Dunn Done at Daily News

untitled 1 Dunn Done at Daily News“There’s a new editor?” said one Daily News staffer in shock on the phone from the paper’s newsroom on Tuesday afternoon.

Ten minutes earlier, an announcement went out to media writers around town that the Daily News had appointed Boston Herald editor Kevin Convey as its new editor in chief.

Three hours earlier, following the paper’s morning meeting, Martin Dunn, the paper’s editor in chief and deputy publisher, announced he was leaving to handle a “personal family issue” in a memo to the staff. Surprise!

Clusters of staffers around the newsroom “huddled together like they’re at a wake,” said one staffer. Some heard another round of cuts were on the way and this one would be worse than the last. The third round in a series of buyouts offered by publisher Mort Zuckerman claimed 9 percent of the editorial staff in May.

The only reason for his departure, according to Mr. Dunn, was that his wife had fallen ill. He was speaking on the phone before running to the hospital but said he would be returning to the office later that evening to lay out the front page.

“There comes a point in your life when you have to set a priority about what is really important,” he said. “What have I got to concentrate on?”

“Mort has been brilliant in all of this — he was the one who helped me find the very best health care and the very best doctors,” said Mr. Dunn.

One staffer heard that Mr. Dunn had met with Gawker publisher Nick Denton. Mr. Dunn confirmed that he and Mr. Denton had talked a few times over the course of the past four or five years, but said they were not discussing a job. He said he called Mr. Denton Tuesday morning to give him the news that he would be leaving the paper.

“It was a courtesy call and nothing else,” Mr. Dunn said.

That doesn’t mean he’s uninterested in the Web, though.

“Later this year, when that issue is resolved, it is my intention to take advantage of some exciting offers in new areas of the media,” Mr. Dunn wrote in the memo to his staff. Mr. Dunn’s morning memo seemed rushed, one staffer noted. Later in the afternoon, a spokesperson announced that Mr. Convey would be taking over. That announcement also seemed hastily thrown together and there were at least three different fonts in the 400-word release, sent by email to the Transom.

Exhausted staffers weren’t happy to be the last to know. “I’m just pissed off that they didn’t even tell us” said one staffer.

But toward the end of the day, staffers were starting to spread good vibes about Mr. Convey. He is someone who cares about writing, one staffer heard. But he has big shoes to fill.

George Rush, who worked as a gossip columnist for the Daily News for 17 years, remembered Mr. Dunn: “At times it was like Austin Powers crossed with River Dance leading the paper. When the Post has a story that we should have had, people may need hemorrhoid ointment afterward. He takes it seriously. He’s very competitive. He can bark, but he can also praise.”

zturner@observer.com