'New York Daily News' Staff Cuts Are Reflective Of Hits To Local Journalism In The U.S.

Jul 24, 2018
Originally published on July 24, 2018 6:50 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

There's a conversation growing about where Americans will learn about what's happening in their communities, a fear that local news is under attack. This comes after the New York Daily News, a punchy tabloid, was sucker punched by Tronc, its corporate owner. Tronc cut the paper's newsroom by half. The company also owns papers in several other cities, including Chicago, Baltimore and Orlando.

NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik joins us now with more. Hey there, David.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Hey, Audie.

CORNISH: So why does Tronc say they did this to the Daily News?

FOLKENFLIK: Tronc says - points to financial headwinds - New York Daily News is among those papers that's been losing a lot of money for a lot of years - and says that it's positioning the paper for digital success. Those claims are belied by two things. The paper - the company has sought to extract a heck of a lot of money from its other properties, notably the Los Angeles Times, which it ended up selling off earlier this year, in cuts - and it's made cuts elsewhere - and also in tapes of conversations that the newly appointed editor-in-chief had earlier today with staff.

He acknowledged they didn't really have a strategy moving forward. And it wasn't clear - another Tronc official acknowledged it wasn't clear what their strategy was, but they hoped to kind of catch up with the cuts they've already put in place. So not a heck of a lot of a grand strategy so far.

CORNISH: Is there any way to know what this means for the paper and its coverage of the city?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, the staff is already cut well back, significantly back from the hundreds of journalists who used to populate its newsrooms in years of yore. It was down to something - call it 85 or so. It's been cut back to roughly 40 or perhaps a few more than that. I think the readers can expect far fewer people if any on the street. The sports staff has been cut by about 80 percent. I think there was one claim the photo department had been essentially eliminated.

You know, they're promising to devote attention to breaking news. And there's been a pledge. I think some of the investigative enterprise reporters have been held over. But I think you're going to see a lot less of the kinds of coverage exposing wrongs by city officials, by major developers, by police officers.

You know, there were a lot of reporters embedded in the warp and woof of daily life, the kinds of folks like the late Mike McAlary and Jimmy Breslin who used to not only talk to housing officials but used to go up into the hallways of public housing projects to make sure they understood how life was actually lived.

CORNISH: But there are no lack of papers in New York. Will they be able to pick up some of the slack?

FOLKENFLIK: And no lack of papers pulling back from local news. If you look at The Wall Street Journal under Rupert Murdoch over the last a little over a decade - promised to make a big foray into local news and did for a time, but it scaled that way back.

The New York Times also in its pursuit - successfully, I might add - of national and international digital subscriptions, which are awfully pricey, has really pulled back from covering the five boroughs of New York with the same intensity. And its metro staff as is about a half of what it once was. This is a newspaper that's decided to be national and global. And it's succeeded in doing that but at a cost. While it covers the mayor and other major city players, it doesn't cover the life of the city nearly to the same degree.

CORNISH: Chicago, Baltimore, Orlando - we talked about the other papers where Tronc has ownership. Is there a worry that this could happen in other communities?

FOLKENFLIK: There's real worry. Now, I will say we obtained a memo from the CEO and chairman of Tronc yesterday, Justin Dearborn. He put out a statement acknowledging there would be additional cuts at other Tronc properties, but they would be smaller, that this was something he claimed decided at the local level. But given that the official responsible for the East Coast operations for Tronc acknowledged today they didn't really have much of a strategy, it's hard to understand what that strategy is.

And I've got to say Tronc has shown time and again - as has another company, Digital First Media, owned by a hedge company - of really extracting money to maximize not only profits but the profits for the executives there. It's hard to see how this will shape to the benefit of readers of the New York Daily News.

CORNISH: That's NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik in New York. Thanks so much.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet.

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