Staff layoffs that eliminated half of the newsroom at the New York Daily News hit the photo staff especially hard when all of the photographers were laid off and part of the photo editing staff.
All ten staff photographers had their jobs eliminated. Seven of them who were in the office on Monday were called into a conference room along with other newsroom employees and handed their separation paperwork. Two photographers were not there because of their work shifts, and one photographer was at a family funeral. Two other positions were eliminated from the photo editing staff.
“I want to say that I understand,” said Todd Maisel, now a former Daily News staffer who had been there 18 years. He added that he knows a publicly-traded company needs to make money, “But I’m not sure the people who are running things understand anything.”
The move by parent company Tronc comes less than a year after it bought the Daily News. The cuts included newsroom leaders Jim Rich, the editor-in-chief, and Kristen Lee, the managing editor.
The newspaper was losing money and reports had been circulating that Tronc would cut staff. Late Monday, after the Daily News layoffs, a Tronc memo said that they are planning additional layoffs at other newspapers in the group. Tronc owns the Chicago Tribune and newspapers in Baltimore, Hartford, Virginia and Florida. At least two of the papers in the chain have already eliminated photo management and operate with a handful of photographers.
Daily News newsroom staff got word of an announcement via email on Sunday night, calling them to a mandatory meeting at 9 a.m. Monday. Following a brief announcement, staffers received additional personal emails. Newsroom staff was called into meetings by workgroups. There were people seen leaving those meetings crying - some still with jobs and others not.
The photographers were eventually called in together to a conference room, and all of them were handed envelopes with their separation paperwork.
The staff was a veteran group. Most of them have been at the Daily News for at least ten years. The photographers on staff were Anthony DelMundo, Debbie Egan-Chin, James Keivom, Todd Maisel, Ken Murray, Andrew Savulich, Howard Simmons, Susan Watts, Marcus Santos and Jefferson Siegel. Photographers will have to turn in their company-issued camera gear. The Daily News reported on its website that the departing staff would be given 90-days severance pay.
The severity of what was to come was foreshadowed shortly after 1:30 a.m. Monday when Rich, the editor-in-chief who had been let go, tweeted “If you hate democracy and think local governments should operate unchecked and in the dark, then today is a good day for you.”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a statement upon news of the layoffs, asking Tronc to reconsider the move. “This will undoubtedly devastate many households and hurt an important New York institution and one of our nation's journalism giants,” the release read, in part.
Marcus Santos was hired five years ago at the Daily News and was the last staff photographer to be brought on. Previously, he had been the house photographer for Lehman Brothers and was on the trading floor in 2008 the day that financial services firm filed for bankruptcy. The anxiety and sadness for employees at Lehman were similar to this time at the Daily News.
“We thought it was going to be another layoff,” Santos said of the Daily News meeting Monday morning. They presumed some of them would survive, especially since the photo department had earnings from reprint sales. “We were the only department making money for them,” he said.
Santos noted that the identity of the newspaper is tied to its photography and losing all of the staff photographers was not expected.
“Look at the logo of the Daily News – it’s a camera!” Santos said.
In a tweet on the day of layoffs, Colin DeVries pointed out that award-winning performance had no value in the layoff decisions either. Two months earlier, Daily News photographer Anthony DelMundo had been congratulated on the Tronc Twitter account for winning Best Spot News Photo in the New York Deadline Club annual contest.
The dedication of the staff was also noted by former Daily News photographer, David Handschuh, who was laid off four years ago.
“There are many incredible photojournalists who worked against all the adversity inside the newsroom and outside the newsroom,” Handschuh said. “To see them uprooted in one afternoon … is unfathomable, unexplainable.”
Julia Xanthos took a buyout and left the Daily News photo staff two years ago, but she still felt connected to the work her colleagues were doing. The day after the layoffs, she knew something was missing in New York City.
“It’s the first morning that I woke up to know that the pulse of the city isn’t being listened to by the New York Daily News photo staff. It is unsettling,” Xanthos said.
Santos said though he has the immediate challenges of being out of a job, he is also concerned about how the Daily News will cover New York City without photographers being the first witnesses on the streets.
“We’re the front lines . . . we tell them what is going on and they send a reporter,” Santos said.
With half of all newsroom gone, overall reporting will drop Santos said, and he is worried that the watchdog function of the newspaper will suffer.
“I grew up under the dictators in Brazil,” Santos said. “You know when the press is not doing a good job. That’s when the corruption grows.”