New York Daily News layoffs chop famed tabloid's newsroom by 50 percent

Last Updated Jul 23, 2018 8:32 PM EDT

Tronc, the parent company of the New York Daily News, is slashing the tabloid's newsroom in half.

In an unsigned email to staff, the company wrote the reductions "reflect the realities of our business and the need to adapt to an ever-changing media environment." It added that the newspaper would refocus much of its remaining talent on breaking news, "especially in areas of crime, civil justice and public responsibility."

The paper intends to "lead Tronc's transformation and become the newsroom of the future," continued the email, obtained by CBS News.

The company also announced the departures of Jim Rich, the newspaper's editor-in-chief, and Kristen Lee, its managing editor. Robert York, the former publisher and editor of Pennsylvania's Morning Call newspaper, will take the helm as editor on July 30.

The Daily News at onetime had hundreds of employees, but over the years has seen its staff pared down to a newsroom of roughly 75 to 100, according to The New York Times. In 2015, the paper laid off dozens of workers under the ownership of real estate developer and media mogul Mortimer Zuckerman.

Tronc in September bought the paper that bills itself as "New York's Hometown Newspaper" in 2017 for $1, along with the assumption of pension and other liabilities.

Michael Ferro stepped down as Tronc's chairman in March, just hours before the publication of a report that had two women accusing him of inappropriate sexual advances. Ferro agreed to sell all of his shares -- representing a more than 25 percent stake of the company -- the following month for more than $200 million to a member of Chicago's McCormick family, which founded the Chicago Tribune and Tribune Company, but the deal was called off.

Tronc in June reportedly disclosed paying Ferro $15 million in consulting fees in one lump sum by the company he formerly chaired, with the payment made in the first quarter and resulting in a net loss of $14.8 million.

The paper's revenue and print circulation have been falling for years, even as it provided critical coverage after the Sept. 11 attacks and zeroed in on issues like public housing. It won a Pulitzer for drawing public attention to health problems suffered by by first responders after the collapse of the Twin Towers. It also won a Pulitzer Prize last year for stories with ProPublica on abusive eviction rules in New York City.

Despite such editorial successes, revenue at The Daily News slid 22 percent between 2014 and 2016.

Rich voiced his disapproval of the cuts in a Twitter post on Monday: "If you hate democracy and think local governments should operate unchecked and in the dark, then today is a good day for you."

The job cuts brought an unusual display of unity from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, both of whom spoke out against the cuts.

"Tronc's greedy decision to gut the newsroom is bad for government and a disaster for NYC," the mayor tweeted. "Tronc should sell the paper to someone committed to local journalism and keeping reporters on the beat."

Cuomo also objected to the cuts at what he termed "an important New York institution and one of our nation's journalism giants." The governor in a statement urged Tronc to reconsider, saying the company made its move "without notifying the state or asking for assistance," while noting that his father, when governor, "came to the aid of the New York Post when it was facing difficult financial times."

Employees of the paper reportedly were steeling themselves for weeks as rumors swirled that Tronc was preparing to make large cuts at the Daily News. The company has a track record of trimming editorial staff at the papers it owns, including the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times.

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Recent layoffs in U.S. newspapers and digital sites

Pew Research Center

The layoffs are part of a trend affecting more than a third of the country's largest newspapers, according to a recent analysis from Pew Research Center. Among newspapers, those with the highest circulation were most likely to be impacted, the study found.

"The analysis comes amid a series of highly publicized staff reductions by hedge fund companies that had acquired well-known newspapers, including the Denver Post, where employees publicly criticized the cuts made by the papers' owners," the authors of the Pew analysis noted.