Daily News: Don't drop dead

Anna Quindlen

November 06, 1990|By Anna Quindlen

NEW YORK — I LOVE newspapers. I know that's like a butcher telling you steak is great, but the butcher is right and so am I.

Every day, the people I work with produce fast history you can hold in your hand. Market research tells us that more and more people are relying on television news instead, but television news and newspapers aren't the same thing at all. Newspapers are portable and reusable. If you don't get the gist the first time, you can reread. If you don't care about one gist, you can turn to another.

And when you're through with gist, you can pack up old dishes and line bird cages.

I especially love tabloids. I suppose that's like the butcher confessing that his favorite food is fish.

In a world that has become a little finicky and refined for my taste, a good tabloid isn't. It stands up on its hind legs and shouts "Get a load of this!"

A good tabloid is fast and mean and cheap and low and vivid and street-smart. It plays dismemberments and mob hits big. It is also easy to read.

All this is a way of saying something simple: Don't let the Daily News die.

I don't even know whom I'm talking to when I say that. The accidental strike at the News is so complicated and convoluted, made up of so much bad faith and errors of judgment, that even people in the midst of it don't know who could settle the thing, or if a settlement is even possible.

You have to make sure of three things before you call any strike.

The first is that management cannot do without your labor. The second is the moral force of a picket line will keep others from working. And the third is that there is some obvious middle ground between their position (less) and yours (more).

None of these things were certain at the News.

There's remarkably little talk of the standard negotiated settlement, the one that the unions can live with and management will accept. Instead people speak with terrible resignation of three scenarios:

The workers go back -- those that management will take -- and they eat any bad deals that management puts on their plate.

The workers are permanently replaced.

The Daily News goes under.

All three of those scenarios involve breaking the backs of the unions, and there has never been a more obvious time for the company to try.

Management types in all industries have studied Air Traffic Controllers 101, the short course that has made a strike more perilous to workers than ever before.

The economy is in tatters, you can find replacements on any corner, and executives who have been poor-mouthing since time immemorial are telling the truth when they say things are tough.

Old union work rules have never seemed more like antiquated indulgences to the front office.

New machines make hard jobs simple and people a luxury.

Two of the scenarios include the death of the Daily News.

One is using replacement workers in the newsroom. The Tribune honchos can fly in reporters from Florida and Illinois all they want, but those reporters aren't going to be able to put out the real Daily News, the one that knows Brooklyn without a map and has cop connections that are indelible and unbeatable.

Some guy from Orlando isn't going to replace Jerry Capeci on the mob or Marcia Kramer on the mayor. A newspaper is given its voice by the people who write and edit it. Ventriloquists won't cut it.

There is also talk about simply shutting down the paper.

The suits in Chicago insist that is not the plan. But I have watched as, year after year, the tabloid readers have moved to the suburbs, and the advertisers have closed their doors. Korvette's. Ohrbach's. S. Klein. Gimbels. All gone now.

A newspaper is one organism that is dying if it becomes svelte. Upscale, that dissonant manufactured word, has become the mantra of the people who run newspapers, and the people who market consumer goods, too.

A real tabloid is never upscale.

"Don't it always seem to go," Joni Mitchell sings, "that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone."

You can still hear the occasional lament for the New York Herald Tribune, although it's been gone for years. Some people still miss the Philadelphia Bulletin. I'm one of them.

Maybe the News would have gone belly up anyhow. Maybe something can still be worked out, if both sides can forget the violence and the vitriol.

There's a special kind of light shed by a paper as big, as unruly, and as unpretentious as the News.

And if it dies, or if only its shell remains, it will be a dark day for this city, and this business.

Perhaps some group will be able to say it won. But it won't be the readers.

Anna Quindlen is a columnist for the New York Times.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.