A Season in Hellville: The Dolans March in, But Please, No Press!

On the afternoon of May 10, when word got out that Rupert Murdoch was dropping his bid to buy Newsday, the writing was on the wall: For a likely $650 million, the odd-couple father-and-son team of Chuck and Jim Dolan would be the paper’s new owners.

So on May 11, Newsday’s business desk dispatched reporter Ellen Yan to the Dolans’ compound in Oyster Bay Cove to try to buttonhole the new owners for a story.

She looked for their house, having bought a flower in case it, in turn, might buy a little goodwill—it was Mother’s Day, after all!

But when she couldn’t find the house of her newspaper’s new owner, she had to start working the phones.

Pay dirt! She scored an interview with the notoriously press-shy Charles Dolan.

He didn’t give up much: There were still “minor details” to be hashed out before his deal to buy the newspaper could officially close.

By the time the story appeared on the Newsday Web site that evening, a press release had been put together, and was sent out at 8:01 a.m., May 12, officially announcing the sale.

Only a few hours after the print editions hit newsstands, the quote Ms. Yan got was rendered useless.

To make matters worse, the business desk got in trouble from the new owners for assigning the piece, according to several people at the newspaper.

Cablevision spokesman Charles Schueler spoke with reporter Mark Harrington, formerly the Cablevision beat reporter who was working this story, and business editor Eli Reyes and “screamed at them” and “was very pissed off” for sending a reporter to look for their house, and for dropping phone calls to the Dolans, according to several staffers (though Mr. Schueler disputes this account—he said he didn’t scream).

The Dolans haven’t been known for their warm embrace of the media. Ask any Knicks beat reporter about life at Madison Square Garden (as we did for a November article in these pages), and you’ll get your share of war stories about Cablevision’s Moscow-like media policies.

But to many on the Newsday staff, the attempt by the paper to introduce itself to the Dolans the best way it knows how was pretty roundly rebuffed, and that didn’t look good.

“It’s made for an interesting start,” said one staffer.

“They’re the only owners who could make you wish for Murdoch,” said another.

“I did call the reporter and reminded him as I would any press outlet that it is the company’s practice that if you would like to speak to the Dolans or any other executive, you call the communications department, and we will be happy to arrange it if it’s possible,” Mr. Schueler said. “From time to time, I have had to make that call to News 12, the Post, The Times and others. It has nothing to do with Newsday—it’s the practice of the company and the same rules apply to everyone.”

But isn’t that part of the point—that Newsday isn’t just any ordinary press outlet for this story? Couldn’t the Dolans throw an interview their way to broker some goodwill?

Rupert Murdoch, after all, gave interviews to The Wall Street Journal, both throughout the negotiation process with Dow Jones, and then an exclusive after his bid was accepted last August.

John Mancini, the paper’s editor, doesn’t see it that way.

“There’s no acrimony over a corporate spokesman getting upset at us contacting someone—that’s his job,” he said.

But when the time finally came for the officially sanctioned interview of Chairman James Dolan, it appeared not in Newsday but on the Cablevision-owned News 12 channel.

“Dolan did a 10-, 15-minute interview with News 12, which is what we had to use in the story, and that’s a slap in the face,” said one reporter. “They could have made him available!”

A Season in Hellville: The Dolans March in, But Please, No Press!