When a top executive from frugal newspaper giant Tronc was asked Tuesday about the specific strategy behind draconian cuts to the New York Daily News on Monday, he didn’t have an answer.
On Monday, the company slashed 50 percent of the editorial staff at one of New York’s two remaining iconic tabloids, including dozens of top longtime staffers from virtually every section of the paper.
During a Tuesday meeting with editorial staff that lasted more than an hour, Tronc executive vice president Grant Whitmore and the Daily News’ newly installed Editor in Chief Robert York occasionally struggled to answer pointed questions about the underlying strategy behind the cuts.
At one point, York asked for 30 days to develop an editorial strategy, which prompted dismay from some staff.
“I would’ve thought we’d have had a strategy, and then we would’ve made decisions based on how to carry out that strategy,” one staffer remarked, according to a partial audio recording of the meeting obtained by The Daily Beast.
“That’s a very reasonable question. That’s not the way that we did it,” Whitmore replied, prompting audible sighs and some chuckling among staff.
Throughout the Tuesday afternoon meeting, Whitmore attempted to both acknowledge the deep pain the layoffs have inflicted while promoting the supposed long-term benefits of such reductions.
While Whitmore took responsibility for the cuts, saying Monday was “one of the hardest days of my career,” in the next breath he argued that Tronc was forced into a corner. “Ongoing incremental cost cuts to this or that part of the business were simply not going to get to that,” he claimed. “These were unbelievably difficult decisions, and I understand that I bear the responsibility for making them.”
Still, Whitmore attempted to put as positive a spin on the job-slashing as possible.
Whitmore offered up platitudes, telling staff that “the road to success is never straight,” and that the paper needs to “pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off.”
He also framed the changes as vaguely cathartic, saying the cuts would help “finally fix the structural issues that have been a part of the Daily News certainly since I have been here and undoubtedly for years before that.”
“We will hold truth to power, we will fearlessly report on this city and our country, though we will obviously have to be focused differently,” he said.
Many of the remaining employees expressed frustration and disappointment.
“They admitted they may have been ‘too rash’ in cutting 50 percent of the newsroom,” one staffer told The Daily Beast. “Everyone was just laughing as it is completely insane.”
In a smaller severance meeting with a human-resources employee and members of the sports staff on Monday, Whitmore apologized to staff for the cuts and wished them good luck. But when he refused to explain why they'd been laid off, employees began shouting questions at him, according to one person with direct knowledge of the meeting.
“Are we going to get an opportunity to ask you questions about how that process went about?” one employee asked.
“He read off a fucking piece of paper, he couldn’t look at us,” another laid off staffer remarked immediately after Whitmore left the room.
This week’s internal tensions demonstrate the stark new reality the Daily News faces with a severely curtailed staff. According to two people who viewed a roster of the Daily News current staffing, the company lost at least 20 staff on the sports team and over a dozen people on the staff’s photo team, as well as the company’s entire social media team.
The physical copy of the Daily News on Tuesday was 12 pages shorter than Monday’s edition, which was printed before the cuts. The paper didn’t have a reporter at Monday night’s New York Yankees game, and ran multiple stories from newswires in key blocks.
Monday’s masthead listed eight top editors. Tuesday’s listed just three.
Coincidentally—and no doubt ironically—the Daily News bloodbath is coming at the same time that Whitmore is preparing for a lavish August 10 wedding at Bedminster, New Jersey country club to former Daily News advertising manager Kristen Schreck.
According to sources at the newspaper, Whitmore—who had been married with children—started dating Schreck, a 2011 marketing graduate from Monmouth University, when she worked at the Daily News from 2014 to 2016.
“Kristen and Grant met in New York, a city that neither of them is from, but one that will always hold a special place in their hearts,” read the account on their wedding page. “Both relative newcomers, they spent their nights and weekends exploring neighborhoods, restaurants, music venues, and museums, falling in love with the city and each other.
“When the time came to move in together, they crossed the Hudson and settled in Hoboken,” the account continued. “While still able to keep their eye on downtown, they are just a little closer to Kristen’s parents in North Jersey and Grant’s daughters in Maryland. Grant is worried about picking up an unintended accent, while Kristen is openly hoping that he does so that he stops embarrassing her with his unique pronunciation of Jersey place names.”
Among the profiles of Whitmore’s groomsmen is his Daily News colleague Andrew Reale: “Andrew and Grant met standing next to each other during a failing company’s all-hands meeting in the middle of an industry-wide financial collapse. Like soldiers in a foxhole, the two became fast friends as the world rained down around them. To this day, there isn’t a piece of bad news that the two can’t turn into a laugh and an opportunity.”
A Daily News staffer who escaped the bloodbath reacted this way to Grant Whitmore’s and Kristen Schreck’s nuptials page: “It just seems oppressively middlebrow while striving at the same time—and so whitebread... They are climbing high on everyone else’s back.”
A 200-guest wedding at The Fiddler’s Elbow Country Club in Bedminster, N.J., can be had for $60,000 and up, excluding florists, tuxedos, wedding gown and bridesmaids’ outfits.