The newspaper chain known as tronc has struck again, this time getting 49.9 percent of a 25-acre printing plant in Jersey City in exchange for accepting the keys to the financially troubled New York Daily News, along with an estimated $30 million of the paper's mounting pension debt.
The total cash price of the deal with Manhattan investor Mort Zuckerman is exactly one dollar, with the primary value to the seller apparently being an escape from the millions of dollars in financial losses resulting from brutal competition with Rupert Murdoch's New York Post for the city's dwindling tabloid readers.
Noted a story in the Post after tronc's transaction for the News was announced, "In the past few years, the paper’s staff has gone through layoffs and buyouts. And while most newspapers have experienced drops in circulation, the News’ has plummeted. In 2016, the paper’s weekday print circulation tumbled by 11.2 percent, to 207,680. Even its digital circulation, once a strong point, fell 29.5 percent via its mobile app."
Tronc execs are touting the deal's "synergies," including the shuttering of printing plants at the chain's Hartford Courant in Connecticut and Morning Call of Allentown, Pennsylvania, a tactic used by the company to save money while also slashing editorial and advertising staffs at its papers.
The practice was epitomized by the 2015 closing of printing operations at the San Diego Union-Tribune, which tronc moved to the Los Angeles Times, clearing the way for further downsizing here.
“Over all, print is attriting,” proclaimed tronc CEO Justin Dearborn at an investor road show in January. “We are going to attrit with the industry.”
A story in tronc's flagship Chicago Tribune called the New York deal "a stunning and bold bet on the future of newspapers," and Dearborn said the Daily News would "benefit greatly from becoming part of the tronc ecosystem."
Tronc president Tim Knight accentuated the potential benefits to the company's internet business. "The Daily News has a great staff and also has 24 million unique visitors to its website (monthly). That really fits into our plans. This increases our digital audience by almost 40 percent. It also gives us what we feel will be a very efficient national platform and significant digital presence across the country."
But whether tronc manages to put anything of editorial value on its web-based platform remains to be seen. The Daily News shared a Pulitzer prize this year with the nonprofit ProPublica online news site for digging into eviction rule abuse by New York cops, which some hope will prove to be a model for the chain's future.
The downside, critics argue, is that increased reliance on news gathering by nonprofit corporations, which in San Diego and elsewhere are not required by law to disclose the details of their financing and therefore risk being influenced by undisclosed funders, will fundamentally corrupt local journalism.