Mort Zuckerman, the 78-year-old real-estate mogul who has been trying to unload the foundering tabloid, yesterday officially took the paper off the table. “As you know, several months ago I announced exploring the sale of the Daily News,” he told the staff in a memo. “I have met with several potential interested and well-intentioned suitors during this process. For a variety of reasons, I have decided to withdraw the Daily News from the market and have instructed our financial advisers to inform the suitors.”
The memo was first reported by the FishBowl, a media blog. It did not say what plan, if any, the owner has for the paper.
The News has been in decades-long battle with the New York Post, owned by the very deep-pocketed Rupert Murdoch, for the title of tabloid top dog. Both papers bleed money — the News to the tune of $30 million a year; the Post, according to a Politico estimate, over $100 million a year. But the Post overshadows the News with its unabashed right-wing political coverage, attention-grabbing headlines and the supremacy of Page Six at the top of the print gossip heap. (On Thursday, the Post crossed all barriers of taste with its front-page banner cheerfully promoting the prison rape of alleged sex felon Jared Fogle.) Murdoch has happily used the Post as a personal political platform, which has not been the case under Zuckerman’s reign at the News.
Zuckerman also owns U.S. News & World Report, which exists primarily as a purveyor of Best lists (colleges, hospitals, mutual funds, etc.). He had feelers for the News from fellow landlord Steve Witkoff, Cablevision’s James Dolan, supermarket chain owner John Catsimatidis and The Hill publisher Jimmy Finkelstein. In the end, no one came close to a bid that would compensate Zuckerman for his losses and a new printing plant. He was reputedly seeking $100 million or more.
That can’t be good news for the already demoralized staff of a paper that’s four years away from celebrating its centenary. Like the Post, the News has undergone major personality transplants over the decades and is barely a shadow of the paper that not-so-long-ago positioned itself as the champion of working-class New Yorkers. Now it’s an open question whether someone with imagination and money to re-engage a dwindling audience for print news can come along to make that 100 years worth celebrating.