With rumors spreading from the shop floor to the newsroom, Newsday brass confirmed to staffers that the company is indeed considering big moves that will change how its been run for decades.
To cut costs, Newsday is reportedly in talks with The New York Times to use the Gray Lady’s Queens printing plant and have The Times’ drivers distribute Newsday to Long Island. That would result in layoffs for about 100 of Newsday’s unionized employees. The Island’s lone daily newspaper may also move from its longtime Melville digs.
“We are in the early stages of conversations with the union leadership about exploring possible changes to our business,” says Newsday spokeswoman Kim Grabina-Como, declining to discuss details.
The move comes as Newsday, which Agility PR Solutions says is the sixth largest newspaper in the nation, has seen daily print circulation drop to less than 175,000, according to the latest Alliance for Audited Media report. Newsday claims its current
weekly combined print and digital audience on LI totals 1,131,193.
As co-publishers Debby Krenek and Ed Bushey described in their Nov. 3 email to staffers, Newsday “would get out of the business of printing and distributing our products, and instead focus our resources and investments on content, audience and sales. It would also enable us to ultimately relocate to a more cost-effective and up-to-date office space.”
Meanwhile, adding to the pressure, union contracts expired on Dec. 31. Negotiations, which had gotten underway just before the holidays, produced a tentative deal early in January, according to Mike LaSpina, president of Local 406, Graphic Communications Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents Newsday’s contract employees.
“I think it’s a good package,” LaSpina told the Press, but he declined to discuss any details until the general membership had seen it. He was hoping to hold the ratification vote on Jan. 20.
LaSpina said that renewing the contract was his priority, but he knew that management was considering making some big moves in the coming months.
“They did make me aware that they are looking into this,” LaSpina says. “I’m pretty comfortable we’ll get a deal.”
Severance packages for the drivers and pressmen — LaSpina said that there were about 50 workers in each category — could eventually wind up on the table along with other issues, such as benefits and wages. No reporters or editors are on the chopping block at this point.
“If that’s going to happen, I’ll try to negotiate a good deal,” says LaSpina.
He wouldn’t say whether he’s been in contact with his counterparts at The Times. Nor would The Times discuss what’s afoot. Newsday scribes tried to take the news in stride.
“Most of the drivers and pressmen are in their 60s and they’re more than ready to retire,” says one veteran journalist who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “The young reporters want to trust management but those of us who’ve been at the paper for a long time are worried. Nobody knows what’s going to happen.”
Adding to the pressure is that Newsday’s lease with Tronc, formerly the Chicago-based Tribune Company that used to own the paper, is up July 31. The Newsday Media Group — three-quarters owned by Pat Dolan and his dad Charles and the remainder owned by Altice USA, part of a European telecom giant that had bought Cablevision from the Dolans in 2016 — reportedly pays an estimated $11 million in annual rent for the Melville property.
Currently, the company occupies 300,000 square feet at 235 Pinelawn Rd. Long Island Business News reports management is considering leasing commercial space a third the size somewhere on the Route 110 corridor. It would be only the fourth time the paper has moved in its 78 years in business.
Alicia Patterson, Newsday’s founder, originally set up shop at a former car dealership in downtown Hempstead when the first edition rolled off the presses in September 1940. Seven years later, the paper began expanding to a Garden City location. Then in ’77, Newsday, owned by the Los Angeles-based Times Mirror company, paid a local family of farmers $2 million for the 33-acre field that became the paper’s headquarters for the past 41 years.
So now Newsday management, whose property gave its top executive suites vast views of Pinelawn National Cemetery across the street, hopes to stay alive in another part of town and avoid the fate of so many newspapers in the country that have already gone to their graves.