The newspaper vendor wasn’t sure why copies of the Daily News were flying Tuesday morning. The morning before he’d sold 11. Tuesday: 20.
The increase was kind of a surprise for Laye Diakite, who operates a small stand with books and papers under a New York Post umbrella outside Penn Station. When told about the Monday slashing of the News’ editorial staff, where some 50 percent of editorial employees lost their jobs, he wondered whether solidarity might have been it.
Diakite, 49, remembers the days years ago when 20 morning copies of the Daily News would have been typical. Days when the paper cost 50 cents, meaning his pockets jangled with change as he took his place at the stand. Some people paid in quarters; others offered a dollar and said keep the rest. Regardless, he had to be prepared.
Now he says he makes $25 for each of two daily shifts, no matter how many papers he sells. But his boss like plenty of media executives is doing some hand-wringing about the downward trend, in an age when more and more publications are managing the jump to a digital world (not to mention competing against each other as usual, as the Post and News have done for so long).
As for Diakite, his first thought about the firings at the Daily News was for the workers: the staffers at the paper and the dwindling number of street sellers that once congregated around 34th Street. His second thought was for the city: “If they have the News, it’s better.” Amen to that.
Diakite is not just a vendor but also a reader. Every morning, he consumes the New York Post and the Daily News. He says he sometimes likes the Post better — he feels it has more information — but the News has some topics that hit home particularly strongly for him, an immigrant from Senegal who came to the United States about 10 years ago. Just Tuesday, for example: the story of Pablo Villavicencio, the Ecuadorean immigrant here illegally detained while trying to deliver pizza to a Brooklyn military base. The immigration coverage is important to Diakite, plus the basketball stories. And then those front pages. Diakite remembers big front pages of years past and the people flocking to get them. The one when Whitney Houston died. Or after the death of Trayvon Martin, fatally shot by a supposed neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Florida.
Tuesday afternoon, Diakite rattled off the particulars, including numbers, of that day’s wood about an alleged assailant who got a multimillion dollar payout after a Rikers beating. Diakite smiled a little. A classic New York story.
It is sad to think that too many of those New York stories may go uncovered, as NYC’s reporter corps shrinks. In the small competitive family that is the NYC newspaper world, it’s still hard not to do like Diakite does and think of the fellow workers, both the ones gone and the ones who will be hitting their beats with larger workloads. (In terms of literal family, my brother will still be working nights on the Daily News sports pages, a little harder these days with a gutted department and no Yankees beat writer.)
But the stories. They should matter to all New Yorkers, particularly in an era when journalism is crucial, with deception coming out of Washington and fewer journalistic resources at home. The stories come from interviews on subway cars, relentless hounding of politicians, painstaking interpretation of complicated documents, stakeouts with cameras outside officials’ houses in the cold — all to the purpose of reminding New York what it is and should be. Then the work ends up on a bunch of pixels and newsprint, for sale on a website or at Diakite’s midtown newsstand, every day this week and next, and next, and next.