July 25, 2018
The New York Daily News slashes its newsroom in half, calling into question the future of local news
by Alex Primiani
This Monday, the Tronc-owned New York Daily News—one of three dailies still operating in the city—laid off half of its newsroom, another major blow to local news in the twenty-first century. Writing at the Washington Post, Paul Farhi called the lay-offs “a draconian cut that continues the long, slow bleeding of newspapers and reduces still further the amount of local news coverage in the nation’s largest city.”
Farhi cites the nationwide trend of shrinking newsrooms, chalking it up in part to consumers’ unavoidable preference for digital news consumption. He writes, “The news industry has shriveled far faster than coal mining or heavy manufacturing, as exhaustively documented by the news industry itself. Employment in newspapers alone has sunk by more than half since the beginning of this century, tumbling from 424,000 people to 183,300 in mid-2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”
Farhi also recounts some of the tabloid’s history: when journalist Tom Robbins started there thirty years ago, it boasted a staff of over 400 journalists and printed three million copies per day. Now it’s down to forty-five reporters to cover the courts, cops, sports, and general news of the city’s five boroughs.
Farhi reminds us that the Daily News isn’t the only paper facing this problem:
The New York Times wouldn’t reveal how many reporters it devotes to metropolitan coverage, but the Columbia Journalism Review said it has shrunk from about 90 people a decade ago to about 40 today. The Wall Street Journal cut back its once-ambitious Greater New York section in 2016, chopping it from six pages to two. The New York Post, which like the Journal is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., has been a perpetual money-loser.
With local newspapers on the decline, online publications that pop up to cover local reporting can prove even less reliable, as we learned when city favorites Gothamist and DNAInfo were closed last year by billionaire owner Joe Ricketts, amid unionization efforts.
Following Tronc’s one-minute-long meeting announcing the lay-offs, the New York Post’s Editorial Board posted their own response. It reads in full:
Monday’s mass layoffs at the Daily News are bad news for New York: This town needs more good reporters, not fewer. The numbers are brutal: a newsroom staff slashed in half; no staff photographers at a place that long billed itself as “New York’s Picture Newspaper.” A sports department down from 34 people to just nine — how can a New York tabloid survive with that? Yes, the News has been The Post’s competitor for decades, and the rivalry’s often turned bitter. But rivalry has its joys as well: Even getting beaten to a story is an inspiration to do better next time. Not to mention the family dynamic: Many of our best people have come over from the News, and many of the folks who lost their jobs Monday are Post veterans and friends. So we shook our heads when the paper was sold for $1 last September, and crossed our fingers on hearing rumors that Monday’s bloodbath was coming.
It doesn’t take much effort to envision how a city could fare without local reporting. Over at the Columbia Journalism Review, Kyle Pope breaks it down:
What does it mean not to have local news in your town? Would it change where you live, how you raise your kids, where they go to school? It would if a local coach were abusing kids, and would have kept doing so if a newspaper hadn’t reported it. It would if money that was supposed to be going to city services was instead going to higher financing costs for government bonds, since no one was paying attention to the deals the city was cutting. It would if there were a spike in health viruses, because there wasn’t the news infrastructure to warn people to be safe.
According to Pope, all of those are real examples, and stories investigated by the Daily News and other local outlets. Pope argues that this issue is no confined to the silo of the news industry, and that its impact needs to be seen in more than jobs and the livelihood of reporters: the demise of local journalism foreshadows the demise of cities.
Alex Primiani is the associate director of publicity at Melville House.