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NYT vs. WSJ -- Champagne and Caviar, Anyone?

Today I begin a long break from my impression of a salmon swimming upstream, and expounding on the virtues of newspapers. I swear it would be easier to convince people that politicians really, truly do have their constituents' best interests in mind ...

So let's return to some good ol' blissful denial, and climb into the dark clouds that float above the crumbling newspaper kingdom. Let's visit a high-end war raging between two of the industry's biggest cats -- but only briefly because this battle really means nothing in the grand scheme of things, even if so many sophisticates are fawning over it, and lapping it up like it was a contentious polo match.

Two of the giants in the publishing industry are slugging it out headline for headline, and vying for spectacle-d eyes in the greater New York City area. Welcome to the "Battle of the Big Apple" my good ladies and gentlemen!

In one corner stands the old, liberally-minded, Byzantine Gray Lady -- The New York Times. In the other, a free-swinging challenger from more of a conservative background -- The Wall Street Journal.

The Journal came out with its long-awaited "Greater New York" print edition Monday, and predictably this entertaining news is making quite a splash in all the likely places. Caviar, anyone?

If you are one of those lemmings -- and not a crazy salmon -- working toward unemployment in the rest of the always-say-die newspaper industry, this 'battle' probably looks a lot like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett arm wrestling with their pinkies extended over control of some island, while seated at a festooned table at the local yacht club.

Big, rich egos are involved here, folks. Oh, I guess I concede that if you can get past the procedural pomp and circumstance, some positive results might yet come from it. A few readers might even be served.

The Journal's top general, Rupert Murdoch, is throwing enormous amounts of money and resources into this venture, believing, and maybe correctly so, that the Times has not fulfilled its duty as the paper of record in the city.

As an old reader of the Times, and long-time resident of the area, I'd say it never covered the greater New York City area as it should have, so this broadsheet assault from the Journal is at least three decades overdue.

The Journal's flanking maneuver has forced the Times to get its head out of the clouds and its reporters on the streets of the city in which they work.

That reads hard, yes, but if you are one of the young and aspiring who work at the Times, the last place you want to be is pounding the grimy sidewalks of New York when you've heard how nice Paris is in the spring.

Predictably, the Journal is bringing some pop and sizzle to the fray. Its design is crisper and more inviting than the Times, which has always been the hardest paper to get into in the world thanks to its uninviting print presentation.

But more inquiring minds than this one are actually keeping score of the proceedings, so if you are interested go here for The Daily Beast's Harold Evans' take. The Village Voice has also got a scorekeeper ringside. And if this kind of battle royal really turns you on, there are any number of scribes working this over on the world wide web.

Before I go, and in order to keep this column relevant to the peasants that inhabit the low-rent districts of the newspaper kingdom, I'd be remiss if I didn't report the important news of the day -- the just-released circulation numbers from the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

That sobering report might be topped with a headline that would read like this:
"Circulation declines by 8.7 percent."

"But newspapers' head-first dive eases some over latest six-month period."

With that kind of good news going out on the wires, it's no wonder so many have instead fixated on this delightful high-end "Battle of the Big Apple."

I suppose in this war of the have-a-lots, I am kind of pulling for the Journal, if only because this type of fray has been long overdue. And it's kind of nice to see the high-brows spill a little ink on themselves every now and then.


(Got a tip, a gripe, or some kudos? Send 'em along.)