NO PLACE LIKE HOME
The unrest among Newsday’s editorial ranks has reached a boiling point in recent weeks, say those interviewed for this story, and resulted in what they describe as an “unprecedented” staff-wide meeting with Henley, Krenek and Rich Rosen, the paper’s new managing editor, last week. By all accounts, the event was the first of its kind since the two Debbies took over about two years ago.
In the Newsday auditorium, complete with coffee, brownies and cookies, the trio tried to put to rest concerns about the paper’s direction, telling staffers that that their door was always open and that if a writer wondered what was up with a story, he or she only had to ask. These sessions were welcome, those interviewed for this story say, and the union that represents the reporters was particularly pleased. After all, it took the union’s informal involvement to help coax this new dialogue.
“We’re happy that we’re talking about making Newsday a better place,” says Zach Dowdy, vice president of the editorial unit of Local 406. “I think we explored several topics that were on the staff’s minds and the company addressed them.”
At union meetings leading up to the gathering, members had complained that they felt the current editors “have contempt” for the reporters, according to several who spoke to the Press.
“In the past when we had issues, there was always the sense that we were on the same team,” says one staffer. “For a lot of people that feeling doesn’t exist anymore.”
Over-the-top editing that errs on the side of caution is seen by some staffers as the reason that Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy was able to bully the paper into backing off scrutinizing his budgeting practices for years so that the $60 million deficit his successor, Steve Bellone, faces now came as such a shock this winter. The paper still hasn’t invested its vast resources into exploring where all that money went. Last summer Newsday’s top editors apparently bent over backwards to put Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano’s costly referendum for the Nassau Coliseum in the best light possible, supposedly in consideration of Cablevision’s sports interests, even going as far as downplaying—if not rewriting outright—a poll that showed the residents’ lack of support for the bond measure. More telling was The New York Times’ scoop of the Long Island Rail Road pension scam, in which unscrupulous workers and unethical doctors allegedly conspired to siphon off up to $1 billion in federal disability pension funds since 2000. The damning data for the story was originally compiled by Newsday reporters who could never get the story to run and later left to work for the Times. Charges in the pension scandal were finally filed last October.
“They’re more cautious about things and I think it goes back to sports,” blasts another longtime reporter, who admitted that the days when a typewriter could be flung across the room in anger are mercifully long gone. “Dolan didn’t want the Knicks criticized, and he told the sports writers he didn’t want them to use adjectives to describe the Knicks! How do you write sports without using adjectives? That’s ridiculous!”
Coincidentally or not, a number of Newsday’s award-winning sports-writing team have left the paper in the last few years. Wallace Matthews, now at ESPN, and Ken Davidoff, who’s now at the New York Post, are two. Both declined to comment for this story, though one Newsday sports writer had told the New York Observer in 2010 that the softer tone the Dolans sought in the section was “rank censorship. You can’t tell journalists that there are things to avoid and call it anything but censorship.”
It’s a description that still permeates the paper’s once-renowned sports section.
“Technically, in sports, we don’t have any more columnists,” says one current staffer. “There’s no such thing as a columnist anymore…. It’s not an opinionated thing. It’s more like a feature.”