To put a twist on one of the most famous front pages in history: “Tronc to New York Daily News: Drop Dead!”
That’s what it feels like today in the wake of the publisher’s decision to lay off half the editorial staff at the storied tabloid, leaving a skeleton crew to run a newspaper that covers national news, issues, and events impacting the biggest city in the country. The rumors started circulating last week, and on Sunday, Tronc sent an email to staffers prepping them for “an important message from Grant Whitmore,” Tronc’s eastern region general manager.
This morning, the axe dropped:
“We are fundamentally restructuring the Daily News,” says an email from Tronc to staff. “We are reducing today the size of the editorial team by approximately 50 percent and re-focusing much of our talent on breaking news — especially in areas of crime, civil justice and public responsibility.”
The realignment of the priorities of the paper, which has a largely working-class readership and a history of uncovering municipal corruption and City Hall scandal, aroused outrage from many commenters, including former News reporter Tom Robbins:
Just some of the stories broken by the @NYDailyNews in past few weeks:
–A mini race-riot among FDNY members in the Bronx;
–NYPD failure to discipline officers despite blatant evidence;
–NYPD move to charge Pantaleo in Garner death;
–Non-stop exclusives re NYCHA scandal.
— Tom Robbins (@tommy_robb) July 23, 2018
It’s just the latest round of cuts at the financially struggling Daily News, which Tronc bought last summer for $1, promptly terminating some roles at the paper and moving some functions to the publisher’s Chicago headquarters.
It’s been a long, slow decline for the paper, which once boasted 2.4 million daily readers, with enough scandals worthy of a big-city tabloid. In both the 1980s and 1990s, it almost went out of business before being rescued by British millionaire Robert Maxwell, who, months later, drowned when he fell off his yacht, plunging the paper into bankruptcy. From there, it was resuscitated once again by real-estate mogul Mort Zuckerman in 1993.
When I arrived at the Daily News in 1997 for my first job in journalism, it was already a shell of itself. The union had been weakened, it had left the iconic Daily News building on 42nd Street—made famous in the Superman movies—and moved into a graceless brick in the brutalist style that teetered over the West Side rail yards. It was rapidly losing readers to its arch-rival the New York Post and an online audience. It seemed like morale couldn’t get lower.
But it did, over and over again. Today, almost all of my former colleagues are either working online, have moved to public relations and corporate communications work, or are resting six feet under. Maybe now, it’s finally hit rock bottom—unless the fates intervene to deliver even more misery.
UPDATE: Now, the tabloid’s travails have been caught up in the vicious feud between New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Back in 2015, de Blasio seemed to relish the thought of the Daily News’s possible demise, emailing a colleague: “And that would be good for us, right?” Today, Cuomo tweeted his outrage at Tronc’s decision to gut the paper, offering the state’s help to avert layoffs:
— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) July 23, 2018
Literally two minutes after Cuomo’s tweet, de Blasio chimed in with his own words of support for the paper:
It’s no secret that I’ve disagreed with the Daily News from time to time. But Tronc’s greedy decision to gut the newsroom is bad for government and a disaster for NYC. Tronc should sell the paper to someone committed to local journalism and keeping reporters on the beat.
— Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) July 23, 2018