun was launched that there is an effort now to do something similar in Los Angeles (by former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan). I believe this business model - and we have worked on it very hard with a lot of very experienced business people and newspaper people - has a lot of resonance in other cities as well.

Q: Was The Sun started in reaction to The New York Times the way Fox News and The Weekly Standard were, in a sense, reactions to CNN and the New Republic - for conservative political reasons, in other words?

A: There are 14 owners of this paper. There are a dozen investors and myself and (managing editor) Ira Stoll. In that group there's quite a broad spectrum politically. There are Democrats and Republicans. The common denominator in this group is that they care about New York City, are interested in the betterment of New York City, and are interested in making sure it is not a one-note town.

Q: How do you define The Sun's editorial position?

A: The news columns will be an honest and objective report. The editorial page will be right or center-right. It's going to be for constitutional government and constitutional fundamentals and equality under the law. It's going to be for free markets, limited government, honest government, low taxes, tax reform .

Q: Those aren't exactly things that emanate regularly from the editorial pages of The New York Times.

A: Right. Exactly. It's going to be for growth, school vouchers and other experiments that might help minority children escape from a failing public school system - those kinds of things.

Q: Do you see your role as keeping The New York Times honest?

A: No. I'm not here as a gadfly to The Times. The Times is a great newspaper. I've read it all my life and I admire it. I recognize its achievements.

The New York Times, however, to a degree that a lot of people don't appreciate who don't live in New York, has made a strategic decision to become a national newspaper.

One can go for days, a week or more, without a New York City story on the front page of The New York Times - even in the New York City market; skip the national edition. We think that is very good for The Times. It is very happy with that, but we see an opportunity here.

Q: If you put American newspapers on a spectrum - with The New York Times on the dull end and the New York Post on the crazy end - where does The Sun sit on that spectrum?

A: Well, I don't know if I accept your premise that The Times is dull, frankly. Nor do I necessarily accept your premise that the Post is crazy. I think the Post is fabulous.

But The Sun is going to be a broadsheet. It's going to have seven or eight or some days 10 stories on the front page. It will try to be written in a lively fashion, but it is going to serious, and deal with serious issues.

Q: How and when will you know that you've succeeded?

A: I think pretty much by the turn of the century.

JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Bill Steigerwald