A Media King's Cozy Castles

THE AUSTERITY Conrad Black brings to his latest major acquisition doesn't apply to executive living quarters. Layoffs, employee buyouts, and cost-cutting have been the watchwords at the Chicago Sun-Times since the city's feisty second newspaper became part of Black's media empire 13 months ago. But the paper's parent, American Publishing, has shelled out $4 million on real estate for executives.

Some $3 million bought a New York co-op for megamillionaire Black to use rent-free, according to the company's recent proxy. An additional $1 million went to buy a Chicago condo for Chairman David Radler, a Vancouver (B.C.) resident who needs a place to stay when visiting. Union leaders grouse that it's a lot of money for a seven-year-old company that just turned its first annual profit.

Radler says the Chicago condo is an investment and a better deal for shareholders than costly hotel bills. He adds that Black's co-op will be used "to make this company grow."

Growth is sorely needed at the Sun-Times, whose circulation has fallen 4%, to 500,969, since American Publishing took over. Since then, investors have watched their stock drop to 10, from a 52-week high of 15.