Count me firmly among those who hope all the “obituaries” written last week about the New York Daily News were extremely premature.
As a reader for many years, I’ve certainly watched the paper go through its share of travails and triumphs. It’s never easy to see popular columnists, reporters and photographers abruptly told to leave the newsroom, especially when you know the people are real, with families, and mortgages, and all the rest. We’re sad and concerned for them, and also for the News itself, not because it’s perfect, but because it matters. I may not agree with everything the paper publishes, or its approach to any number of issues, but still I read every day. That much hasn’t changed over the past couple of decades.
So I was startled, as were many other people, when the first reports came out about the News’ plans to lay off half its staff. I should say half its remaining staff, because as regular readers know, the staff had already sustained significant cuts last year. It should be not be a surprise to anyone that the past few years have not been kind to newspapers.
The reasons are many, but a key one is that the industry’s entire business model has changed. Formerly, big-city daily newspapers relied heavily on advertising to pay the bills, but that revenue source has largely dried up. Now, they increasingly earn much of their money from circulation income, i.e., the subscription price that readers pay for the paper. If you subscribe to printed newspapers, you have seen subscription prices go through the roof over the past few years. Consequently, many people have dropped their subscriptions, or shifted online, where the prices are cheaper. The rest of us have to make up the difference. Not a good economic formula.
Many years ago, I remember hearing someone say that newspaper reading was habit-forming, and that statement is certainly true. My morning commute on the train wouldn’t be the same without the Daily News and a cup of coffee.
A good paper gives you a strong sense of the community it serves, and is, in fact, an institution at the heart of that community, in good times and bad. In the Daily News’ case, it accomplishes all of that while serving up an interesting take on the day’s top stories and issues. A 20- or 30-minute “cruise through the News,” as one of my former colleagues put it, is a daily staple.
The News isn’t all quick hits, either. It has done a great job of holding the big shots to account. Look at the way it has persistently covered the foibles of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), especially relating to lead paint abatement and other repair backlogs across the public housing grid.
You have to have the bodies, especially experienced ones, to do that type of reporting. With its staff sliced so significantly, it’s hard to figure how the Daily News will be able to keep up the pressure now as it has in the past.
And that is an absolute shame because for whatever its financial problems, the News has never forgotten about the cause of the common men and women of New York City and nearby suburbs in its news coverage, and especially in its editorials and letters to the editor. They are the focus of the daily coverage, not an afterthought or a once-in-a-while concern.
You might be wondering why I am focused on this topic. Quite honestly, the News and other big-city publishing brethren do provide a function that is important to Catholic New York. Even in their reduced states, they have resources at their disposal we can only dream about. So, we read and learn from their work. We can’t get everywhere they can, nor do we hear about everything that they do. Their material is well-written and edited, and it covers some of the same ground that we do. Our approach and mission are not exactly the same as theirs, and obviously the tone can be quite different, but we do practice the same craft.
That’s a big reason why I’m rooting for News, The Times and The Post, and any other daily paper throughout the archdiocese, and I always will.