At ‘Daily News,’ a culture of using ‘permalancers’ gets shaken up

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The Daily News. ()
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Editorial staff at the Daily News endured a fair amount of turbulence during the last months of 2011, including a masthead shakeup and a round of layoffs that claimed nearly 20 editorial positions.

Now it seems that another reorganization is at hand, involving the group of photographers and reporters at the paper who are "permalancers," freelancers who work set schedules up to 40 hours a week but are not on payroll and don't get benefits.

A handful of freelance reporters—at least four of them, according to sources—have just been offered staff jobs.

The hirings follow weeks of newsroom chatter that the permalancer pool was about to be dissolved, with some of them being brought on to salaried positions and others let go, suggesting that the News is seeking to curb its use of freelance talent, which generates a not insignificant amount of the tabloid's content.

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"I think we all sort of felt like this was gonna happen at some point," said one source.

Some of those still awaiting word about their employment status—including some 20 photographers—are a bit on edge.

"Everybody's on their toes," another source said.

A third person familiar with the situation was a bit more optimistic: "I think people that have been regular permalancers are pretty much gonna be hired. I think the people who are not gonna be hired are people who aren't as regularly in the mix."

A Daily News spokeswoman declined to comment, citing a policy of not discussing personnel matters.

Why get rid of freelancers? There's always the spectre of costly litigation and labor complaints when you employ a small army of people who work what amounts to a full-time job without the security that comes with having a full-time job.

But the impetus could also be budgetary, part of an overall freelance-budget reduction. (Or elimination.)

In either case, it would seem to jibe with the currents of change already underway at the tabloid, which begins 2012 with a new content management system, a new integration of its print and digital operations, and a new deputy editor, the "tortured" News veteran Arthur Browne, who is said to be in line to succeed editor-in-chief Kevin Convey if and when he steps down from the top masthead position. 

In other News news, some improvements are apparently being made to the paper's website. Executive digital editor Scott Cohen tweeted yesterday about a makeover for the story pages: "Wider edit rail, new social media tools, fewer ads. Feedback pls!"