Earlier today, Daily News gossip columnist Dan Gross announced via email that he has taken a buyout and will be leaving the newspaper on February 1st. He also resigned from his position as president of the Newspaper Guild, the union representing employees of the Inquirer, Daily News and philly.com, effective immediately.
This all comes one week after he sent this scathing bulletin to the Guild members, accusing the newspapers’ owners of “bullying” and “fiscal foolishness”, in light of their threat to liquidate the papers if the union does not make concessions by this Friday. I called Gross to find out what awesome new job he has. After all, he has a new baby at home. Here’s what he had to say.
In your announcement, you stated that your decision to leave the paper was not motivated out of fear. But certainly out of frustration, right?
Not even frustration. The company made an offer that allows members to take some time to not work and to try and move into another opportunity and figure out something. In addition to being the Guild president, I am also an employee of the Daily News. And it is the right thing to do for me and my family. I’ve been thinking about it for a while. I love my job. I love reporting and doing the gossip column. And being the Guild president. But I’ve been thinking, What’s next? Six months? Two years? Three years? I figured at some point I would have to move on in some fashion. This was an opportunity to take time and make something happen. I work best under pressure and a deadline. Having a couple of months and knowing I have to do something will really inspire me and make me do something, possibly in a totally different direction. But I am exicted to be able to figure it out.
You’re so good at the gossip column, but were you feeling trapped in your position as gossip columnist?
I appreciate that. I am good at it. I didn’t feel trapped doing the gossip column at all. As long as I was at the paper, this is the job that I would want to have.
There’s not a week that goes by where my colleagues and I don’t have empathy for you and your colleagues. We wonder what it must be like to work in a place like that. What has morale been like?
I think that the employees of this company have always adapted and gotten used to there being turmoil all the time. Turmoil doesn’t surprise them. Everyone who works here really works their asses off. There are less and less people. The people who are here want to be here. That’s what people try to focus on day to day.
Is that really true, that everyone who works there works their asses off and wants to be there? The union rules — which favor seniority over merit — make me think that there are some veteran employees who are phoning it in. And when a new, hungry journalist is hired and works their ass off, they are the first one out the door upon layoffs.
My answer for that is that the company isn’t forced to lay anybody off. If they think the young, hungry reporters are good, then there is no reason to lay them off.
Where do contract talks stand?
There is a meeting tomorrow between the company and the Guild at which the company will once again ask the Guild to open the contract early, but the contract we have is in effect until October. We have not bargained. We’ve simply been asked to bargain.
Since you’ve resigned as Guild president already, who will represent the Guild at that meeting? Is there a replacement for you?
According to the Guild bylaws, the executive board will appoint an interim president until the next general meeting, which happens to be next Tuesday. If there are nominations and there is a contested seat, there will have to be a special election. The board is working now to try to determine who the next interim president will be. Whoever it is, I expect the decision will be made today.
Do you feel any guilt or personal responsibility to your colleagues for resigning from the Guild one day before such an important meeting?
I don’t feel any guilt because I know that whoever steps up will bust their ass for the benefit of the members. It’s not gonna be some clown that takes over. I have the utmost faith in whoever takes over and in [Guild executive director] Bill Ross. At the end of day, it was a personal decision that I made. I took advantage of this opportunity, which was available to all employees.
What do you expect will happen at that meeting tomorrow?
I don’t know.
Where is all this going? What’s the future of the newspapers?
Current ownership claims to be in the biz for the long haul. They say they have ideas. They say they want to grow the business, grow online presence, get circulation going in the right direction. I hope they live up to their word.
What does your wife think about your decision?
I have the full support of my family and my close friends. I talked to some people about it in advance. I don’t think there was one person who thought I was making a mistake. I’m 34. I’ve worked at the Daily News since I was 20. I worked here my entire adult life. What will I next take advantage of?
So am I to understand that you have no job offer on the table?
No. Do you have one for me?
Have you gone on any interviews?
No. Seriously. This has been going on for two hours. The whole decision was made in the last four, five or six days. It is both terrifying and exciting at the same time.
You’re done February 1st. So what are you doing on February 2nd?
Well, it’s a Saturday. But good question anyway. I’ll be recuperating from covering the Wing Bowl, which is on February 1st. It’s fitting that my last assignment for the Daily News will be covering the Wing Bowl.
[PHOTO: Jessica Griffin]