Newsday — Say It Ain't So!

I’ve been a big fan of Newsday, Long Island’s largest daily newspaper, for more than twenty years. I became a fan when I lived in Riverhead, on the East End of the Island, and began writing for the paper’s op-ed page. The combination of first-rate editing, unforgiving deadlines, and (gradually diminishing) word-length maximums taught me more about writing than four years of college and twice that long getting a Ph.D. And I’ve written more for Newsday than for any other paper in my career, on everything from Martin Luther King and Columbus and Babe Ruth to the Riverhead sniper, criminals high and low, and baseball strikes. Newsday gave me that delicious experience, rare for academics, of writing something one day, seeing it in print the next, and getting a paycheck in the mail a few weeks later.

In the way that locals always have it in for their home town paper, I’ve also spent a fair amount of time criticizing the way Newsday has or hasn’t covered the issues I’ve cared about on Long Island. But one issue I thought the paper showed real courage on has been the anti-immigrant demagoguery of the popular Suffolk County Executive (and possible NY gubernatorial candidate) Steve Levy–a fellow who would have been right at home in the nativist anti-Irish and anti-German Know Nothing Party of the 1840s and 1850s, and a supporter of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Newsday editorialized against Levy frequently, which I thought was both right and courageous, given Levy’s popularity, and the economic catastrophe engulfing the newspaper business.

So I confess I was more than a little taken aback to run across this piece in Media Matters for America suggesting not only that Levy had tried to get reports reassigned–that’s what low-life pols like Levy try to do as a matter of course–but that Newsday had succumbed to the pressure. I am no investigative reporter, so I don’t know if the story’s true, but I have to ask the question: Is it really possible that a paper with the stature of Newsday could succumb to the pressures of a crude nativist bully?

Or, as this equally distressing piece in the Long Island Press suggests, is Newsday‘s new owner Cablevision really responsible for “destroying” this once great institution, trying to convert it into a marketing arm for its cable and internet divisions?

Again, I don’t know the answers to either of these questions, and I’d love to learn that in both cases, the answer is a resounding “No!”

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