MEDIA
07/23/2018 09:21 EDT | Updated 07/23/2018 13:36 EDT

New York Daily News Layoffs Ax Half The Newsroom Staff

The layoffs come days after rumors of deep cuts at the storied tabloid.

The New York Daily News, a storied big-city tabloid known for its ruthless and splashy front pages, laid off half its newsroom staff on Monday, marking the latest round of cuts at the beleaguered Tronc company’s media holdings. 

“We are fundamentally restructuring the Daily News,” an email from Tronc to the staff reads. “We are reducing today the size of the editorial team by approximately 50 percent and re-focusing much of our talent on breaking news — especially in areas of crime, civil justice and public responsibility.” The paper had about 85 newsroom employees prior to the cuts, according to the New York Post.

The notice said human resources would notify those affected by day’s end. As reporters and editors waited, some were seen going around the newsroom, thanking each other for their work. “Just trying to make the best of it,” a staffer said.

Word of sweeping layoffs began circulating on Thursday and Tronc on Sunday sent an email to staff telling them to “plan to be in the New York newsroom on Monday at 9 a.m. for an important message from Grant Whitmore,” the general manager of Tronc’s eastern region. Prior to announcing the layoffs, Whitmore held a “30-second meeting” with the staff in which he said, “Bear with us, today will be difficult,” according to a source in the newsroom.

“We’ve had a feeling something would happen,” a news staffer told HuffPost when the rumors began to spread. The cancellation of a scheduled large event with interns also set off red flags. Media insider newsletter Study Hall first reported impending cuts last week.

After Tronc purchased the financially troubled daily last summer for a mere $1, it began a restructuring that eliminated many New York-based positions and centralized some roles in Tronc’s Chicago headquarters. The New York paper also was hit with a sexual harassment scandal in February that saw two of its top editors fired. 

“The decisions being announced today reflect the realities of our business and the need to adapt an ever-changing media environment,” the Tronc email to Daily News staffers said. “They are not a reflection on the significant talent that is leaving today. Let there be no doubt: these colleagues are highly valued and will be missed.”

Laid-off staffers were told that they’d be paid for 90 days and would “be eligible for transitional benefits after that.” It’s “a pretty decent package,” one staffer told HuffPost of the severance.

Editor in chief Jim Rich and managing editor Kristen Lee were among those leaving. Robert York, who in 2016 was named editor in chief of the Morning Call, Tronc’s newspaper in Allentown, Pennsylvania, will step in to head the Daily News on July 30.

Rich on Thursday declined to comment about the expected layoffs. At the time, rumors swirled that Rich, who formerly served as HuffPost’s executive editor, was in the process of resigning or may have already quit. Early Monday, Rich tweeted that “today was a good day” for those who “hate democracy and think local governments should operate unchecked.”

Zach Haberman, 41, the paper’s breaking news editor, was let go after almost six years. He recalled his first day on the job covering Hurricane Sandy, which ripped through the city, killing 41 and laying waste to infrastructure.

“This is such a loss for the city,” Haberman said. “On the macro level, it’s a loss for the residents of New York, it’s a loss for journalism, and so many journalists who work so hard. On a micro level, it’s a loss for a lot of really good people who will be looking for jobs in a tough market. They’re gritty. That’s what it means to be at the Daily News.”

He added: “A lot of people will be joining me today. I look forward to cheering them on as they continue to do great work.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in a statement, lamented the layoffs as a “drastic move” and called on Tronc to “reconsider.” 

“In New York, we also calculate loss of an important institution, loss of jobs, and the impact on the families affected,” Cuomo said. “I hope Tronc does the same and recalculates its decision.”

The Daily News, which has won 11 Pulitzer Prizes in its 99 years of existence, has seen the same ups and downs that have plagued much of the newspaper industry over the past few decades. It was rescued from bankruptcy in 1993 and nearly went under, and in 2016, its print circulation dropped significantly.

It changed direction and dedicated itself to digital news, making it a Top 10 publisher as recently as 2016. But it has downsized substantially over the years, sustaining major layoffs in 2013, 2014 and even earlier this year, when 21 people ― mostly production workers ― were let go.

In April, Tronc fired its Los Angeles Times editor in chief, Lewis D’Vorkin, and laid off several dozen as the newsroom staff unionized. Tronc recently sold the L.A. Times to Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, a biotech billionaire, for $500 million, along with several smaller California newspapers.

Layoffs in March hit The Chicago Tribune, a flagship Tronc property.