Ah, the paradox of life at a tabloid: Word that the Daily News is offering voluntary buyouts to its newsroom staff was—according to one News scribe—a surprise, and yet not a surprise.
It was a surprise, the scribe tells me, because he’d heard that “we made a profit last year.” (That’s not something News owner Mort Zuckerman has always managed to do; the thrill of owning a big-city tabloid usually seems ample compensation for the lack of financial success.)
But it’s not a surprise, “only because of what’s going on” in the newspaper biz, the News source says. For one thing, Newsday just replaced its top editor and went through a round of buyouts, and Newsday’s owner, the Tribune Company, wants to consolidate the D.C. operations of the dailies it owns. Even the Village Voice, beacon to the masses that it is, went through a staff shuffle this summer.
The News program, which a spokeswoman describes as entirely voluntary, will offer continuing health benefits and roughly two weeks separation pay for every year of service, with a minimum of 10 weeks and a maximum of 52. Other benefits might also be available. Employees—who have not been notified formally of the offer—have until January 3 to say whether they want out or not. The News has until January 7 to decide if it accepts each voluntary departure.
A former News executive sees the buyouts as the paper getting down to its fighting weight for an old-fashioned scrap with the New York Post, whose circulation figures are climbing.
At the News, the buyouts and slipping circ numbers (published reports say they are down slightly versus last year’s) are only part of the recent drama. Co-publisher Fred Drasner left in September, and last month the paper was in court against its pressmen’s union, alleging that union members had sabotaged the presses and hampered daily deliveries of the News.
As if that weren’t enough, news of the News buyouts first appeared in the rival Post. A News spokeswoman says the Post was incorrect in reporting that Zuckerman wanted the buyouts to achieve a set number of staff reductions.
“We’re not looking for any specific number of positions,” the News spokeswoman, Eileen Murphy, tells the Voice. “We are just looking to be as cost effective a news operation as we can be.”
And no, says Murphy, the News is not for sale.