A lot of people are crying into their beers about the latest round of cutbacks at the New York Daily News, with dozens of reporters, editors and photographers culled in a Monday-morning massacre. There is now a sense of inevitability that the city’s hometown newspaper will soon close down. I have mixed feelings.
I’m sad that the News abandoned its mission as our hometown paper a long time ago.
I’m sad that Tronc, a digital media company, is forced to shutter a newsroom where the editors were so indifferent to its readers that they never considered reflecting the city’s vibrant and ever-changing demographics on its staff.
Instead, these editors broke this former jewel of a local newspaper—which once had dedicated borough sections and the largest circulation in the United States—and took different parts from divergent news models to build their own Frankenstein’s monster: a national news website.
Stacks of the black-and-white tabloid, wrapped in full-color comics, greeted families after services at the Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church when I was a kid growing up in Jamaica, Queens, in the 1960s and ’70s.
When my father pulled up the family station wagon in front of the statue of the Virgin Mary, he’d have a copy of the paper waiting for me in the middle of the backseat.
On that hump seat, every Sunday, for years, the Daily News was always waiting for me. It was my catechism: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in church, followed by “Dick Tracy,” “Blondie” and “The Family Circle,” in the car on the way home for a late breakfast.
Soon the comics weren’t enough to fill this new thirst, and I jumped to the main paper. In the middle of that paper I discovered its once-famous photo section. I can still remember seeing a picture of Bing Crosby riding the subway, just like my dad.
I was soon inhaling the news. I also found the sports section. Thank God it was in the back with the classifieds and didn’t get in the way of my enjoying the rest of the paper.
Then something magical happened in the 1970s. My mom was strict about bedtime, even on weekends. But after wearing her out, I won my campaign to stay up to watch The Carol Burnett Show, on Saturday nights, at 10 p.m.
One of those nights, my dad got home from work early. He was a waiter at hotels and restaurants in the city. He usually got home around 11:30 p.m., after I went to bed.
This night, when he walked in the door, he had a bulldog edition of the Daily News under his arm. It was fascinating to me. It was still Saturday, but my father, a waiter, had a copy of tomorrow’s newspaper under his arm.
I went to him. I gave him a kiss. And my dad handed me the paper. It was an automatic gesture. I have several brothers, but they showed no interest in that newspaper.
I’m Puerto Rican. I was born in Queens. My parents and their families had been reading the Daily News since they arrived in Manhattan and the Bronx, from the Island, in the ’30s and ’40s.
My father was 48 when I was born. He worked two jobs, six days a week. We never threw a ball around. And when he offered to teach me to drive, I told him all I needed was a token and my bicycle to get around the city. I regret not taking that time.
But my dad did give me the News. And a whole lot more. I went to bed that night fascinated with the idea that I already knew the next day’s news. That fascination never left me.
In 1990, I had the privilege of joining the News as a reporter. It was a thrill to walk into the Daily News Building, on West 42nd Street, past the giant globe in the lobby, to go to work in the newsroom, where Superman’s alter ego, Clark Kent, had a day job, because being a superhero don’t pay the rent in Manhattan.
Even more exciting was the influence the paper had back then. There was no Internet. The News had a million subscribers. That was 1,000,000 people who read an actual newspaper printed on ink. It had the largest circulation in the United States. And most of those readers lived in the five boroughs.
We didn’t have cell phones then. To report in to the city desk you’d have to call collect from a pay telephone. I was at the News, maybe, three months when I made this call.
Me: “Good morning. I’d like to make a collect call.”
Operator: “Your name?”
Me: “Eddie Borges.”
Operator: “Eddie Borges, from the Daily News?”
Operator. “I’ve read all your stories.”
I was 26 years old. That’s what it was like to work at the Daily News.
Of course, there a dark side to this story which provides some foreshadowing to this week’s cutbacks.
This city is two-thirds minority. It’s a third Hispanic, mostly Puerto Rican, Dominican and Mexican. And nearly a third black.
This population had never been properly represented among the people who assigned, wrote, and edited the paper’s news stories or editorials. Even worse, most of the senior editors during my tenure lived on Long Island or in Westchester or New Jersey.
This fed a deeply ingrained culture of racial bias at the News. Blacks reporters sued the paper for discriminatory hiring practices at the paper—and won. There were never enough Puerto Rican reporters at the paper to put together a lawsuit.
Then there was the coverage of Puerto Ricans. Angelo Falcon, the founder of the Institute for Puerto Rican Policy, told me that the News was once commonly referred to as the Puerto Rican New York Times. Yet, the editors had no respect for these readers,
When Puerto Ricans were getting killed during riots in Sunset Park in the 1970s, the city editor told reporters there was no news unless a white man was killed.
Over the last 30 years, coverage of Puerto Ricans actually got worse.
After I resigned from the paper in 1993, a newly hired reporter called me on Sunday night following the Puerto Rican Day Parade. The night editor had him call the Sanitation Department to ask if the streets were dirtier that night compared to after other parades.
A couple of years ago, the paper’s parade coverage featured two half-naked women on its front page. As it turned out, those women were nowhere near the parade.
More recently, when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a young Puerto Rican woman from the Bronx, won the Democratic Party primary last month against the Irish Catholic Queens County Democratic Party leader, the News’ editorial page did not know how to respond. But then, how could they?
That’s what happened to the Daily News.