John F. Marino
John F. Marino
Last Monday morning, New Yorkers were hit with the announcement that Tronc – the Chicago based company which last year bought the New York Daily News from longtime owner Mort Zuckerman – would be firing half of its editorial staff later that afternoon. For those of us in the public relations industry or really anyone who cares about the continued deprivation of committed individuals to provide hard-hitting, investigative journalism in a city like New York, this was a real blow.

The company laid off veteran reporters and editors, not to mention almost its entire photography department and all of its social media team. In an email to the newsroom, Tronc management, calling this shift a “vital transformation by way of focusing less on local news and sports” (the company let go 25 sports reporters), wrote:

The decisions being announced today reflect the realities of our business and the need to adapt an ever-changing media landscape. They are not a reflection on the significant talent that is leaving.

Our agency - which is proud to celebrate our 25th anniversary this year – was founded at a time when New York still had a host of daily newspapers from which its residents could rely upon for news and commentary on the workings of a city that never sleeps. The Daily News was a steady source to be sure, but we also had the New York Post, New York Newsday, the Village Voice, the New York Observer, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal (the latter two had dedicated metro desks and a full section devoted to local news until only a few years ago), as well as dozens of weekly publications littered throughout the city working borough by borough on local news that mattered to neighborhoods from Bensenhurst to the Bronx. Great writers like Pete Hamil and Jimmy Breslin made the News their homes and produced tremendous work year after year.  

Obviously, for those of us who follow the news business closely, this week’s announcement was only the latest example of companies which own publications dramatically reducing its workforce. According to the Pew Research Center, more than one-third of the biggest newspapers in the country suffered layoffs between January of 2017 and April of this year. The Denver Post, the Seattle Times, and the Oregonian, to name a few, have seen massive cuts to its workforces over that time and others have struggled to merely stay afloat.

The reasons for such huge reductions are clearly evident. Since the widespread use of the internet took hold in the 1990’s, newspapers have allowed much of its content to live online and customers, who once had to pay to buy a physical copy of the papers, now have access to hundreds of digital news sites –  many still at no cost. Competition is fierce, and even the best of the best have struggled to keep up with the changing nature of the news business. Venerable publications like the Washington Post, which used to offer completely free website content, instituted a stricter paywall last year, allowing readers 10 free articles per month. Other news sites have enforced even stricter policies regarding who can and cannot see its online content without a paid subscription.

While the layoffs were predictable in this changing consumer environment, the announcement by Tronc (formerly Tribune Publishing) – which owns the Chicago Tribune, the Hartford Courant, the Orlando Sentinel and the Baltimore Sun – is still troubling. New Yorkers have relied on the Daily News more for local news and investigative journalism than almost any other news outlet in the city. The News was responsible for – among other hard hitting items – first showing the disturbing video in 2014 of Eric Garner being choked to death by a New York City Police Officer. Over the years, it has tackled such hard-hitting topics as discrimination, tenant rights, workplace abuse and city corruption at the highest levels of government, many times with tangible results for its subjects at the end of the day.

The void left by the termination of such respected reporters as Erin Durkin and Glenn Blain will certainly be felt by not only readers of the Daily News, but also by average New Yorkers who may not have realized the impact the News had on our lives day after day, week after week.

For public relations professionals, we will certainly miss the relationships we have built over the years with the committed and talented Daily News staff, who have always been willing to hear out a pitch or bounce off an idea for a client. The departure of many is troubling to our agency, which has often counted on the Daily News as a first choice for local opportunities, whether it be real estate, consumer or not-for-profit.

While the layoffs this week leave us and other agencies with fewer options to deliver great journalism about topics that matter to New Yorkers, our staff – like the reporters and editors affected by the ever-changing environment – are constantly making adjustments and shifting some (not all) of our focus to non-traditional journalism. As a supplement – not a replacement for – the publications which have been hit hard by the economic impact of a digital world, Marino’s publicists have grown and formed relationships with many social influencers and leaned on digital-only publications for distribution of client messages and to tell the critical stories that still matter in New York and across the nation.

***

John F. Marino is Managing Director and Chief Operating Officer of Marino PR.