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How Cablevision Is Destroying Newsday

The Dolans are tearing apart the Long Island news institution


“Terry blamed Newsday’s recent troubles, in part, on the changing demographics,” the staffer says. “It does seem strange that the paper would seem to retrench and throw its hands up in the face of demographic changes, rather than address them through different marketing strategies.”

Newsday spokeswoman Williams responded to the Press’ request for comment from Jimenez with: “Newsday’s current reality is a result of many factors, primarily, advertising revenue declines affecting all newspapers across the country.”

GOLDEN AGE

Newsday has a venerable history—and reputation—of being a journalistic powerhouse. An institution. It most definitely was. The paper’s past is rich with the colorful tales of big-name characters who trailblazed the profession, pushing the bar higher with every sentence, making the world a better place through each and every story that graced its pages, exposed a wrongdoing, or landed someone in jail.


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The paper’s legacy includes such names as Pulitzer-Prize winners Bob Greene, Les Payne, Laurie Garrett, Jimmy Breslin and Murray Kempton, among many, many others. There was Tony Marro, Richard Galant and Howie Schneider. There was Robin Reisig, Ed Lowe and Paul Vitello. The list goes on and on, as does the number of Pulitzers and other prestigious awards earned by Newsday’s staff. In fact, since 1970, the newspaper has either won a Pulitzer Prize or been a finalist every two or three years.

The stories accompanying the stories are endless.

There’s the legendary adventure of Greene and Payne’s trip to Turkey with shotguns and rifles in the ’70s to track down the source of a ferocious heroin epidemic plaguing the Island and the city. Equally colorful are the stories by the countless other writers and editors, whose names may not be as recognizable but who contributed to the collective spirit of journalism just the same and touched just as many. Then there’s the everyday stories its staff creates that maybe don’t win any award at all, but they touch someone, somewhere, right square in their heart.

For those that were there at Newsday during those years, they are times not easily forgotten.

“You look back on it and you realize it was a golden age,” says longtime vice president and editor of Newsday’s editorial pages James M. Klurfeld, now a visiting professor of journalism at Stony Brook University and interim director of the journalism school’s new Center for News Literacy. “We were determined to do quality journalism, to be as good as any paper in the country, and for many of those years we were recognized as one of the 10 best papers in the country.”

Legendary Newsday columnist Jimmy Breslin remembers his time at the newspaper this way: “It was a newspaper you did not have to be ashamed of in the morning, boy. It was a good paper.

Paperweights: Our coverage back in May 2008 of the three media giants—James Dolan, Mort Zuckerman and Rupert Murdoch—as they fought to purchase Newsday from Tribune. We posed the question “What does this really mean for Long Island?” Now we know.

Newsday was a good, solid, American newspaper,” he adds.

Nowadays, the paper, physically, doesn’t resemble much of what several generations of Long Islanders—and some New York City residents—grew up with.

Times Mirror Co. pulled the plug on the paper’s run in the city—New York Newsday—in 1995. A circulation scandal in 2004, though perpetrated by executives in Newsday’s circulation department and elsewhere—not in editorial—besmirched the paper’s name and resulted in $90 million in reimbursements to affected advertisers.

Soon afterwards, a wrought-iron fence was installed around Newsday headquarters’ perimeter. Guard booths were also constructed, along with video cameras mounted throughout the building and in the parking lots, in preparation of the need to close off the grounds in the case of an emergency—or as one former longtime Newsday employee tells the Press, a strike.

Recent cost-saving measures under Cablevision have included the paper’s size to be scaled down in the second quarter 2009. It’s smaller, thinner. Production of its Comics section moved in-house, as did its TV Book. Newsday’s Brooklyn Marketeer has ceased publication, along with a host of titles from its award-winning niche publications division, including the popular Distinction, Parents & Children and Wellness. Its Purple Pack has lost its plastic covering and been redesigned. There are rumors its Yankee Trader will soon also cease publication.

Soon, as one former Newsday employee tells the Press, “There won’t be much else left to cut,” predicting more layoffs possible by this year’s second quarter, the anniversary of much of the cost-saving measures.

Yet, some of Newsday’s woes—especially its 5.4-percent and 4.6-percent drop in average paid circulation for weekdays and Sunday newsstand sales, respectively, for the six months ended Sept. 27, 2009 as compared to the to the same period in the prior year (as reported in its latest financial statements)—are by Cablevision’s own design. As Newsday and its operations have become leaner, the cost of the newspaper is going up. The cover price of single-copy issues for non-home delivery customers doubled last year, from 50 cents to $1, and $1.25 to $2.50 for the Sunday edition, states Cablevision’s filings.

“These price increases could have a negative impact on Newsday’s circulation copy volume,” its latest report states.

Morale at the daily has had its ups and downs—with the demise of New York Newsday and revelation of the circulation scandal being particularly low points, according to current and former employees. The labor squeeze and work environment at the paper has also dampened spirits, says Clement.

“They’re basically demoralized by the whole process, not only from the contract renewals being up, and management wanting them to give up so much of what they had in terms of benefits, but also just journalistically,” she says. “They’re not covering meaningful stories anymore. And a lot of it is being dictated by—they’re writing the headlines first, and then going out and finding stories to match, which is not good journalistic practice, obviously.”

Since the Jan. 24 vote, however, morale has been on the rise among union members, according to Dowdy, Amon and George Tedeschi, the president of the Graphic Communications Conference of the Teamsters and a former Newsday driver. Efforts spearheaded by Amon to get the word out about the negotiations through multi-media and social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook have further unified members, helping rally and strengthen their resolve, explains Dowdy.

Amon also maintains a blog, “The 406 411,” for this purpose.

“Morale is better now,” he says. “I think people are pumped up, in a way that I’m not sure Newsday management would want. We’re pumped up about asserting our rights here and getting a good contract. And we all want to be just more pumped up about journalism and pumped up about getting good stories out, too, but I think we’re, right now pumped up about getting a new contract, so, I think that’s a real feeling here.”

BACK TO THE FUTURE

Newsday’s fate, at the moment, remains unclear. The labor negotiations will dictate some of it. Currently, the entire newspaper industry, for that matter—as well, some may argue, as the future of journalism—remains unresolved. It’s an unprecedented time. The industry and profession are in a state of flux.

“It should be one of the best jobs in the world, when you think about it,” says Clement. “Because, what is journalism other than getting up every day to do something good for humanity? So the people that work there [at Newsday] should be getting out of bed extra early and running in and saying, what can they do to better the world every day. Instead, they don’t want to go to work anymore. And that right there tells you there’s something radically wrong.

“Long Island is a great place, it’s a beautiful place,” she adds. “So, you live in a beautiful place, and you actually do a job that does good for the people who live there—how can that not be the best job in the world?”

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