Newsday Shakeup Could Signal Power Shift

"Inside Fallujah," the New York edition of Newsday headlined today, as thousands of U.S. and Iraqi troops pushed an offensive aimed at ousting the Sunni city's insurgent rulers.

Inside Newsday, the buzz was about an ouster of a different kind: The departure of editor Howard Schneider and his replacement by John Mancini, an assistant managing editor, effective Wednesday.

The change probably marks an effort by the troubled tab to try to close the door on this summer's circulation scandal, but it could also herald the ascendance of the paper's New York faction over its Long Island–centric nemeses.

The switch won't be painless. At least 50 job cuts were expected as well, although no final number had been decided by midday Tuesday because the budget for next year was still being finalized. Buyout packages were expected to go out to employees within a week, with the hope that enough people would leave voluntarily to make layoffs unnecessary.

Reporters were to hear a formal announcement of the change in editors at mid-afternoon, but in memos circulated late this morning, Newsday publisher Tim Knight said Schneider stepped down after "it became apparent that we have basic differences in how best to position Newsday for the future."

In a farewell note, the 35-year Newsday veteran Schneider—the paper's editor for 15 months—said that his leaving was "a painful decision, but one that became increasingly apparent because of fundamental differences between Tim and myself about the direction of the paper."

The shakeup comes only months after Knight's predecessor as publisher, Raymond Jansen, was forced out in August, and only days after the paper's transportation chief, John Tedesco, was let go—all amid the circulation scandal that has led the Chicago-based Tribune Company to bank $90 million to settle potential claims from advertisers against Newsdayand its Spanish-language daily Hoy. Both papers misstated their circulation figures by tens of thousands of copies going back to 2001. A final report on the circulation mess is still pending from the Audit Bureau of Circulation. But Wall Street gave its review this summer: Tribune's stock price took a beating when the news was really bad this summer. (See this Daily Newsstory from July; here's Newsday's own story from June 18.)

Newsday employees said there were hints for some time that job cuts were coming. One insider at the paper speculated that Schneider got the ax Tuesday because the buyout packages were about to be circulated and employees deciding whether to stay or go would want to know who was the boss. But the roots of the dispute between Schneider and Knight are deeper and older than that.

When longtime editor Tony Marro stepped down in August 2003, he and Jansen installed Schneider despite Tribune's preference for bringing in fresh blood from the outside, according to sources familiar with the paper's internal workings. Tribune deferred to Jansen because of his success in guiding the paper—a record that collapsed once the circulation bubble burst.

The Long Island–loyalist Schneider, meanwhile, became a lightning rod in the long-running internecine struggle within Newsday between the Island and New York factions. With Jansen (publisher since 1994) out and the number-crunching Knight in, Schneider was exposed—and, on Tuesday, expelled.

Mancini gets a big bump up the management ladder from assistant managing editor for New York to top man in Melville, L.I., where the paper is headquartered.

In some ways his move to the top of the Newsday masthead mirrors that paper's off-and-on relationship with New York City. Since New York Newsdayfolded in 1995—with Mancini as city editor—the paper has gradually renewed its ties to the metropolis, most recently opening a satellite office on Park Avenue with about 30 editorial staffers.

Now a question confronting Mancini and Knight is where that relationship will go next, and in particular whether the main city desk of the New York edition will move from Kew Gardens to the Manhattan offices.

Newsday staff members sang Mancini's praises Tuesday, describing him as a spirited team player. Columnist Ellis Henican described the well-traveled editor as "great, energetic, fun—truly a new generation of leadership here."

However, the looming buyouts are testimony to the resource constraints Mancini will face in building up the New York side. Mancini's promotion might help to lift the gloom at Newsday, but as the circulation scandal has illustrated, in the end numbers matter.

 
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