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St. Louis May Again Be a 2-Paper Town

Times Staff Writer

In an era when two-newspaper towns are mostly a memory, Ingersoll Publications said Tuesday that it intends to start a new daily newspaper in St. Louis in September to compete with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Ingersoll, a privately owned company that has grown mostly by buying small-town papers with high-yield “junk bond” financing from Drexel Burnham Lambert, said the proposed tabloid will publish morning editions seven days a week.

Ingersoll said the paper, to be called the St. Louis Sun, would compete head to head with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a morning publication with a circulation of 372,397 daily and 546,300 on Sunday.

“Nobody has succeeded in starting up a newspaper in a market where there is already a (successful) daily” in decades, said John Morton, a newspaper analyst with the brokerage firm of Lynch, Jones & Ryan. “The conventional wisdom is that won’t work.”

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The Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church founded the Washington Times in 1982, but it has never been run as a money-making venture, and Gannett’s USA Today, started in 1983, has yet to earn a profit for a sustained period. The larger trend is for second newspapers in markets to close.

Ingersoll apparently intends to build on the circulation and advertising base of his Suburban Journals group in St. Louis, a collection of 43 weekly papers around the metropolitan area that he bought in 1984. The papers, with a total circulation exceeding 800,000, are particularly successful in attracting grocery advertising in the market.

Plan Hatched in 1985

Perhaps the closest strategy to Ingersoll’s, Morton said, was when Hearst Corp. in the early ‘80s bought a group of 17 weeklies in Southern California with a circulation of 800,000. With its daily Herald Examiner, the combination offered a once-a-week circulation that was roughly 80% as large as that of The Times. The effort failed, and Hearst eventually sold the weeklies.

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In St. Louis, however, Ingersoll is trying to build a daily from a chain of successful weeklies.

Ingersoll has been considering the plan since 1985, according to Charles Klotzer, editor of the St. Louis Journalism Review, and his chances may have been better then. The Post-Dispatch has significantly strengthened its once shaky suburban position in the past four years.

The man behind the plan is Ralph Ingersoll II, who took over management of his family’s small newspaper company in 1973 and later forced his father out.

Unlike his father, who was a founding editor of Fortune and Life and a seminal force at the New Yorker, Ingersoll is known for paying little attention to the editorial side.

“My conception of a well-managed newspaper is the difference between a 10% profit margin and a 30% profit margin,” Ingersoll told Forbes magazine in 1986.

He has built his empire by buying family-owned newspapers and then cutting costs. He even has a manual that issues strict standards for running his papers: It should take 1 1/2 hours to make up a page, for instance, and 10% or 11% of a newspaper’s total budget should be allocated to newsroom expense.

In St. Louis, the new paper will have a heavy emphasis on sports, for “we envision that Sun people will be fun people,” Ingersoll’s press kit promised.

In the Post-Dispatch, Ingersoll will take on a paper owned by a local publishing family, the Pulitzer clan. The Post-Dispatch has been the only daily newspaper in St. Louis since October, 1986, when the 134-year-old Globe-Democrat went out of business, its circulation having dwindled to 120,000.

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