A ‘Daily News’ Diary

A play-by-play of a paper up for sale

Context clues: When the Tribune Company put the New York Daily News up for sale, it nearly went out of business. Mary Ann Giordano, a reporter for the paper, kept a diary on that period of excruciating uncertainty; CJR published excerpts in the July/August 1982 issue.

Jan. 1: Covered the first murders of the New Year—seven so far today.

Jan. 5: Began working night rewrite, 3 to 11 P.M., after two days out sick. Got very depressed because of gloom­-and-doom atmosphere about sale of paper. Hard to be optimistic.

Jan. 7: Some good news today: word from Chicago that it will be a while before this thing is resolved. This is the Tribune Company’s first statement since they announced the sale, and copies of [president] Stanton Cook’s statement were passed around the newsroom. Calmed everyone down, but also revived the rumor mill. Cook also said there are a few offers. Hooray! I cannot imagine the Daily News shutting down, but it is so tough to keep my optimism when everyone else thinks it is just a matter of time.

Jan. 8: New York Post ran a story saying Rev. Sun Myung Moon is interested in buying the News. This, of course, was furiously denied by the News management.

Jan. 11: We keep reading things about us in other publications—The Soho News, Village Voice, Advertising Age. They seem delighted about the bad stuff going on here. To them, it’s a foregone conclusion that we’re dead. I am worried—enough to inspire me to pull up a typewriter at work and draft a new resume and application cover letter. But I can’t quite bring myself to go all the way with the job application process.

Jan. 12: Wherever I go the main topic of conversation is the News. Everyone wants to offer an opinion about why it is in trouble. I can’t even call anyone on the phone for stories without having them ask about it. At night we have little to do but speculate, spread rumors, worry, and go over this thing over and over again. There are plans afoot between a few of us to take some action. We have a scheme to place an ad about the News’s plight in a newspaper, just to wake up this city that its favorite paper may soon be gone.

Jan. 14: Closed on my mortgage for my new apartment. Hooray! It should be the happiest day for [husband] Rob and me, but at the back of our minds was concern: Will we be able to pay for this? Rumors are that January 30 is the closing date. Worked very little on news stuff and concentrated all afternoon on a last-minute effort to organize a meeting to pursue the idea or fighting back. Left work at 8 for Costello’s [a bar and restaurant], where about forty people showed up to sit around and complain about the News’s management.

There were some doomsayers, who are perfectly right in their assessment that newspapers are a dying business but who were finally booed down by the rest of us who asked, So what do we do, lie down and die? The decision was, we have to do something. The Committee to Save the Daily News is about to get active!

Jan. 19: Bad day. All the gloom got to me and I was terribly worried and depressed. My packet of resumes, clips, and such will go out tomorrow A.M.

Jan. 20: There’s talk among the unions that we should “take our fate into our own hands” and buy the paper ourselves. My reaction is: they must be kidding.

Jan. 27: Closing of The Philadelphia Bulletin announced. Could it happen to us?

Jan. 28: I am beginning to feel like I am in a little box that keeps getting smaller and smaller. Have two impacted wisdom teeth that ache. Fought with Rob. 1’m tired, worried about my job, worried about money, worried about the ad I am supposed to help put together for the Committee to Save the Daily News. Cried it all out at night with Rob.

Jan. 29: Looks like we will pass the rumored Jan. 30 deadline.

Jan. 30: Just as we were relaxing a bit [sports columnist] Dick Young announced he is bolting for the Post. We didn’t need this.

Feb. 3: Still in a sodium Pentothal blur after getting my wisdom teeth pulled two days ago. On my way out to a press conference [reporter Don] Singleton drafted me to be interviewed with him on Channel 5. I made the 10 P.M. news. Maybe I do have a new career.

Feb. 4: The first full-scale meeting of the Committee to Save the Daily News was called tonight at St. Agnes’s church. About 250 employees showed up and about a dozen television stations and newspapers covered it. Singleton and [“View” section editor and Guild activist Paula] Bernstein spoke, then me. I had to talk about our ad. I was shaking and perspiring under those TV lights.

We have begun to collect money to put an ad in the Times that will raise the question, “No Daily News? Unthinkable.” The copy still needs work.

Went out drinking with the gang. At the time our meeting was going on in the church, a lot of people were being interviewed for ABC’s Nightline—to be aired at some future date. It is so funny—we have all gone from covering the news to making news, and I think most of us enjoy it. Too bad it is about such a sad subject.

Feb. 5: Everybody is telling me they saw me on TV. Most people thought I looked and sounded good and everyone says I should pursue it as a possible career. I’ll think about it. Stanton Cook released another statement today, this time saying he’s “optimistic” about the outcome. He also referred to the employee stock-ownership plan that’s been proposed, saying it shows “strong employee loyalty.” Hah! Talked to people at Times advertising, collected some money for our ad. We have about $1,300 so far. At night, went to Costello’s, got bombed, had lots of fun.

Feb. 10: Hear that other people have heard about jobs—no positive answers yet, but some interviews. We’ve heard that [News editor Michael] O’Neill has called the other major area newspaper editors and asked them not to plunder his staff.

Feb. 16: I’m upset about the size of the ad we can get—two columns by five inches for $2,000. It’s embarrassing and frustrating, considering all the work that has gone into this. Oh well, no matter what the size, I’ll place it tomorrow—before it’s too late.

Feb. 18: My two-year anniversary at the Daily News. Good God! What a horror! Woke up to get a letter from a paper I’d applied to that said simply, “Thanks for writing, but we have no openings.” I have been horribly depressed and this only made it worse.

Feb. 22: On week’s vacation, working on my new apartment, etc. Ad ran in the Times in a prominent position.

March 2: Back to work. Better day than I’ve had in a while, and about time too. Last night I woke up screaming.

March 11: Everyone feels the end will come on March 30. Our mood was not improved today when we read that Warner Communications had backed out. We’d been rooting for them. But other interested buyers came out today, including Joe Allbritton, Donald Trump [a prominent New York City developer], Arthur Levitt, Jr. [chairman of the American Stock Exchange], and John Dyson [a New York state politico]. Also, there are lots of rumors that various investors are raising money to start their own papers once the Daily News folds.

March 19: A fellow reporter is thinking of suing the Tribune Company for mental cruelty—a great idea!

Both [transportation editor] Dick Ed­monds and [education editor] Sheryl McCarthy left this week for other jobs, and [weekend city editor] Steve Lawrence will be going too. So far we have lost more than twenty people since the paper was put up for sale.

March 20: [State Senator] Roy Goodman has been holding hearings all week to focus attention on the News situation. He keeps asking, Where is [Mayor] Koch? It’s a question a lot of people have been asking.

March 29: We have a raise coming up in two days. Will we ever get it? Our union leaders want us to put our money in an escrow account for an employee stock-ownership plan. Most of my colleagues are dead set against it. [Editor’s note: The Guild was the only one of the paper’s eleven unions to vote against the plan.]

April 1: Trump has backed out, but it seems Allbritton has stepped in. He has a thirty-day option to buy. Thirty days for the deal to fall through, as I see it. My hunch is that of all the potential buyers he has the least chance of saving the News.

April 7: My prediction about Allbritton seems to be right—he’s asking for 40 percent cuts in all dcpartmcnts. The paper’s doomed. I just hope it ends soon.

April 8: Reacting to Allbritton’s high demands, some union leaders approached—of all people—Rupert Murdoch and asked him to buy us. Allbritton responded by breaking off negotiations. Such a joke. I give us three weeks.

April 12: Optimism is rising again. It seems Allbritton really wants the paper. Talks resumed with some unions. I’m coming down with a cold.

April 13: Allbritton wants to convert Newspoint [the paper’s color printing plant in Long Island City] into the printing plant for the News, which is a good idea. Also wants to close the Sunday magazine, which is smart dollar-wise but not so smart journalistically.

We all read Time magazine today—the first hint we’ve gotten of the purchase terms. So far, Texas Joe has paid noth­ing, and probably never will. But what a situation: here we are in the middle of such upheaval and we have to read Time to find out what’s going on!

April 16: Got breakdown of cuts Allbritton wants to sec in our department. Total of 197 includes 48 reporters, 41 desk people, 17 copy editors, 20 people from photographic department. Lots of worried people.

April 17: One week to go in the negotiations [Allbritton had set April 15 as the deadline for the unions, leaving himself the rest of the month to conclude the deal with the Tribune Company] and it doesn’t look good. Said goodbye to [photographer] Mary DiBiase. She’s off to get married—probably will never be back, the way things look.

April 19: Today seemed like a rerun of March and all its anxieties. Again, it has been more than seven weeks since I menstruated and there seems no logical reason for this. Last month I panicked: this time around I’m calmer. Went to my gynecologist and asked him why I’m going through menopause at twenty­-five. He gave me an exam and told me my problem is probably stress.

April 20: Pregnancy test was nega­tive. I just have to calm down. Easier said than done. Had nightmares last night about being laid off.

Office was in an uproar, with the so­ called hit list about to be released and the Guild negotiations stalemated. On top of it all. I was assigned to cover the Guild negotiations. From 6 P.M. to midnight I sat reading Rolling Stone and the News in the posh offices of Allbritton’s attorney. At 12:30 A.M. the session ended. The list of editorial people Allbritton wants let go was released to Guild leaders but is being kept confidential. We’ll have to wait until 2 P.M. Then each of us will have to call Guild headquarters to see if we’re on the list. Everyone is on edge.

April 21: Assigned at the last minute to Rockland County to cover a development in the Brink’s robbery case. While I was up there I got word that everyone was going crazy. People were lined up all across the newsroom trying to get on open lines to Guild headquarters. I called too late to find out if I’m on the list or not, but included on it are some very fine people. Apparently many of those active in the Guild and Black Caucus were singled out.

April 22: I am not on the hit list, but it’s not much of a relief. The people who are on it are proof of the sickness of our management: three of the five members of the Guild’s negotiating team, all excellent journalists, are on the list, and at least five active Black Caucus members. The place was in an uproar again—everyone congregating in groups, very little work getting done. Things really fell apart when word came down that all talks had broken off. Another kick in the groin when we heard that the typesetters’ union had again called Murdoch in.

April 23: Rumors of the day were that armed guards were coming to prevent vandalism when the paper is shut down and that there would be an important announcement at 5 P.M. At about 5, hundreds of editorial people suddenly appeared at the city desk, where O’Neill just happened to be sitting. But there was no announcement. O’Neill beat a hasty retreat and everyone went back to work.

April 25: A wonderful day just because it was away from the News. Today was supposed to be the day Allbritton finalized his deal with the unions but they haven’t met in days.

[Reporter] Bella English called at mid­ day and said Allbritton had asked Chicago for an extension—no idea how long—and Chicago hasn’t replied. Oh, how I want it to be over! Everyone’s life has been put on hold for far too long.

April 26: Chicago gave Allbritton another five days—until May 5—to close the deal. More time for us to worry.

April 27: A nice moment today—a nun wrote to tell us her order is praying for us and the Daily News. Her letter was posted on the bulletin board next to “Typesetting Jobs Available.”

April 28: Once again the Daily News ruined my day. Walked up to building at about 2:15 and saw dozens of TV crews and radio people. “What’s new?” I innocently asked. “They just want a reaction to the Tribune Company breaking off with Allbritton,” someone said. I was astounded and, for the first time in the whole thing, I was furious. Do they think this is a game? Mock headline posted in the newsroom: CHICAGO TO JOE: NEVER MIND.

April 29: Oh, Lord. Did I feel awful! Had the old alcohol overdose stomach all night, then a bad hangover. No news at all about the News—one of the calmest days so far. Now that Allbritton’s out of it, tomorrow is the big day.

April 30: Spent the morning cleaning my apartment, dreaded going in to work, had no idea what was going to happen. Parked my car, then walked up to the building, which was surrounded by people, cameras, press. As I walked up, some reporters I know called out to me to ask my reaction. “What am I reacting to now?” I asked. Someone said, “The paper’s going to stay alive. Chicago is keeping it.” My immediate reaction was quick, intense anger. All this pain and worry and illness and we are back to December l7.

Apparently I wasn’t alone in my reaction. The newsroom was somber. Those who had work did it; those who didn’t quietly called friends and family to give them the news. There will be cuts and I may very well go if it’s done by seniority. But by evening I began to relax. We were even able to laugh about the situation. [Assistant managing edi­tor] Dick Oliver, writing up the schedule of city desk stories for tomorrow’s paper, summed up the Trib-decision story:

“Tribbcd, Trumped, Warnercd, Joed, and Nearly Murdoched to Death, the Daily News Lives On!”

May 1: Headline today: WE’RE HERE TO STAY. I hope so. And on a page-two story about the Trib’s rejection of Murdoch’s last-minute offer: CHICAGO TO RUPERT: DROP DEAD.

First day in a long time I didn’t mind going to work.

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Mary Ann Giordano had, at the time of the publication of the above in CJR, been working as a reporter at the New York Daily News since the winter of 1980.