By noon on Monday, Bavaria Bierhaus, a downtown bar on Stone Street, a short walk from the offices of the New York Daily News at 4 New York Plaza, was already filling up with day-drinkers who had just been fired from the century-old tabloid, along with a few colleagues who have managed—at least for the moment—to hold onto their jobs.
“It’s all a blur right now,” said a staffer who narrowly avoided being axed in what colleagues variously described as “a massacre” and “a bloodbath.”
Taking a break from what was essentially an alcohol-fueled wake at Bavaria, this staffer told The Daily Beast: “This is where we’re drowning our sorrows. I’m sorry I’m so inarticulate. I’m a little flustered right now…We’re still hoping to put out a paper, so I don’t know what’s gonna happen.”
A second staffer, who did receive a pink slip, said it’s only a matter of time before the Daily News—whose circulation is a tiny fraction of the more than 4 million papers it once regularly sold—kills its print edition and goes all-digital.
“It will be a thin, all-digital operation,” the fired staffer predicted. “Competing with the New York Post is over. Competing with the New York Times is over. That was our pride and joy. That’s in the past.”
Monday morning’s unsigned memo from the paper’s new owners—euphemistically titled “Staff Restructuring”—announced: “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.”
An official body-count has yet to be released by Tronc—the absurdly named Chicago newspaper publisher that bought the Daily News from real estate tycoon Mort Zuckerman in a fire sale last September—but insider estimates put the number of laid-off Daily News journalists at as high as 80.
It’s a staggering figure that includes editor in chief Jim Rich, managing editor Kristen Lee, most if not all of the photography staff (a painful irony given the Daily News’ longtime slogan “New York’s Picture Newspaper”), around two dozen people from the sports department alone, city editor Peggy Ackerman, crime reporter Kerry Burke, immigration and mass shooting beat reporter Edgar Sandoval, and scores of other journalists.
Rich—who left the paper as editor in chief in October 2016 under Zuckerman, and then re-assumed the post last fall when Tronc took over—declined to comment to The Daily Beast. But his Twitter feed was bitterly revealing.
“If you hate democracy and think local governments should operate unchecked and in the dark, then today is a good day for you,” he tweeted before dawn on Monday. His Twitter profile, meanwhile, said: “Just a guy sitting at home watching journalism being choked into extinction.”
Former staffer Corky Siemaszko, the Daily News’ legendary rewrite man who published 12,000 stories in his more than two decades there, messaged The Daily Beast that he was “on vacation and watching the tragedy unfold from afar. A New York institution gutted by greed.”
He added: “The thing is that these Tronc dummies don’t realize they are killing a valuable brand. This is Superman’s newspaper. The most New York of the New York papers. The paper that gives a shit about New Yorkers every day, not just when they need a Pulitzer entry.”
Former Daily News reporter William Sherman—who won one of the paper’s 11 Pulitzer Prizes for a 15-part investigative series on Medicaid fraud—said the latest news “makes me very, very sad.”
But, he added: “My wife Claire, who’s got more sense than me on some of these things, tells me, ‘You’re mourning something that disappeared a long time ago. This is not your Daily News anymore. It’s gone.’”
The Tronc corporate memo said the new editor in chief, effective July 30, will be Robert York, who was publisher and editor of the chain’s Morning Call news properties in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and former vice president of strategy and operations at the San Diego Union Tribune.
A late-breaking offer by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo—urging Tronc “to reconsider this drastic move” while “stand[ing] ready to work with them to avert this disaster”—has yet to yield any positive results.
A Tronc spokesperson didn’t respond to messages from The Daily Beast seeking comment.
Especially hard-hit were family members of the New York Times’ crack White House correspondent Maggie Haberman. Her husband Dareh Gregorian lost his job as the Daily News’ politics editor, and her brother Zach Haberman is no longer the paper’s head of content.
The fired staffers were told they’re receiving a severance package amounting to four months’ salary, regardless of seniority, one of the terminated journalists told The Daily Beast.
Impending layoffs had been rumored for weeks, although staffers were shocked by the magnitude of the bloodletting. Late on Sunday night, Tronc sent an ominous staff-wide email that seemed to confirm everyone’s worst fears: “Team, Please plan to be in the New York newsroom on Monday at 9:00 AM for an important message from Grant Whitmore.”
The meeting lasted less than a minute, attendees told The Daily Beast. Whitmore—who is the Tronc executive in charge of the paper— didn’t say much. He simply advised the assembled journalists, in a matter-of-fact tone, that they should check their email boxes in 10 minutes.
Actually, according to a newsroom insider, the death sentence didn’t arrive—in the form of the unsigned memo—until more than an hour later.
As the bad news spread, the terminated journalists met in groups of 10 or so with HR people and Whitmore “did show up, and he tried to show emotion on some level,” said a laid-off reporter. “I would have rather that he’d just been corporate and read from script instead of trying to show emotion. Because it didn’t seem heartfelt to me.”
Whitmore—formal title: Executive Vice President & General Manager, Eastern Region—has predictably been nicknamed “Witless” by newsroom wags.
“I am a senior operator with a passion for strategy, product development and consumer media,” reads his LinkedIn profile—a model of Orwellian corporate-speak. “I derive tremendous pleasure from building strong media brands that are able to forge real connections with audiences and marketers.”
“What does that even mean?” a former Daily News executive demanded, asking not to be further identified. “I would say they’ve adopted the policy of digital first, journalism last.”
Additional reporting by Lachlan Cartwright