When I read Monday that the New York Daily News had been sold to a company named Tronc, I let out a whoop. That meant that, for the time being anyway, some 800 Daily News workers, many friends of mine, would still have jobs. That’s pretty good Labor Day news. The kind that I would have spun into a Daily News column if I were still working there.
I left in October 2015; the final word of my last column, about the visit of Pope Francis, was “Amen.”
Amen to 24 years and some 3,500 Daily News columns. It was a helluva run.
Even though my byline was gone from its pages, I was thrilled the newspaper I grew up reading back-to-front at my family’s kitchen table would survive. The Daily News gave me a life. Before I wrote a word for the Daily News I earned pretty good dough working nights as a paper handler at its Brooklyn plant, one of those nights seared in my head because it was my 17th birthday and the night of the Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination.
The Daily News is still on this side of the grass, which makes New York a better city and my newspaper family filled with joy.
Later I freelanced for the Sunday magazine supplement, building clips for a career. My brother John was the first in my family to work at the News, a general assignment reporter and Queens columnist. Later, in the 1970s, my brother Pete was hired to write a cityside column, alternating with Jimmy Breslin in the crazy Summer of Sam, when a serial killer stalked the city during a massive blackout.
Then my late brother Joe was hired as a copyboy, freelancing for the magazine and opinion pages, clips that led him to an Emmy in TV news.
My Daily News clips helped me get hired at the Village Voice and New York magazine. I spent two years writing columns for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner and the Boston Herald American before returning to write a column for New York Newsday.
Always, my dream was to work for the New York Daily News.
By 1991, all my brothers had moved on to other jobs when then-Daily News editor Jim Willse hired me to write a weekly freelance column while the paper struggled through bankruptcy following a crippling strike. When Mort Zuckerman bought the paper, he kept me on. Bill Gallo, the great Daily News cartoonist and sports columnist, took me aside and said, “Editors and publishers are gonna come and go. You don’t work for them; you work for the Daily News readers. Keep that in mind, and you’ll do okay.”
I took Gallo’s advice and lasted through 11 editors — one of them my brother Pete — but just one publisher. Every time I sat down to write a column, I wrote for the readers. When the struggling paper went up for sale three years ago and found no buyers I knew no one’s job was safe.
I lasted another year before the realities of the newspaper business in the digital age made me walk through the city room one last time. That’s a long walk.
I would never say a bad word about the Daily News, a newspaper that has served my family and my city so well. If anything, I feel like a member of the Daily News family the way ballplayers stay loyal to the team that defined them until their last walk through the locker room.
I cheered and sent emails of congratulations last year when the team won a Pulitzer Prize. But I feared the paper that gave me a life would die if a buyer did not appear soon. And in the Age of Trump, when newspapers and the news media are under attack by a wannabe autocrat president, we need loud and bold newspapers like the Daily News more than ever. The work that gutsy, tenacious newspaper reporters are doing every day in Washington, DC, has replaced a spineless Congress as the sole checks and balances to an executive branch swirling in scandal, xenophobia, and international brinkmanship.
I root for anyone who wants to keep newspapers from dying in these tough times in the business.
I’m not saying that the Daily News will save us from Donald Trump. But every responsible newspaper in this country serves as a beacon of light in a very dark time in American history.
So, yeah, I whooped and cheered and shook a triumphant fist when I learned the Daily News had found a new owner. I posted the story about the sale to a guy named Michael W. Ferro (Tronc’s majority owner), born in Merrick, Long Island, and raised in Illinois, on Facebook and Twitter. It didn’t bother me a lick that the paper sold for $1 and an assumption of millions in pension debt. It was better than formaldehyde. The Daily News is still on this side of the grass, which makes New York a better city and my newspaper family filled with joy.
Sure, some Daily News jobs will be lost in a restructuring.
But I root for anyone who wants to keep newspapers from dying in these tough times in the business. I wish Ferro nothing but the best. He bought a great newspaper.
I have one piece of advice for him: You might own the Daily News now, but keep in mind that you work for the readers.