New York Daily News History

450 West 33rd Street, 3rd Floor
New York, New York 10001

Telephone: (212) 210-2100
Fax: (212) 643-7831

Private Company
Incorporated: 1919
Employees: 1,500
Sales: $377 million (1997)
NAIC: 511110 Newspaper Publishers

Company Perspectives:

As the first hometown owners of the Daily News, Zuckerman and Drasner have demonstrated a strong and continuous commitment to the newspaper as well as the city and its people. A year into their ownership, the Daily News was operating in the black. And today, it is the largest-selling newspaper in the New York metropolitan area. Key Dates:

Key Dates:

First issue is published on June 26.
Circulation reaches nearly one million, making the New York Daily News the largest newspaper in the United States.
Daily News reaches peak circulation of 2.4 million daily and 4.7 million on Sunday.
The newspaper's ten unions go on strike in October.
Robert Maxwell acquires the newspaper from the Tribune Company in March, then drowns in November; the Daily News files for bankruptcy in December.
Mortimer B. Zuckerman and Fred Drasner acquire the Daily News.

Company History:

Called "too tough to die," the New York Daily News was the largest circulation metropolitan daily newspaper in the United States for much of the 20th century. The pioneering tabloid, and its eponymous holding company, fell on hard times in the 1980s, though, and a five-month strike in 1990 forced its parent company, the Tribune Company, to put it up for sale. British publisher Robert Maxwell took over the paper in 1991, but died later that year under mysterious circumstances. The paper found new ownership in Mortimer Zuckerman and Fred Drasner at the beginning of 1993. It soon returned to profitability and has become New York's leading tabloid.

From Pioneering Tabloid to Largest Daily Newspaper: 1919-80

The first issue of the New York Daily News was published on June 26, 1919. It was a pioneer of the tabloid format. In his introductory editorial, Joseph Patterson wrote, "The policy of the Daily News will be your policy. It will be aggressively for America and for the people of New York." The newspaper was owned by the Tribune Company, which was based in Chicago and published the Chicago Tribune.

In 1926 circulation reached nearly one million, making the New York Daily News the largest newspaper in the United States. Following World War II, American newspapers were in their heyday, and "the brassy, pictorial New York Daily News led all the rest," according to a Time magazine tribute. Its 1947 circulation was 2.4 million daily and 4.7 million on Sunday. The paper's leadership continued into the 1950s, when the Daily News was the largest newspaper in the United States with a daily circulation of more than two million and a Sunday circulation of four million.

Hard Times--Losses and Strikes: 1980-90

In the 1980s the paper was hit by hard economic times. During the years when the newspaper was profitable, its management had yielded to union demands for more jobs, overtime, and restrictive work rules. By the 1980s the newspaper was averaging losses of $1 million a month in spite of annual revenues of nearly $425 million. Its parent, the Tribune Company, explored the possibility of closing the newspaper, but it would cost more than $100 million, mainly for severance pay and pensions.

When union contracts expired in March 1990, the Tribune Company confronted the unions and demanded huge concessions to make the paper profitable again. It claimed that the newspaper had lost $115 million in the past ten years on revenues of $4 billion, with labor costs eating up 44 percent of the revenue. The company wanted to cut 700 to 1,000 jobs and complained about union overstaffing of drivers and pressmen. The Tribune Company had a reputation as a union-buster, following a 1985 strike at the Chicago Tribune that resulted in the hiring of non-union workers as permanent replacements.

The newspaper's ten unions, joined together under the umbrella organization Allied Printing Trades Council, responded by going on strike in October 1990. During the strike the Daily News continued to publish, using non-union replacement workers and non-striking union staff. For 1990 the Daily News reported a pre-tax operating loss of $114.5 million, including a $69.3 million fourth quarter loss attributed to the strike.

Newspaper in Turmoil: 1991-93

British media mogul Robert Maxwell acquired the newspaper from the Tribune Company in March 1991, ending the strike. Other bidders included Mortimer Zuckerman, owner of U.S. News and World Report and the Atlantic Monthly. Actually, the Tribune Company paid Maxwell $60 million to take the paper off its hands, most of which went for severance pay and buyouts. Maxwell negotiated $72 million in union concessions and reduced the paper's workforce from 2,600 jobs to 1,800, of which 1,500 were unionized. The allied unions agreed to a one-year wage freeze and to changes in work rules, but retained the right to have staff levels determined by contract rather than by management. Following the strike the paper's circulation was down to fewer than 800,000 copies daily and less than one million on Sunday.

Robert Maxwell drowned on November 5, 1991, and the newspaper filed for bankruptcy in December. Following Maxwell's death it was revealed that over $1 billion was missing from his British pension funds, and his media empire was riddled with debt. His British companies sued the Daily News to recover the missing funds amid rumors that Maxwell had used the funds to cover losses at the Daily News.

During subsequent negotiations in 1992 Mortimer Zuckerman outbid Canadian Conrad Black, owner of newspaper holding company Hollinger, Inc., for the Daily News. He negotiated contracts with nine of the paper's ten unions, failing to reach an agreement with its largest union, the New York Newspaper Guild, which represented about 450 workers. In one agreement with the New York Typographical Union, Zuckerman was allowed to disregard lifetime job guarantees for 167 printers whose jobs had become obsolete and were costing the paper $10 million a year. By October 1992 the unions' support of Zuckerman forced the newspaper's management to drop its support for rival bidder Conrad Black, who had offered $75 million for the paper--considerably more than Zuckerman's offer.

Becoming a "Serious Tabloid" Under New Owners: 1993-99

In January 1993 Mortimer B. Zuckerman and Fred Drasner acquired the newspaper for $36 million after prolonged negotiations. They had previously acquired and turned around U.S. News and World Report and the Atlantic Monthly.

Nine of the newspaper's ten unions, negotiating under the umbrella organization Allied Printing Trades Council, had reached agreements with Zuckerman prior to the acquisition. For the most part the agreements called for staff cuts and changes in work rules that Zuckerman deemed inefficient. Only the New York Newspaper Guild, which broke away from the umbrella organization, failed to reach an agreement with Zuckerman.

Following his acquisition of the newspaper, Zuckerman fired about 185 employees, mostly reporters, including about one-third of the Guild's members. The Guild threatened to boycott the paper and cut its circulation by 100,000. The Allied Printing Trade Council criticized the Guild's actions, noting the Zuckerman's acquisition of the Daily News had preserved 1,535 union jobs.

It was expected that Zuckerman would remake the Daily News into a "serious tabloid," something closer in tone and substance to New York Newsday than to the New York Post. He would need to replace the paper's editor-in-chief, James Willse, who announced he would be leaving the paper. In July 1993 Martin Dunn, originally from Great Britain and former editor-in-chief of the Boston Herald, was named editor-in-chief.

In September 1993 Zuckerman committed $60 million for the purchase of color presses, which would be installed at the company's new printing facility being built in Jersey City, New Jersey. At the time New York Newsday was the city's only color tabloid. The Goss four-color presses would enable the Daily News to publish color of the quality found in USA Today. Getting new presses was a top priority, as the Daily News was being printed on outmoded letterpress equipment that was 30 to 40 years old.

The Daily News began operating in the black. Reduced labor costs, lower rent, and a $10.8 million gain in advertising revenue helped the Daily News show an operating profit in its first year under Zuckerman's ownership. Zuckerman planned to raise the cover price in an effort to achieve a better balance between circulation revenues and advertising revenues. Toward the end of 1993 he expressed concern over the future of the newspaper's advertising revenues.

In 1995 the Daily News moved from its traditional location on 42nd Street and Second Avenue to a single floor of an office building at 33rd Street and Tenth Avenue. In 1996 the paper began publishing a national insert called BET Weekend, in association with Black Entertainment Television Inc., for African Americans. It began as a quarterly and became monthly in 1997 with a distribution of 1.1 million copies. In 1997 it appeared in 15 markets around the country.

In June 1996 the New York Newspaper Guild, the only union that Zuckerman failed to settle with when he acquired the Daily News, rejected the newspaper's latest contract proposal. Guild members in circulation, advertising, and news had been working without a contract since Zuckerman acquired the paper in 1993.

In October 1996 the Daily News began publishing parts of the paper on the World Wide Web. During the year the price of the Sunday edition was increased from $1.25 to $1.50. In 1997 the newsstand price went down to one dollar.

In January 1997 Pete Hamill, 61, became the editor-in-chief of the Daily News. Hamill was a veteran reporter and editor who began his career with the New York Post in 1960. Now his assignment was to battle the Post for readers. Hamill replaced former editor-in-chief Martin Dunn, who left in October to return home to England. Under Dunn, the Daily News staff had become split into factions made up of old-timers who had been around since the Tribune Company owned the newspaper and newcomers recruited by Zuckerman. With the arrival of Hamill, it appeared that the various factions would begin to work together and set aside their differences.

In March 1997 the Daily News launched an insert publication called Caribbean Monthly, which was aimed at Caribbean nationals and Caribbean Americans in New York. Approximately 400,000 copies were inserted into zoned editions of the Daily News, with some copies being distributed at newsstands in Caribbean neighborhoods and at selected commuter points.

Estimated revenues for 1997 were $177 million from circulation and $200 million from advertising. The paper was expected to show a profit of about $10 million. During 1997 production was moved to a new $150 million printing plant in Jersey City, New Jersey, which gave the newspaper four-color capacity. The Daily News began publishing weekday editions in color in September 1997 but discontinued the use of color in March 1998. Shortly afterward the national edition, which had been using color before the daily editions, reverted to black and white. By June 1998 the Sunday editions also had lost their color.

The paper was having problems with the new Goss Newsliner presses it had acquired from Rockwell Graphic Systems. It was one of the first newspapers to buy the presses and the only one to use Rockwell's original keyless inking system. When Goss acquired Rockwell's press business, the Daily News sued both Goss and Rockwell, claiming technical shortcomings and breach of contract, but the lawsuit was dismissed and two appeals failed to revive the lawsuit.

In October 1997 Debby Krenek was promoted to the position of editor-in-chief, replacing Hamill. She was the first woman to hold the senior newsroom management spot in the newspaper's history. Editorial improvements included the restoration and expansion of sections covering borough politics, parenting, and immigration news. An investigative reporting group was established and built. The paper also featured award-winning sports coverage. It introduced a New York-focused entertainment and lifestyle section, the "Sunday Extra," to attract more women and young readers as well as new immigrants.

With Zuckerman as publisher and Krenek as chief editor, the Daily News developed a reputation, through litigation, for protecting First Amendment rights. For example, it forced the courts to unseal documents relating to the state's eight pending death penalty cases. It made public information about the city's Board of Education and strengthened public access to family court records. Zuckerman received one of the New York Press Club's highest honors, the John Peter Zenger Freedom of the Press Award. He also received the New York Society of Professional Journalists' First Amendment Award.

Other awards included two Pulitzer Prizes for Distinguished Commentary, one in 1996 to columnist E.R. Shipp and one in 1998 to columnist Mike McAlary for his reports on police brutality. In addition the editorial board won a Pulitzer Prize in 1999 for its investigation of alleged mismanagement at Harlem's famous Apollo theater. The series aimed to save the legendary venue.

In March 1999 the Daily News unveiled a revamped Sunday edition with more entertainment, lifestyle, and opinion pages. The paper had been losing a significant portion of its Sunday readership. Sunday circulation had dropped from 978,000 readers in 1995 to 807,000 in 1997, before rising to 810,000 in 1998. During the same period the Daily News's two main competitors, the New York Post and Newsday, both saw Sunday circulation increase. Changes in the Daily News's Sunday edition included the addition of new columnists, a new editor in Ed Kosner (Newsweek, New York, and Esquire), and two new sections titled "Showtime" and "Lifeline." One of the new columnists was Mike Barnicle, who had left the Boston Globe the previous year following accusations of plagiarism.

As of March 1999 the Daily News had a daily weekday circulation of 729,449, ahead of competing tabloids Newsday (573,542) and the New York Post (433,774). It was the fifth largest metropolitan daily newspaper in the United States. It claimed to be the only major metropolitan daily newspaper to be completely electronically published, which enabled it to include late-breaking news reports. Its new slogan, "The most New York you can get," reflected its commitment to the people of New York.

Principal Competitors: New York Post; Newsday.

Further Reading:

  • Bessie, Simon M., Jazz Journalism: The Story of the Tabloid Newspapers, New York: Russell & Russell, 1969.
  • "Big Apple Bites Back," Economist (U.S.), January 26, 1991, p. 61.
  • "Daily News: `Serious Tabloid' with Local NY Strength," PR Week, August 2, 1999.
  • Davies, Nicholas, Death of a Tycoon: An Insider's Account of the Rise and Fall of Robert Maxwell, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993.
  • Demery, Paul, "Slim Hope for Survival of News," L.I. Business News, January 21, 1991, p. 21.
  • Farnham, Alan, "Zuckerman Vs. the Odds, Again," Fortune, November 30, 1992, p. 126.
  • Garneau, George, "Evaluate Offers to Buy New York Daily News," Editor & Publisher, April 18, 1992, p. 16.
  • ------, "Home Stretch; Zuckerman Set to Close Deal to Acquire New York Daily News Despite Lack of Contact with the Newspaper Guild," Editor & Publisher, January 9, 1993, p. 13.
  • ------, "Just a Matter of Time: Unions Confident That Zuckerman Will Acquire New York Daily News," Editor & Publisher, October 3, 1992, p. 15.
  • ------, "New Life: British Publisher Robert Maxwell Agrees on Staff Cuts with Nine Striking New York Daily News Unions," Editor & Publisher, March 16, 1991, p. 14.
  • ------, "Talks Go Round the Clock to Sell N.Y. Daily News," Editor & Publisher, August 15, 1992, p. 8.
  • ------, "Zuckerman Takes the Helm," Editor & Publisher, January 16, 1993, p. 12.
  • Gatewood, Worth, editor, Fifty Years: The New York Daily News in Pictures, New York: Doubleday, 1979.
  • Giobbe, Dorothy, "N.Y. Labor Talks Falter," Editor & Publisher, June 22, 1996, p. 11.
  • Guy, Pat, "`Daily News' in the Black," USA Today, January 21, 1994.
  • Harris, John, "This Guy Eats Nails," Forbes, January 21, 1991, p. 109.
  • Henry, William A., III, "Captain Bob's Amazing Eleventh-Hour Rescue," Time, March 25, 1991, p. 52.
  • Jennings, Kenneth M., Labor Relations at the New York Daily News: Peripheral Bargaining and the 1990 Strike, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1993.
  • Lesly, Elizabeth, "The Monster Tab," New York Magazine, September 22, 1997, p. 26.
  • Liebman, Hanna, "Daily News to Hike Cover Price," Mediaweek, November 15, 1993, p. 5.
  • ------, "Daily News to Spend $60M to Purchase Color Presses," Mediaweek, September 13, 1993, p. 3.
  • ------, "Zuckerman Takes over at Troubled Daily News," Mediaweek, January 11, 1993, p. 2.
  • Martin, Douglas, "Moving Day at the News," New York Times, May 4, 1995.
  • "Media Notes," Mediaweek, July 19, 1993, p. 28.
  • "More Losses for the Daily News," L.I. Business News, February 11, 1991, p. 24.
  • Reina, Laura, "N.Y. Daily News Debuts Niche Product," Editor & Publisher, March 15, 1997, p. 18.
  • Rosenberg, Jim, "Color Again for the Daily News?" Editor & Publisher, April 17, 1999, p. 55.
  • Ruffini, Gene, "News to Unions: Drop Dead," The Nation, May 7, 1990, p. 620.
  • Sacharow, Anya, "N.Y. Tab Vet Takes Charge," Mediaweek, January 13, 1997, p. 9.
  • Strupp, Joe, "Revamped Sundays at New York Daily News," Editor & Publisher, March 27, 1999, p. 16.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 32. St. James Press, 2000.