Magazine article Editor & Publisher

New York Tabloid War Heats Up

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

New York Tabloid War Heats Up

Article excerpt

TURMOIL AND UNCERTAINTY gripped the New York tabloid war as new owners of the New York Post and Daily News locked in a potentially deadly battle.

As E&P went to press, Daily News owner Mortimer Zuckerman won a major victory by capturing the top newsroom managers from Steven Hoffenberg's Post.

Hoffenberg called Zuckerman "a vulture," filed a lawsuit, and offered free classified ads to job seekers and to employers looking for workers.

Meanwhile, the Daily News lost a core of key news staff when a handful of its most recognized reporters gave their notice in a dispute between Zuckerman and the Newspaper Guild local.

As details emerged in the press about Hoffenberg's history of investigations and court judgments, the News hired Post editor Lou Colasuonno to replace Jim Willse as the top editor at the News. Colasuonno brought with him Post managing editor James Lynch and metro editor Richard Gooding. Columnist Mike McAlary also defected to the News.

Post employees have swallowed a 20% pay cut for a month to stanch losses after Peter Kalikow threatened to close the paper because its chief lender cut off credit. Kalikow, who is himself in personal bankruptcy, offered the ultimatum to buy time to find a buyer. Hoffenberg, who has taken over day-to-day control pending a final agreement to acquire the paper, has vowed to restore half the pay cut.

It is widely believed the city cannot support three tabloids. The Post and Daily News have staggered from crisis to crisis over the past few years. New York Newsday, the city edition of the successful suburban tabloid Newsday, is losing money for its Times Mirror Co. parent while awaiting the fate of its less wealthy tabloid rivals, who have so far continued to deft/the odds and survive.

Meanwhile, Zuckerman is fighting another battle closer to home. After effectively breaking the Guild when he bought the News from bankruptcy last month, he is being vilified by the union as a "racist" and "union buster" who has thrown older and minority workers out in the streets.

Strongly denying both charges, Zuckerman said support from nine other News unions hardly indicated union busting, and the paper's racial makeup has not changed since he took over.

Despite a conspicuous lack of support from other unions, the Guild has started a "corporate campaign" against the Daily News and Zuckerman's U.S. News & World Report, The Atlantic, and his real estate holdings.

The Guild, the only News union without a contract, also suffered the most severe cuts of the paper's 10 unions: About 225 of 540 Guild-represented employees in news, advertising and administration lost their jobs or accepted buyouts.

The unions with contracts--all members of the umbrella organization of newspaper unions, the Allied Printing Trades Council--chose not to support the boycott, as did city and state AFL-CIO units. The Guild has quit Allied in protest.

Bruce Jett, the Guild unit chairman who Zuckerman refused to hire as ad sales representative, said the boycott already has depressed News circulation by 90,000.

Zuckerman denied the boycott has had any effect. He said January advertising actually increased 11%, and News spokeswoman Sherrie Rollins said circulation dipped in January, but no more than usual.

The Guild's campaign has included leafleting in city transportation hubs, a national mailing to labor groups, and news conferences at which labor and black leaders voiced support for the Guild.

Using professional anti-management campaign organizer Ray Rogers, 12 phones, computers and dozens of volunteers, the union is soliciting support and financing from local black, Hispanic and senior citizens groups. It has picketed U.S. News headquarters in Washington and is "lobbying" Zuckerman's creditors, Jett said, declining to disclose funding sources.

Zuckerman met with local black leaders to explain his position and the paper's "very aggressive" minority hiring program. …

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