By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
On August 8, Newsday editor Anthony Marro stunned his staff when he arrived at the Kew Gardens office to announce a new "Queens strategy" for the newspaper, which is now primarily aimed at Long Island. To beef up newsstand sales in Queens, Marro explained, he plans to hire about a dozen new editorial people in the New York office and give the content a more New York feel.
Reactions ranged from excitement to cynicism about Marro's motives. But there was one thing everyone understood: This does not mean the return of New York Newsday, which was shut down in 1995 by the Times Mirror Company. Ever since, Newsday has concentrated on its profitable monopoly on Long Island, leaving the New York office to languish on the vine. Having been marginalized for so long, the big-city team has learned to never say "New York Newsday," which one staffer calls "the hand-grenade expression."
But hope springs eternal. So when Marro announced the Queens strategy, many assumed this was the doing of the Tribune Company, which acquired Newsday as part of its merger with Times Mirror last March. Tribune once owned the Daily News, but sold the money loser in 1991, abandoning New York City. But postmerger, the company began bragging about its "national footprint" in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York, leading some insiders to predict that Tribune will send Newsday back to do battle in Manhattan.
In an interview last week, Marro denied taking orders from Tribune and insisted that "the impetus for this came from us. . . . We're doing exactly what we said we were going to do for five years." Since 1995, he says, Newsday's goal has been "to be the largest-selling newspaper in Queens." To that end, the New York office has been growing incrementally, adding about four reporters a year. "The only difference," he says, "is that now we're trying to take a three-year plan and compress it into about a year." Why now? "The timing was right."
Newsday's newsstand sales are currently about 102,000 in the New York area, with 85,000 of that in Queens. At last count, the Daily News enjoyed newsstand sales of about 120,000 in Queenswhich means Newsday aims to reel in more than 35,000 new readers. Marro says the budget for this offensive (estimated at more than $1 million) has been approved by Newsday publisher Raymond Jansen.
Whether or not Marro and Jansen are following orders or anticipating the wishes of the Tribune Company, staffers feel the acceleration is long overdue. The proposed hires are said to include a court reporter, a health reporter, a new columnist (most likely black), and a new editor whose job will be to write New York-oriented editorials and to develop New York-oriented op-eds. Marro intends to expand the news hole in the sports section and improve the paper's "graphics capabilities."
That's all well and good, but some employees feel the goal of trouncing the Daily News calls for a fresh approach to packaging content. They say Marro should hire someone with "energy, imagination, and verve," a risk taker, someone with a "tabloid sensibility" and a "good sense of flash."
In other words, someone on top of Les Payne, who has been in charge of the New York office since 1995, where he is regarded as a "thoughtful," "hardcore" editor with "good journalistic values" and a commitment to affirmative action. In recent months Payne has been on leave, writing a book on Malcolm X, and some employees are unclear what his role is. One person who attended the August 8 meeting says Payne didn't participate; he "just sat there."
Marro says he is "very confident" in Payne's ability to mastermind the Queens strategy. Payne did not return calls for comment.
To promote the new, improved content, Newsday is talking about using WPIX-TV, which is owned by Tribune, and launching a new Web site that will be separate from Newsday.com. (Newsday recently purchased the domain names NYNewsday.com and NewYorkNewsday.com.)
Howard Schneider, who oversees content for Newsday.com, says Tribune is "supportive" of the proposed Web site, but "we're taking the initiative. This is being done by us." A Tribune spokeswoman issued the following statement: "We've made absolutely no decisions about revising Newsday's strategy in New York."
It remains to be seen whether a retooled Newsday will boost the value of Tribune stock, which has drooped since the merger. But the Queens push will no doubt improve the quality of city reporting.
Says Newsday columnist Ellis Henican, "Pound for pound, we already have a competitive staff in New York. Give us another dozen bodies and we'll be dangerous."
The New York Times loves Lutèce.
Eberhard Mueller, the restaurant's co-owner and executive chef, was the subject of a fawning column by Billy Norwich in the August 13 Times magazine. The opening scene depicted Mueller in the kitchen of his North Fork farmhouse, "hands dancing on food like some kind of culinary Nureyev." By the third graf, Norwich had introduced Paulette Satur, Mueller's wife, and was shamelessly plugging their 18-acre Satur Farms as a supplier of organic produce to Manhattan. The piece went on to lionize the couple, who met cute at Lutèce, got the idea for the farmhouse reading Vogue, and now track each other down in the strawberry fields with a cell phone, "Green Acres 2000 style."