The Media Today

A dark day at the NYDN, while tariffs imperil local news across the country

July 23, 2018

UPDATE 10:15 am: Just after a 9am staff meeting, Tronc sent an email to Daily News staffers announcing that the paper’s editorial team would be slashed by 50 percent, and that EIC Jim Rich and Managing Editor Kristen Lee were both departing. The email was unsigned.

Original story below: 

The story of the decline of local news in the US is one that features numerous causes and wounds both self-inflicted and externally delivered. Over the past decade, the cratering of print advertising, the consolidation and mismanagement of local papers, the failure to adapt to technological advances, and the ravages of corporate greed have sapped the industry. But regardless of how we apportion the blame, the result is the same.

No one lives in America, exactly. We all live somewhere in America, like the nearly 9 million of us in New York City,” New York Daily News columnist Harry Siegel wrote this weekend. “The thing I love about local news is that it doesn’t scale. It happens one court hearing or campaign or crime at a time so that you can fairly try and connect political decisions to individual people, the life of the city to that of its inhabitants.”

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Siegel’s piece comes as staffers at the News are bracing for expected layoffs today. The New York Post’s Keith J. Kelly reported last week that Editor in Chief Jim Rich is likely leaving the paper, and that up to 30 percent of the newsroom could be cut. Purchased by Tronc for $1 last fall, the News is already down to a staff of around 85 employees following rounds of layoffs and buyouts in recent years. Kelly reports that Tronc executives have pressured Rich to make sweeping cuts, and that the editor’s unwillingness to do so will lead to his ouster. Early this morning, Rich appeared to confirm reports that cuts are coming, tweeting, “If you hate democracy and think local governments should operate unchecked and in the dark, then today is a good day for you.” He also removed the editor title from his Twitter bio, and changed it to read: “Just a guy sitting at home watching journalism being choked into extinction.”

The diminishment of the NYDN is just part of a larger story about local news in America. At this point, it’s an old story, but it’s also one that has been given new urgency by President Trump’s “America first” policies.

RELATED: New paper tariffs could cost jobs at US publishers

Earlier this year, the Trump administration applied tariffs to Canadian groundwood paper, raising concerns that news outlets across the US that rely on imported newsprint would be forced to slash costs. My colleague Jon Allsop was one of the first the note the looming clouds that have now gathered into a punishing storm. On Friday NiemanLab’s Ken Doctor reported that the tariffs have increased the cost of newsprint by as much as 30 to 35 percent, calling them “a Black Swan event that could speed up the death of US newspapers.” He notes that several local papers from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to the Nevada Appeal have already announced that they will reduce the number of days they publish a print edition, while other outlets are considering scrapping the physical product altogether.

If the cuts at the Daily News occur as forecast, New York will wake tomorrow with fewer journalists holding powerful interests to account. As the bite of Trump’s tariffs sinks in, the same story will play out in cities and towns across the country. The causes of this diminishment are manifold, but the absence of reporters from state houses, courtrooms, and school board meetings leaves all of us less informed.

Below, more on the NYDN and state of local journalism.


Other notable stories

  • The lead story on every news site I checked this morning concerns President Trump’s late-night tweet warning Iran that the country was facing “CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED” if President Hassan Rouhani continued to threaten the US. On Sunday, Rouhani gave a speech in which he said a potential conflict with the US would be the “mother of all wars.”
  • Los Angeles Times restaurant critic Jonathan Gold, the city’s “ambassador of food” for four decades, died Saturday after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer. “Gold redefined the genre, drawn more to hole-in-the-wall joints, street food, mom-and-pop shops and ethnic restaurants than he was to haute cuisine,” wrote the Times’s Andrea Chang. “Although he appreciated and wrote beautifully about fine dining, he revered the taco truck more than the tasting menu.”
  • Important story from The New York Times’s Jim Rutenberg and Ben Protess, who report that tabloid publisher American Media Inc. “at times acted more as a political supporter than as a news organization” through its support for Donald Trump during the 2016 election. AMI chief David Pecker is a longtime friend of Trump, and his company’s editorial boosting and backroom dealing to defend the candidate raises “thorny questions about when coverage that is favorable to a candidate strays into overt political activity, and when First Amendment protections should apply,” Rutenberg and Protess write.
  • For CJR, James Ball argues that we need a new model for tech journalism, one that moves beyond the glorification of founders as celebrity entrepreneurs. “The glossy coverage never made sense, but was at least defensible when quite a lot of the tech companies were scrappy upstarts,” Ball writes. “Those days are long gone. Yet the bootstrap narrative remains, with CEOs still treated as celebrities, and the media acting more as a cheerleader than watchdog.”
  • On that note, The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan argues that it’s past time for Facebook to embrace its role as a media company, not just a neutral platform. She writes that Mark Zuckerberg’s company “remains a dangerous mess,” and that it must hire editors to make decisions about what sort of speech it allows, and promotes, on its platform.
  • Fun profile of CNN cameraman Dave Rust from Lisa Napoli. For CJR, Napoli writes about Rust’s nearly four decades of work at the cable network, and how he’s become something of a “hoarder of CNN memorabilia, filling storage units with artifacts dating from the earliest days of the network.”

ICYMI: Photojournalism’s moment of reckoning

Pete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.