Interview requests from the Press with questions for Newsday Publisher Terry Jimenez and Cablevision CEO James Dolan for this story were responded to with written statements from Newsday Director of Community Affairs & Media Relations Deidra Parrish Williams.
Williams answered a question posed to both which sought a response to complaints from former and current Newsday employees that Cablevision’s agenda has interfered with editorial content and coverage with the following: “Under Debby Krenek’s leadership, Newsday’s reporters continue to cover the news with the utmost journalistic dedication and integrity.”
The incident wasn’t the first time Newsday’s editors and reporters took issue with policies of the paper’s owners. Staffers were upset, and are still scratching their heads, says Dowdy, over a particular big-name hire announced during a time when employees were being pressed for pay cuts and other hefty concessions.
Tom Suozzi, the former Nassau County Executive and one-time New York State (NYS) gubernatorial candidate, joined Cablevision’s payroll in January, hired as a consultant to its Local Media Group, according to an internal memo dated Jan. 11 from Cablevision Local Media President Tad Smith to staffers.
Cablevision’s Local Media Group includes the company’s media and programming properties, says its website, including Newsday Media Group—which consists of Newsday, the newspaper’s website and free New York City daily am New York. The Local Media Group also includes Cablevision’s News12 Networks, which consists of 12 local news, traffic and weather channels, and MSG Varsity, “a suite of television and interactive services dedicated to covering high school sports and activities across the tri-state area.”
According to the memo, Suozzi will have a large supporting role in MSG Varsity, Cablevision’s most recent initiative. (One Nassau political insider close to Suozzi tells the Press he doesn’t even like sports.)
Cablevision, its political action committee and owners, the Dolan family, had been one of Suozzi’s biggest campaign contributors throughout his career—donating nearly $200,000 to Suozzi’s political aspirations since 2006, according to NYS Board of Elections financial disclosure records.
“Here they were talking about layoffs and then they wind up hiring somebody [on] a consultancy basis,” says Dowdy. “There was a couple of different theories as to why that happened, but, it didn’t sort of sit well with a lot of folks because it’s obviously another expenditure that—seems clearly unnecessary—but another expenditure that flies in the face of them saying that they’re poor.”
The hire, he adds, was viewed with frustration among members in the wake of media reports around the same time of hefty bonuses for Cablevision executives resulting from the company’s spin off of Madison Square Garden last month.
“These were happening during the same weeks that we were being told, ‘Hey listen, we want to pull 10 percent, or 15 percent of your income, of your salary, because we’re in trouble,’” he says. “So, it’s contradictory, to say the least, and a little unnerving. And I think that the Suozzi announcement was, in some respects, the icing on the cake. It was like another insult.”
Jaci Clement, executive director of the local nonprofit media watchdog Fair Media Council, thinks she might have the answer to the Suozzi hiring riddle.
“The Dolans gave him a lot in the way of campaign contributions, and they wanted him to earn some of their money back,” she laughs, adding that Cablevision’s politico sports advisor from Glen Cove could end up becoming the paper’s publisher one day—crediting his knack for raising large amounts of money and his name recognition. Clement says that reporters have also voiced their frustration to her regarding the paper’s direction in handling Suozzi.
“That, ‘Why can’t they go after this guy,’” she says. “He was very much the real knight on the white horse in the Newsday world, in the newsroom as well as in the editorial pages.”
Newsday’s Williams responded to a Press inquiry about the future Suozzi-publisher suggestion with: “Terry Jimenez is publisher of Newsday. That rumor has been around for months. It wasn’t true then and it isn’t true now.”
The Fair Media Council denounced Cablevision’s acquisition of Newsday and its holdings when the deal was announced out of concern for the lack of diversity in news sources the marriage would create, with Cablevision owning, at the time, the only 24-hour news channel on the Island, News12, as well as its only daily newspaper.
“You shouldn’t have one organization that monopolizes an area with the information that area needs,” she says. “You don’t get the variety of information that you need to make an educated decision.”
Clement, who is also a former Newsday editor, tells the Press that since Cablevision’s purchase of the paper for $650 million in 2008 from real estate magnate-turned-media magnate Sam Zell, who purchased Tribune Co. and its holdings—including the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times—in an April 2007 transaction worth $8.2 billion, Newsday has been reduced to little more than a marketing vehicle for its owners.