Thursday, March 08, 2012

Media Reports Of The Death Of The Daily News Are Yet Again Premature

There has never been a big city newspaper quite like the Philadelphia Daily News. Although it is a tabloid, it has been short on sleaze and long on quality journalism, winning its most recent Pulitzer Prize in 2010 for exposing a rogue police narcotics squad. It has long had the largest minority readership of any big city newspaper on a percentage basis and its blue collar sensibilities, powerful editorial voice and award-winning sports section has provided an alternative to the larger and more button-down Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Daily News has yet another distinction, as well. At a time when most big city newspapers are hemorrhaging revenues by the millions of dollars, the Daily News continues to make money. But the Inky, as it is locally known, is among the hemorrhagers and the two papers and their valuable Center City ivory tower property (think Superman and the Daily Planet) are up for sale for the fourth time in six years.

The Daily News has been something of an unwanted stepchild from the time that Knight Newspapers, which was to become Knight Ridder, bought the Inky from Walter Annenberg in 1969. He refused to sell just the Inky, so the Daily News was part of the deal -- and ever since has been on the chopping block or death bed or any number of other terms for going bye-bye.

And so it is that that fourth prospective ownership group has been told by its bean counters that the Daily News should jump off a cliff because the Inky, doncha know, is a newspaper of record even if it is awash in red ink while the Daily News is something else although it continues to make money. Besides which, the Daily News picks up the readers that the Inky misses and they're not likely to gravitate to the Inky if the Daily News ceases publication.

This bit of actuarial lunacy is sorting itself out, although 37 more jobs will have to be shed on top of the hundreds lost in the last decade before an ownership group led by Ed Rendell, the former Philadelphia mayor and Pennsylvania governor, does the deal. That Rendell is even involved has provoked controversy in the papers' newsrooms although he has said he will not meddle. Current owner Brian Tierney said the same thing. He lied.

I should mention at that I worked for the Daily News for a mostly glorious 21 years beginning in 1980. When I took an early retirement buyout in 2001, which was Knight Ridder's way of ridding the Daily News and Inky of its most experienced and often best staffers in a last-gasp effort to recoup lost profits, the Daily News was once again on the verge of going bye-bye. But the deep loyalty of its reporters, editors, ad salespeople, printers, pressmen and drivers, combined with its close ties with the community, as well as perhaps a dollop of good karma, kept its lease on life.

But for how long no one knows.

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