With a disastrous 1990 New York Daily News strike looming, union driver Lance Slomack took me through his 45-stop, pre-dawn route around some of the city's meanest streets. It was a nightly world of cops, drug dealers, numbers runners and luncheonette owners who all wanted copies of the paper.
Some wielded guns and Bowie knives as he pointed out the crack houses and took me to a blighted Harlem tenement where he serviced a numbers parlor. A peeling sign assured that a $2 wager brought a free paper.
Whereas Slomack was once able to merely drop papers on corners and doorsteps, the new owner of the long-declining but preternaturally vibrant tabloid will have to fight in a digital space far removed from the paper's long-ago glory days. Imagine: it sold a stunning 2.5 million copies daily and 3.5 million on Sundays during the 1950s. Yes, 3.5 million copies on Sunday, back when the city had 13 dailies, whereas now it sells just over 200,000 copies daily.
Now we have what is an unavoidable footnote in a world where relative upstarts Facebook and Google control local advertising and demolish venerable media brands: The Ferro-run Tronc will take the paper off the hands of cerebral real estate baron-publisher Mort Zuckerman, who will retain control of money-making U.S. News & World Report.
Tronc is the much-ridiculed name change Ferro gave Tribune Publishing, the newspaper arm of what was Tribune Co., which owned the Daily News from 1919 to 1991. Then, the disastrous strike (it took two sides to tango) led to Tribune paying Robert Maxwell to "buy" the paper. Zuckerman got the paper after Maxwell was found dead off his yacht near the Canary Islands, with the rotund Brit's publishing empire soon collapsing and evidence surfacing that he'd stolen fortunes from company pension funds.
And while Zuckerman bought it out of bankruptcy in 1993 for $36 million, a sign of the melancholy industry times was inherent in the deal announced on Labor Day.
"Under the terms," writes The Times, "Tronc assumes control of The News’s operations, its printing plant in Jersey City (New Jersey) and its pension liability. No cash will change hands. Tronc will also receive a 49.9 percent interest in the 25-acre property overlooking Manhattan where the printing plant is. It was not immediately clear what The News’s pension liabilities were; however, previous reports indicated that they were worth more than $30 million."
The strategy of Ferro, a Chicago tech executive whose track record of competitive and editorial success with his papers is slim so far, especially on the digital side, is inseparable from personal ambition. Zuckerman couldn't give the paper away previously and has always gone head-to-head with a rival, the Murdoch-owned Post, that's notoriously been willing to lose huge sums every year just to maintain a print presence in New York.
But Ferro has exhibited the behavior of an aspiring media baron. He engineered a coup d'état after arriving at Tribune Publishing as an outside investor after a short period as primary owner of the Chicago Sun-Times. He rebuffed Gannett's attempt to buy what by then was called Tribune Publishing. And he's refused to sell the Los Angeles Times to a billionaire health tech entrepreneur whom he lured an investor and with whom he soon clashed.
Now he has media properties in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. What he can do with the Daily News that Zuckerman couldn't isn't clear. There will doubtless be attempts to cut costs, including printing of not just the tabloid but other East Coast properties of Tronc, notably the Hartford Courant and Baltimore Sun. And talk of more commercial printing at the paper's plant.
The challenge is on the digital side, where he'll see the Daily News as somehow fitting a strategy he's previously heralded but done little to execute, namely making money off covering the entertainment world (he was outbid by the National Enquirer's owner for Us Weekly).
To that end, he's even promised that the Los Angeles Times will become an international force in and open bureaus worldwide, including in Lagos. It's not happened.
In his early days as a media proprietor, there is no evidence of the editorial investment that's propelled the rising readership of The New York Times and Washington Post. And the Daily News (for which I served as Washington bureau chief) has been down the path of cost-cutting many times over the past decade, with an army of talent departing and three editors-in-chief in the last 24 months.
Ferro talks of revolutionizing newspapers. To do so, he will have to go far beyond cutting, or moving money from one part of an individual paper's budget to another. He'll have to get people to pay for digital subscriptions for high-quality content they cannot get anywhere else. At the barest minimum, it will take more and better personnel on both the editorial and business sides.
So far, Tronc's record on digital subscriptions falls very short, even stipulating to all the competitive and cultural challenges faced by an industry seeking new business models.
One telling aside in the Daily News' own account of the deal this morning is its reference to the modest Tronc achievement online at its nine other daily papers: "Boosted by the 24 million unique visitors drawn monthly to The News' online operation, nydailynews.com, Tronc properties now count a total of 80 million such visitors monthly."
By comparison, The New York Times has about two million digital subscribers alone. The Daily News needs more than the occasional award-winning exposé (it won a Pulitzer Prize last year) or a bold cover headline displayed on a cable news show. It needs new strategy, tactics and investment that go beyond facile consolidation.
Murdoch tops Zuckerberg
Facebook bid $600 million for a five-year deal to stream the top cricket league, losing out to Rupert Murdoch's $2.6 billion bid for the broadcast and streaming rights.
"The fact that Facebook was willing to put up that kind of money is a big, bold declaration that the company will write real checks in order to get its hands on must-see sports content." (Recode)
This is potentially very big, as outlined at greater length by media executive Tom Rogers in a Sunday evening chat right here.
The free speech Killing Fields
"For the reporters and editors of The Cambodia Daily, an independent newspaper, Sunday was the end of an era as they prepared its final edition after 24 years in operation." (The New York Times)
The government seemingly used a bogus allegation to force the paper to shut, "But rather than simply mourn their loss, The Daily’s reporters and editors scrambled through the night to cover the arrest of the opposition leader Kem Sokha on charges of treason. He was taken from his house in handcuffs early Sunday morning, accused of colluding with the United States."
Larger context: "In recent weeks, the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen has ordered at least 15 radio stations to close or stop broadcasting programming from the Voice of America and Radio Free Asia."
The Morning Babal
"Trump & Friends" started in Seoul, South Korea with word that "things are just a little bit edgier" and rumors that North Korea might be prepping ICBMs. It even brought out a medical radiologist, Dr. Nicole Saphier, to discuss H-bomb "effects," such as "damaged tissue and cell death." Head to the basement, Fox viewers.
CNN's "New Day" went to Pentagon reporter Barbara Starr to highlight the bellicose rhetoric of the U.S. at the United Nations. But some things don't change and the American options remain slim. International affairs savant Robin Wright (not the actress) said, yes, Trump doesn't want North Korea to go any further. But is our goal to undermine and remove the regime, "decapitate" North Korea or forge a merger of the two Koreas? It's unclear, she said.
MSNBC's "Morning Joe" didn't avoid North Korea's claims of a successful hydrogen bomb test, either. Joe Scarborough said talk of further economic sanctions is nonsensical, while The Washington Post's David Ignatius deftly took issue with fellow panelist Richard Haass' notion that it's a "binary choice," military action or not.
And, for all, there was the continuation of the weekend-long set-up to today's Trump immigration decision on the so-called Dreamers. The elite media consensus is that political rancor beckons whatever path Trump chooses, with Congress likely left with the biggest practical decisions.
The bully out of the pulpit
A political scientist at the American Political Science Association annual meeting in San Francisco told me over the weekend that he'd just heard a great line at a panel discussion on Trump. It came from the esteemed George Edwards III of Texas A&M, who said Trump has taken the bully out of the pulpit.
I tracked him down to elaborate on what could be a perfect line for media pundits to rip off (yes, they've been known to do it), though I test drove it myself on MSNBC Sunday (with attribution, I swear):
Says Edwards, "My point is that the president has not used the bully pulpit on behalf of his policies. It is unlikely that he could persuade people to change their minds, but he could try to mobilize his base. That requires a strategy and systematic effort, not just a few random tweets. Campaign rallies in which he barely mentions the substance of policies like health care or taxation will not do the job either."
Breitbart giddy over Politico analysis
"Conservatives led by Breitbart News are waging an all-out campaign to stop a candidate backed by Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell in the Alabama Senate special election — putting growing pressure on the president to step away from his endorsement," writes Breitbart, citing a Politico story. (Breitbart)
It's apparently too modest to say it itself.
Janet Elder's new gig
A respected New York Times editor and newsroom executive will head an operation to find potential outside sources of funding for projects. It's trying to make virtue out of necessity. What are the chances of success? (Poynter)
A shoe now on the other foot
Amid the weekend punditry (and rank speculation) on what Trump might do with DACA, the Obama immigration provision that offers security to young undocumented workers, some were outraged that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is apparently unwilling to defend it in court.
There was little such response at the time, at least among liberals, when then-Justice Department official Sally Yates declined to defend the initial Trump travel ban in court.
An awful performance
The soccer press was correct in essentially characterizing as pathetic the U.S. men's soccer team performance in losing an important World Cup qualifying match to Costa Rica (population 4.8 million), 2-0, in Harrison, New Jersey Friday. As Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated put it, the United States (population 323 million) doesn't deserve to make it to the 32-team, every-four-year tournament in Russia, but had better not similarly mess up Tuesday in searing heat in Honduras (population 9.1 million).
Coining an old phrase
Mediaite's Justin Baragona reported Sunday, "During a segment on his program Reliable Sources today, CNN senior media correspondent Brian Stelter kind of inadvertently stumbled on a new name for Fox News morning stalwart Fox and Friends while running down Fox News’ recent insistence that (the) Russia story had disappeared."
Baragona reported that the estimable Stelter said that "Trump & Friends' would be a good name" for the Fox morning show. Agreed. Readers of Poynter and Vanity Fair might agree, too, having perhaps noticed it five days a week here for several months.
It falls rather short of Dylan-like rhetorical creativity. But Stelter quickly responded with a note in his daily newsletter, saying it was an on-air slip-up and apologized graciously. He thus exhibited two of those Old Media values so frequently under attack as fake news: candor and fairness. Thanks.
Unequal pay is a subject known to many journalists for many years. And, obviously, they're not alone. As Bloomberg reports, "For a profession dedicated to lofty concepts such as 'equal protection; and 'due process,' the practice of law has allowed unequal treatment of women to fester for decades." (Bloomberg)
Weekend Update (Poynter version); Eliot Warren's 9U travel soccer team had tough weekend in Montgomery, Illinois, where 400 acres of farmland are being turned into dozens of fancy sports fields. We went 1-3. But extensive travel allowed us to listen to most of SiriusXM's new Beatles channel doing a top 100 Beatles songs. Why do I remember 90 percent of the words but can't recall what was on a front page yesterday?
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the number of individuals who live in Costa Rica. It is 4.8 million, not 48 million.