Daily News staff enters the valley of the shadow of death

    Will the Philadelphia Daily News, the loud, proud tabloid I worked at for nearly 20 years still be around a year from now?

    My guess is that it will, but my heart goes out to all the good friends I have at the Daily News who face a season of pain and uncertainty.

    Many were stunned and demoralized at the suppression of news earlier this month by the paper’s owners. Now they’re facing staff cuts and a radical re-casting of the paper’s relationship with its larger sister, the Philadelphia Inquirer.

    Some reporters from both the Inquirer and Daily News will now write jointly for both papers, while each publication retains columnists, editorial writers, and enterprise reporters who are supposed to provide enough exclusive content to maintain the papers’ distinct identities.

    There’s a logic, I suppose in hard times to saving money by not sending separate reporters to every routine news conference or out-of-town Sixers game. But the truth is that good reporters compete to make routine stories special, so something will be lost.

    And then there’s the problem that so many good investigative and enterprise stories come from beat reporting. Does the joint Inquirer-Daily News City Council reporter share tips and story ideas with both papers? Do they alternate giving the good stuff to one or the other? Or trade tips for a nice lunch or something better?

    Then there’s the terrible burden of cutting 37 jobs, company-wide. There’s a buyout for employees willing to leave voluntarily, and word on North Broad is that very few are taking it – seven is the number I’ve heard.

    That’s a function of (a) the less-than-overwhelming terms of the offer, (b) the fact that staffs are so pared-down already there are fewer people around to consider it, and (c) the increasingly grim job market for journalists.

    If layoffs come, seniority rules enforced by the union contract will mean young, hustling reporters get axed.

    Newsroom veterans with decades in the business are being assigned to overnight shifts, and it’s hard not to see that as a shove toward the door.

    And of course, the fact that the owners making these decisions are trying to sell the joint doesn’t help anybody’s morale.

    I don’t know where this takes the paper, and plenty of people are looking to leave. But I would encourage those who trudge to their desks in these dark days to remember three things:

    1. You’re a working journalist in 2012, and most of your friends wish they had your job.

    2. Despite everything, you produce kick-ass work often enough to make politicians tremble and citizens cheer.

    3. Think back over the years, and you’ll remember a few reigns of terror from vindictive, clueless bosses. They’re gone, and you’re still here.

    Be strong. May better times come soon.

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