The Daily News is now a newspaper without a newsroom
By Marc Tracy
A tabloid once famous for its bustling, big-city newsroom no longer has a newsroom.
In a move that was almost unthinkable before the coronavirus pandemic, Tribune Publishing said Wednesday that The Daily News, once the largest-circulation newspaper in the country, was permanently closing its physical newsroom at 4 New York Plaza in lower Manhattan. The same day, Tribune, the Chicago newspaper chain that has owned The News since 2017, told employees that it was closing four of its other newspapers’ offices.
“We have determined that we do not need to reopen this office in order to maintain our current operations,” Toni Martinez, a human resources executive at Tribune Publishing, wrote in an email to the staff that was reviewed by The New York Times. “With this announcement, we are also beginning to look at strategic opportunities and alternatives for future occupancy.”
The paper will continue to be published. The company made no promises about a future physical location. “As we progress through the pandemic and as needs change, we will reconsider our need for physical offices,” said a Tribune Publishing spokesman, Max Reinsdorf.
Newspapers across the country have been struggling for more than a decade because of punishing industry trends like the move away from revenue-generating print products and the nationalization of news. The pandemic, which has sharply squeezed advertising revenue, has added to the publications’ woes.
Workers at The Daily News were given until Oct. 30 to collect any belongings they had left in the office, although the email said the newsroom, which still has the distinctive four-faced clock that has migrated with the newspaper over the years, “formally closed” Wednesday.
Robert York, the editor-in-chief, suggested on a call with the staff Wednesday that there would most likely be a future newsroom, according to two participants.
A Tribune Publishing spokesman confirmed that the newsrooms of The Morning Call in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and The Orlando Sentinel in Florida had also closed. This year was the 100th anniversary of The Morning Call’s occupancy of its newsroom on Sixth Street and Linden Street.
Also closing were the newsroom of The Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland, and the Annapolis, Maryland, newsroom of The Capital Gazette — a newspaper that two years ago experienced tragedy when a gunman killed five staff members in the newsroom (then in a different building). A Chicago Tribune office for suburban publications in Aurora, Illinois, a city of 200,000 to Chicago’s southwest, was also closed, according to a staff email Wednesday.
These offices had been largely bereft of staff for the past few months because of the pandemic, but the news Wednesday that they were going away for good struck several journalists as a blow.
“We’ve hung all the awards we’ve been given, all the photos of our dead colleagues,” said Danielle Ohl of The Capital Gazette. Recounting the temporary newsroom the staff went to after the shooting and then the new newsroom that was closed Wednesday, she added, “It felt like we finally had somewhere we know we will be, and we can move forward. And now we have to leave again. And not only are we leaving, but we’re leaving with nowhere else to go.”
Jen Sheehan, of The Morning Call, reflected on the coronavirus-imposed status quo. “Nobody wants to be home,” she said. “You get a lot out of being around your co-workers, both personally and how you report. We’re going to lose all of that.”
In its 20th-century heyday, The Daily News was a brawny metro tabloid that thrived when it dug into crime and corruption. It served as a model for The Daily Planet, the paper that counted Clark Kent and Lois Lane among its reporters, and for the tabloid depicted in the 1994 movie “The Paper.” It has won Pulitzer Prizes in commentary, feature writing and even international reporting.
Last fall, The Daily News had the 18th-highest weekday circulation of newspapers in the United States, according to the Alliance for Audited Media.
But it has been in financial trouble for decades. Mortimer B. Zuckerman, the New York real estate developer and media mogul, bought the paper out of bankruptcy in 1993. He sold it to Tribune Publishing, then known as Tronc, in 2017 for $1. (That is not a misprint.) Even so, The Daily News won (with ProPublica) the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Public Service that same year, for uncovering New York Police Department abuse of eviction rules.
Two years ago, the new owner slashed the newsroom staff in half and ousted its top editor, Jim Rich, who had reinvigorated the tabloid as an anti-Trump answer to The New York Post, the rival paper owned by Rupert Murdoch. The company replaced Rich with York, a media executive who has spent most of his career in San Diego.
The paper moved downtown in 2011. With fewer readers buying copies from newsstands, The Daily News, under Tribune Publishing, has emphasized its website.
Over the past several months, Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund that has aggressively cut costs at the newspapers it owns through the chain MediaNews Group, disclosed it owned nearly one-third of the publicly traded Tribune Publishing shares. It also amassed three of its seven board seats. Before the pandemic, Tribune Publishing offered buyouts to journalists, and it has since imposed furloughs and pay cuts.
The cuts, as well as the chance that Alden might take over the company outright, prompted employees at several Tribune Publishing newspapers to start campaigns calling for local benefactors to “save” their publications.