Tronc cuts Daily News newsroom in half; ousts editor in chief

Jaclyn Peiser
Copies of The New York Daily News on sale in Manhattan.
Damon Winter | The New York Times

The meeting lasted less than a minute. By the time it was over, reporters and editors at The Daily News had been told that the newsroom staff was being cut in half and that the editor in chief, Jim Rich, was out of a job.

Grant Whitmore, an executive at Tronc, the media company that owns The News, presided over the meeting, which took place shortly after 9 a.m. on Monday in the seventh-floor newsroom at 4 New York Plaza in Lower Manhattan. About 50 members of the newspaper’s staff were in attendance. The group did not include Mr. Rich or Kristen Lee, the managing editor, who is leaving as part of Tronc’s aggressive plan.

The new editor in chief is Robert York, currently the editor and publisher of The Morning Call, a Tronc-owned daily newspaper in Allentown, Pa. Before taking the reins at The Morning Call, Mr. York was the vice president of strategy and operations at The San Diego Union-Tribune. He has spent most of his career in San Diego.

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The layoffs were not unexpected. The blog Study Hall reported on Thursday that a large percentage of the staff was to be laid off and that Mr. Rich would not be returning to the newsroom after a vacation. Some News employees started packing last week.

At 1:40 a.m. on Monday, Mr. Rich went public with his displeasure in a Twitter post: “If you hate democracy and think local governments should operate unchecked and in the dark, then today is a good day for you.”

Since Tronc, which is based in Chicago, bought The News from the New York real estate developer and media mogul Mortimer B. Zuckerman in September 2017 — for a reported $1 — it has been examining its latest asset. In a memo sent to the paper’s employees minutes after the quick Monday morning meeting, the company said that it had been working to transform the tabloid into a publication better suited to the digital age.

“But we have not gone far enough,” the memo said.

After noting the paper is grappling with “significant financial challenges,” the Tronc statement got down to the nitty-gritty: “We are reducing today the size of the editorial team by approximately 50 percent and refocusing much of our talent on breaking news — especially in areas of crime, civil justice and public responsibility.”

It was not the first time The News had made sweeping cuts. In 2015, under Mr. Zuckerman’s ownership, the paper laid off dozens of employees, including virtually its entire digital team. A company that once had hundreds of employees has over the years dwindled to a newsroom staff of approximately 75 to 100.

“You used to go into the office and feel the energy,” said Frank Isola, a sports columnist who has been at The News for nearly 25 years. “I’ve probably been in the office, I would say, maybe three times in the last three years. People tell me, ‘Don’t come in, it’s depressing.’ They say there’s nobody there.”

The latest layoffs were yet another blow to the tabloid, which was once a no-nonsense staple publication for New York’s working class and had the highest daily circulation of any newspaper in the country. In 1947, The News boasted a 2.4 million daily circulation, its highest figure.

“The News, it was our city — we owned it,” said Michael Daly, a special correspondent with The Daily Beast who was a columnist at The News for nearly 25 years. “And it was a great romance.”

In recent years, its print circulation numbers have fallen to roughly 200,000, while its digital reach over the past year is 23 million.