Resuscitating the New York Daily News

By Rosenberg, Jim | Editor & Publisher, June 25, 1994 | Go to article overview

Resuscitating the New York Daily News


Rosenberg, Jim, Editor & Publisher


Abandoned by the Tribune Co. and orphaned by Maxwell, the 75-year-old tabloid starts from scratch: new owners, new labor contracts, new plant and equipment, including high-volume image processing, Atex pagination, Goss keyless color offset presses

Among the city's tabloid trio, the New York Daily News is trying to remain profitable and perhaps regain a larger share of the industry-leading circulation it once enjoyed.

The paper's new owners have waste no time in assigning new technology leading role in that effort.

The News went from bankruptcy to the brink of pagination in the first year after Mortimer Zuckerman and Fred Drasner picked up the pieces from the late Robert Maxwell's hollowed-out holdings.

And if all goes as planned, those pages will be transmitted to a new plant housing the newest keyless color offset presses - a far cry from pasting up galleys and plating up letterpresses at the old multistory plant in Brooklyn.

The paper's former owners talked for years about modernizing production, usually when contracts were up for renegotiation. The new owners are now acting on what they estimate will be a $135 million investment in new plant and equipment.

At a late-spring interview, Drasner indicated new technical applications likely won't end at the Dress folder. Squeezing and bouncing little pink Spaulding straight out of his stickball TV commercial for the News, the chief executive and co-publisher remarked, "I think the whole future of the business is in the mailroom."

Asked if the paper were chewing on more change than it can digest at one sitting - a major overhaul affecting everything from text and image capture to copy and bundle distribution - Drasner replied, "This is easy compared with some of the stuff that's happened here in the past."

The past included acquiring the paper in the first place, negotiating craft union contracts, wearing down the Newspaper Guild while keeping up editorial content, battling the New York Post on one side and New York Newsday on the other while several columnists played musical chairs and another was lost for months following a serious automobile accident, and, not least, boosting ad volume. (The new owners say the News now turns a profit but they won't say how much.)

The present includes putting out a paper every day. Citing no sources, the rival New York Post carried an April story reporting that newsprint for the News is being supplied by Stone Consolidated at very low interest on what it suggests is probably list price rather than the prevailing steeply discounted price.

The Post account said only the interest is payable for the first two years, with the big balance payable over seven years.

"None of the stories that were written on that were correct," insisted Dave Schirmer, president of New York-based Stone Consolidated Newsprint Sales. What is correct he would not say, noting only that "it's a private deal between us and the Daily News," whom he called "excellent people to work with."

"I'm very enthusiastic about this project. I love new technologies," said Drasner, adding that they can liberate staffers' creative capabilities. Where new technology is already in use, he said, "It's taken away the drudgery. You can focus on doing better work."

Drasner insisted that the newsroom-to-truck dock overhaul is accomplished by executive decisiveness that includes "clear instructions and target dates and excludes management by consensus - "no endless debate of how, when and what."

He said that, on a smaller scale, the same approach and benefits were seen in the start-up of the paper's VUE TV listings booklet.

Drasner laid out would be done and when, getting the staff past wondering whether it would happen and on to concentrating on making it happen.

Citing inertia as the greatest force in the world, he said, "To get people moving is hard, but once they're moving, its pretty easy to manage them. …

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