NEW YORK — It might be the last great American newspaper war. And Rupert Murdoch intends to win it.

He has made a career of grabbing readers and advertisers from competing newspapers, and now he is racheting up the challenge his Wall Street Journal poses to The New York Times. On Monday, the Journal is launching a metro section that will vie for readers and advertisers on the Times’ turf.

Although the new section will be available only in the New York City area, collateral damage could spread around the country. Both newspapers are jostling with each other, USA Today and regional dailies for readers. By dramatically lowering advertising rates in New York to undercut the Times, Murdoch’s assault could leave both newspapers with fewer resources for other expansion plans.

“The Times has a lot of readers and a lot of them are very loyal, long-standing folks. It’s not going to be easy to peel off the Times’ core constituency,” says Dean Starkman, a former Journal reporter who writes for the Columbia Journalism Review. “As a business proposition, I think I’m with the majority of skeptics who think that this could ultimately damage both papers.”

Luxury retailer Bergdorf Goodman, a longtime prominent advertiser in the Times, plans to advertise in the new Journal section. It’s not yet clear whether Bergdorf will reduce its advertising in the Times.

Times President and General Manager Scott Heekin-Canedy says several prominent advertisers have assured him that their promotions in the Journal’s new section will not come at the expense of the Times. He declined to name the advertisers.

“We won’t get in a pricing war,” he says.

News Corp. said Murdoch, 79, was not available for an interview. But he has been open about his goal of using his media properties to challenge what he considers a left-leaning news establishment in the U.S.

Going after the Times is the fight Murdoch had in mind when News Corp. bought the Journal and its parent Dow Jones & Co. for $5 billion in 2007.

Since then, he has tried to broaden the newspaper’s appeal by remaking the Journal’s front page. Last year it surpassed USA Today as the nation’s most widely circulated newspaper.

As owner of The New York Post, Murdoch has been willing to cut newsstand prices and lose tens of millions of dollars in his bid to outsell the New York Daily News. In 2000, the Post sold about 435,000 copies on an average weekday, compared with 714,000 for the Daily News. By 2009, the Post was up to roughly 530,000 copies while the Daily News had sunk to 570,000.

And Murdoch’s underlings have been accused of using rougher tactics than just price cutting or promotions.

News Corp. subsidiary News America, which prints coupons and grocery store ads and is led by New York Post publisher Paul Carlucci, agreed in January to pay $500 million to settle a lawsuit with rival Valassis Communications. Valassis had accused News America of using its market clout to demand that customers advertise exclusively with News America. News Corp. would not make Carlucci available for comment.

So far, competition between the Journal and the Times has taken a less cinematic course.

The newspapers have shadowed each other’s moves across the country over the past year by opening sections devoted to local issues for readers in San Francisco and Chicago.

But those new sections are running once or twice a week. The Journal has shuffled resources to staff its sections and hasn’t done any hiring. The Times has sought partnerships rather than add staff.

By contrast, the Journal is hiring about 35 reporters for its New York section, which will run about 10 pages every day.

The Times Co. unit that includes its flagship newspaper lost more than 25 percent of its overall ad revenue last year and might not see it come back.

News Corp. doesn’t disclose the Journal’s advertising figures or profits. But there are clear signs the newspaper has been struggling financially. However, if it comes down to who can hold his breath longer, Murdoch appears to have the odds.


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