By: Tony Case
Following months of rumors, Times Mirror Co. folds
its money-bleeding, award-winning New York Newsday sp.
MEDIA EXPERTS HAVE long agreed that New York City’s shrinking newspaper market couldn’t support three daily tabloids.
They were right.
Following wide speculation of late, Times Mirror Co. announced last week that it was folding New York Newsday, the money-bleeding, award-winning city edition of Long Island’s Newsday. The final issue was published Sunday.
“We have been pleased to provide New Yorkers with a strong and vibrant newspaper and it is a sad event to have to end that role,” Mark H. Willes, the former General Mills executive who took over as president and CEO of Times Mirror last month, said in a release.
“But we have concluded that in spite of its superb editorial content, New York Newsday’s opportunities to earn an appropriate rate of return are limited. We will now focus our resources on Newsday’s primary market, where it has a bright future.”
According to the tabloid, as many as 800 jobs ? amounting to more than one-fourth of Newsday Inc.’s work force ? will go. The company is offering buyouts but hasn’t ruled out layoffs. Newsday plans to keep some reporting staff in Manhattan.
The Long Island paper immediately resumed publishing a Queens edition, which was killed when the city edition debuted in 1985.
New York Newsday never turned a profit but was expected to make money this year.
Executives have confirmed it lost anywhere from $7 million to $14 million annually. It’s been reported that the newspaper went some $100 million in the hole over its short lifetime.
The tabloid’s circulation ? 216,000 when it closed, up from 40,000 a decade ago ? plunged a whopping 12.8% during the six-month period ended last March.
Despite its difficulties, the paper gave the more-established dailies in town a run for their money, hiring pricey talent and winning journalistic kudos at times when the New York Daily News and New York Post struggled for their very survival.
And while shunning the sensational may have earned it the sobriquet “tabloid in a tutu,” conventional wisdom has it that New York Newsday’s aggressive local reporting helped to provoke the New York Times, best known for its national and international coverage, to concentrate more heavily on metropolitan news.
Newsday was rewarded in 1992 with the Pulitzer Prize for its accounts of a subway crash in lower Manhattan. Last year, the Times took a Pulitzer for reportage of the World Trade Center bombing.
Los Angeles-based newspaper behemoth Times Mirror entered the New York market ? one of the nation’s toughest and most unpredictable ? in the hope that one of the city’s ever-troubled existing tabs would eventually kick the bucket.
That gamble didn’t pay off.
So, the legendary tabloid war here is reduced to a one-on-one scuffle between media magnates Mortimer Zuckerman and Rupert Murdoch, owners of the News and Post, respectively.
“It’s always sad when a newspaper closes down,” Zuckerman said of New York Newsday’s demise, “but the fundamental fact is that the New York tabloid market is not strong enough to support three tabloids for a decade. It’s probably not strong enough to support two.”
The publisher added it was too early to predict the hard effects of the closure.
The News has been busily, if unwittingly, preparing for this turn of events for years, making an array of changes to boost its standing. These steps include relocating its midtown Manhattan headquarters, beefing up the news staff, preparing for the opening of a $160-million printing plant and moving to full pagination and four color.
The News wasted no time in capitalizing on its rival’s closure.
In a radio spot aired the day after New York Newsday published its last edition, the News trumpeted, “You’ll find everything you liked about Newsday and more in today’s Daily News.”
“I don’t think it does the industry any good for a newspaper to close,” remarked Post vice president and general manager Richard R. Hawkes, “but I think this was inevitable.”
Observers concur that the Post would better its position against the much-larger-circulation News by launching a Sunday edition. Hawkes wouldn’t confirm any such plan, saying only that it was an option. The Post did bring out an experimental Sunday edition several years ago but decided to discontinue it after a short period of time.
John Reidy, senior media analyst with Smith Barney Inc. in New York, said the Post will ultimately have to publish on Sundays for the property to be viable.
“Now, that would cost something ? but in News Corp. terms, not much,” he noted, referring to Murdoch’s vast communications entity.
The New York Newsday action was the latest in a series of money-saving measures taken by Times Mirror. It recently shut editions of its flagship Los Angeles Times and the Baltimore Sun and sold off its cable TV interests to Cox Enterprises of Atlanta.
And there’s more to come.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Willes, in a campaign to improve his company’s reputation on Wall Street, was planning to continue slashing costs.
Just two days after New York Newsday’s last edition came out, the Times announced to employees it was doing away with 700 positions by year’s end due to flat ad revenues and skyrocketing newsprint prices.
According to its annual report, Times Mirror’s net income in 1994 plummeted to $173 million, or $1.35 a share, from $317.2 million, or $2.46 a share, the previous year. Revenues rose to $3.36 billion, from $3.24 billion, and operating profit soared to $294.3 million, from $189 million.
Although many in the newspaper business had considered New York Newsday’s death imminent, the paper’s newsroom was, nonetheless, taken by surprise.
“It was clear today this decision has nothing to do with journalism,” editor Donald Forst told teary-eyed and disbelieving news staffers Friday afternoon.
The tabloid reported it was ceasing publication with a page one on Saturday that read, “So Long, New York.” The front of Sunday’s farewell edition featured 12 memorable covers. “Our Best To You,” it proclaimed.
“This is a sad day for everyone at New York Newsday and for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who were our regular readers,” Newsday Inc. publisher and CEO Raymond A. Jansen and New York Newsday publisher Steven L. Isenberg said in a prepared statement.
“We know how hard our colleagues worked, how strongly they wanted this bold idea to succeed, and we share with them the deep disappointment that this isn’t to be.”
Pulitzer-winning columnist Jim Dwyer led an unsuccessful campaign to save the tab in its waning hours. He told a Newsday reporter: “There’s a chance to make money here. There’s a chance to do good journalism.”
Dwyer is among a handful of the daily’s prized, high-profile writers. Some of them ? Jimmy Breslin, Liz Smith, Mike Lupica ? are expected to keep their jobs, and their superstar salaries, at the Long Island edition.
Dwyer wasn’t alone in trying to keep yet another major American newspaper from going down the tubes.
New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who publicly expressed regret about the closure, is said to have sent Willes a fax, offering to help save New York Newsday.
And whimsical New York real estate developer Abe Hirschfeld, owner of the Post for a brief time in 1993, reportedly offered to buy the edition but was rebuffed by Times Mirror.