Sun Worshipping

Does the birth of a new medium require the death of an old medium?

Drippy dissolve to The Week magazine, Jan. 20, page 19. Headline query: “Newspapers: Writing their own obituary?” where the necrophobia begins with Justin Davidson in Newsday (a newspaper) opining that newspapers are “in transition” to obsolescence; continues on to Michael Kinsley on (a Web site) complaining about newspapers’ trees and trucks and their delivery boy, Rube Goldberg; then Joseph Epstein in Commentary (a magazine) makes it a tri-media thrashing by saying that readers think newspaper editors are boring or biased, so they are flocking to the Web where boredom and bias are (I guess) banished. Then a final eulogist notes that self-described journalists better prepare to end up working for Yahoo and Google, adding, it seems to me, a seventh “w” to the “who, where, when, etc.” of an article’s must-haves: whatever.

My self-interest here is that a dead (circa 1960s) but now exhumed, resurrected, revivified, rejuvenated The New York Sun survive and thrive for the best of reasons: I like its sports section and its crossword puzzle.

The entire sports section has a singular coherent point of view, and that is statistical analysis over gossip. Editor Seth Lipsky, who came from the Forward, not noted for athletic coverage, brings together six writers: Allen Barra/Ryan Wilson on football, Tim Marchman on baseball, Tom Perrotta on tennis and Martin Johnson/John Hollinger on basketball. They approach sports in a Jamesian—Bill, not Henry or William—way. Not that gossip isn’t interesting, but if you follow basketball and want to understand its strategies, Hollinger is a necessary supplement to the New York Post’s great Peter Vecsey, who, having been educated by the Sisters of Mercy, is so unmerciful skewering NBA miscreants you wonder how he has any sources left.

Then the crossword: Tuesday, Jan. 31, Lynn Lempel’s puzzle titled “Color Mixing.” Seventeen Across: OPEC investigation? Fifteen spaces. Answer: AStudyInCartels. Fun clue and answer, but in addition, editor Peter Gordon promises never to repeat clues. No more Alan _ _ _ _ or Dies _ _ _ _ or Dirk of yore or Mel _ _ _. Try to think of 20 new clues for OTT, a recurring filler for puzzle creators.

Check out—250 newspapers online. Print media on the life support of the Internet. A delivery system to please Michael Kinsley; a choice somewhere of bias-free editorial to please Joseph Epstein; a free seven-day trial to please everyone except those who look gift newspapers in the folds.

The New York Sun is on the site Monday through Friday, with columnists such as William F. Buckley Jr., Daniel Pipes, Mark Steyn, Michael Barone and Cal Thomas. Plus, you encounter a possibly useful collection of advertisers. From Wednesday, Feb. 1: discount cigarettes, Ayn Rand 101, a law firm looking for either clients or witnesses, a Hebrew rest home and a political action committee. Bergdorf’s, Barneys, Lord & Taylor should be there, but aren’t, so I asked Patrick Hanlon, CEO of Thinktopia Inc. and the author of the just-published Primal Branding, to do a free top-of-the-head consultation to make The New York Sun one of those brands that “create a community of believers in which the consumer develops a powerful emotional attachment.”

Primal Branding involves seven pieces of code that are going to play an important role in whether or not they succeed in the incredibly competitive NYC market.

The primal code consists of a creation story, creed, icons, rituals, sacred words, nonbelievers and leader.

I’ll go through these one by one.

The Sun is going to have to come up with a fascinating story about why they exist. Where do they come from? Who are they? Did two guys (or girls) come up with the idea on a plane? Was the idea written on a bar napkin? Brands are a narrative, and we need to start at the beginning (remember how Hal Riney’s Perrier spots always started with, “Ten million years ago…”?).

Once we know who they are, why are they here? What do they stand for? Their creed must be differentiated from all of the other newspapers, or they will have no reason to exist.

Once we know where you’re from and what you’re about, show us who you are. The usual newspaper icons are the masthead, the front page, the five columns, as well as the iconic figureheads—the owner (Hearst, Murdoch, et al.), the writers (Bob Greene, et al.), even the funny pages.

The biggest challenge The Sun will face, I think, is rituals. As we all know, the ritual of how we receive information changed forever with the telegraph. Today, information is being transferred by hand-held communications media that are not the newspaper, but the cell phone and PDA. They will have to figure how to leapfrog their presence on digital media.

Sacred words involve everything from the name of the paper itself to phrases like, “All the news that’s fit to print” to headline style.

Nonbelievers will be those ardent readers of The New York Times, those who don’t read the newspaper, among others. If The Sun is neoconservative as you suggest, nonbelievers will be liberals.

Leader. This might be one of the most important pieces of code at the outset. Newspapermen have always stood at the front of their newspaper, and they have stood out. Graham, Hearst, Murdoch have all been outspoken advocates of their newspapers and have led the way toward sales. This is no place for a retiring wallflower, or they can count on their Sun setting.

It will be how they bring all of these pieces of code together that will make the difference. Most marketers have one or more pieces, but to truly create a visceral community of advocates, all pieces of code should be figured out, communicated and brought to bear.

I appreciate Patrick’s application of his theory to the barest information I gave him.

Me? I’d get out a bulldog edition, hire 500 newspaper-selling kids to scream “Extra!” every two weeks or so, be first on the street with the number, and see if Jimmy Breslin and Norman Mailer want to provide occasional counterweight to R. Emmett Tyrell and Hillel Halkin.

Tom Messner is a partner at Euro RSCG in New York and a monthly ‘Adweek’ columnist. He can be reached at