In its 20th-century heyday, the New York Daily News was a brawny tabloid newspaper that excelled at exposing crime and corruption. It served as a model for The Daily Planet, the tabloid depicted in the 1994 movie The Paper, and it won Pulitzer Prizes for commentary and feature writing. Founded in 1919 as the Illustrated Daily News by Joseph Medill Patterson, the paper was the first to be published in tabloid format in America and reached its peak circulation of 2.4 million copies a day in 1947.
In the decades since, changes in technology have transformed American journalism at a dizzying pace, shutting many newspapers and leaving vast areas without local media. Today, communities that once had a daily source of news struggle to keep up with the goings on in their town and to separate fact from gossip, often driven by social media. This is a story that could be playing out in towns and cities across America, and it is the subject of Andrew Conte’s powerful, deeply reported book, Death of the Daily News.
Conte’s chronicle of the last year of the News’ existence is a wrenching, compelling read. It’s also a necessary one, as readers and the media industry try to figure out what comes next.
For years, the News’ editorial stance has been described as “flexibly centrist,” though it has often tilted to the right, supporting isolationism in World War II and embracing conservative populism in the 1940s and 1960s. In its heyday, it was also an important voice in the battle for civil rights, defending the poor and the dispossessed.
When the News’ owner, Tribune Publishing, was taken over by cost-slashing hedge fund Alden Global Capital, staffers began campaigning for local benefactors to take over and save their papers. The effort accelerated as Tribune offered buyouts and imposed furloughs and wage cuts, and employees at the company’s other publications voted to unionize.
The News’ building at 220 East 42nd Street, designed in 1929 by John Mead Howells and Raymond Hood and known as the Daily News Building, is an official city landmark. It was later used as the headquarters for its television station, WPIX, and now houses CBS Radio.
Readers are still searching for sources of trustworthy, independent news. As Conte demonstrates in this absorbing book, it is possible to reinvent local news and to create a new kind of newspaper that can thrive in the digital age. But it will require brave people willing to risk their jobs and their reputations in pursuit of the truth. A smart and thoughtful study of an important issue, Death of the Daily News serves as a warning about what might happen to America’s democracy if we continue down this path.