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The free commuter paper rides into NYC

The hottest new commodity in the newspaper business -- the commuter tabloid aimed at elusive younger readers -- will soon surface in America's biggest and most competitive media market.

Before the end of the year, the Chicago-based media giant Tribune Co., in partnership with former Boston Metro publisher Russel Pergament, plans to unveil amNewYork, a free daily tabloid aimed at the key demographic group of readers age 18-34.

New York will then join Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Washington as major cities that have been invaded by papers designed to be read on short public-transit rides by people who are not regular newspaper consumers, but whose eyeballs are coveted by media executives and whose disposable income is eagerly eyed by advertisers.

Pergament, 56, describes the new paper as a "high-energy, to-the-point daily newspaper aimed at young working adults, particularly those who take mass transit to work. . . . There is such a huge, huge advertising base in search of [these] target customers."

Christine Hennessey, spokeswoman for Tribune Co., the majority owner of the venture and the parent company of the Long Island-based Newsday, says amNewYork "will be a success because it will be the only free daily targeting this demographic. We're making an investment with a management team that was very successful in Boston."

A creative, high-energy personality with a knack for salesmanship, Pergament began his local publishing career in the late 1970s by founding the Tab newspaper, a free weekly that attracted high-end advertisers by saturating the affluent communities of Newton and Brookline.

In 1992, he sold the Tab chain to Fidelity Investments' Community Newspaper Co. and embarked on a short and rocky stint as a Fidelity executive. (In 2001, Fidelity sold CNC to Boston Herald owner Pat Purcell.)

In 2001, Pergament surfaced as publisher of the Metro, Boston's version of the commuter dailies that have sprung up in 16 countries, from Spain to Sweden, in the past decade. He was widely credited with boosting circulation from around 100,000 to 165,000 before leaving the company on June 1 and setting his sights on replicating that model in New York.

"I started looking for funding in the middle of June," Pergament says. "I called the five biggest media companies. The Tribune Company, they are open to ideas and can move quickly. . . . I would say it's 85 percent exhilarating and 15 percent scary."

In recent years, a newspaper industry desperate to attract fleeing younger readers has begun cranking out easy-to-read publications that offer digests of the news of the day or that focus largely on entertainment. In the United States, Metro started in Philadelphia in 2000 and moved to Boston a year later. Last year, both the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times unveiled youth-oriented daily tabloids for commuters. Last month, The Washington Post Co. introduced Express, a tabloid distributed largely along transit routes. Publisher Christopher Ma says the Express's daily press run is 125,000, and "we're pretty much selling out every day."

Elsewhere, in cities from Topeka, Kan., to Boise, Idaho, media companies have introduced new weekly or monthly publications targeting the youth market.

In New York, Pergament and Tribune Co. will find a congested media landscape. Yesterday, officials at The New York Times and the Daily News declined to comment on amNewYork or on any plans they might have for a similar product. A New York Post spokesman was unable to reach publisher Lachlan Murdoch, and a representative of Metro International, the company that launched the Philadelphia and Boston papers, declined to comment.

Asked about what seems to be a frantic industry effort to create products for the non-newspaper reading generation, John Kimball, chief marketing officer for the Newspaper Association of America, says, "It's a viable, reasonable concept for the industry to explore. I don't know that anybody at this juncture would say this is the final answer. . . . It's the audience everyone seems to want."

Mark Jurkowitz's media column appears on Wednesdays. He can be reached at jurkowitz

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