A little over a month ago marked the 55th anniversary of the last published newspaper of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. January 28, 1955 was a sad day in Brooklyn history as the final newspaper rolled off the presses and was delivered to the Brooklynites who depended on it for news and entertainment. The beloved 114 year old newspaper closed its doors the very next day, never to reopen under the same publisher or with the same mission. Brooklyn would not have a single newspaper that reported on the daily local news of the entire borough again. How did such a tragedy occur? There are many reasons why the Eagle closed, but the story boils down to the changing economics of the newspaper industry and the changing demographics of Brooklyn.
Union interventions and poor management decisions may have struck the major blow that ended the Eagle, but the story also includes accusations of communist ties, ideological differences, and unforseen economic hardships. While the decline in circulation during the Great Depression greatly weakened the bottom line for the paper, the real downturn began with the strike of 1937.
The American Newspaper Guild was founded in 1933, and after itching to unionize the New York newspapers, they finally succeeded with the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and had their test case in 1937. When management refused to meet Guild demands--which included setting up an editorial Guild shop, establishment of a discharge policy, and extension of the five-day week to more employees--workers voted to strike. Eagle editor M. Preston Goodfellow threatened that the paper would close if the workers struck. The threat did not come to fruition however, as the mechanics and printers crossed the picket line.
The strike ended with some demands met, but the wound would never heal. 1938 was a bitter year for the Eagle as interoffice hostilities between strikers and non-strikers flared up. The Eagle fared quite well during World War II, reporting on war bond drives, events around the world, and of course, casualties. But while the Eagle strove to create a sense of community among Brooklynites, talks of strikes were quickly looming again for Eagle Employees.
Labor disputes continued to flare up. The Guild pointed out that if the Eagle wanted to compete with the major New York papers, then it had to pay its employees equivalent salaries. In December of 1954, the New York Newspaper Printing Pressmen's Union accepted a two year contract, which called for a $5.80 weekly wage-welfare package increase. The Newspaper Guild sought a similar contract for its members. Frank D. Schroth, the publisher of the Eagle, warned that this type of contract would bankrupt the Eagle and he would be forced to shut down the newspaper. The union, having heard these same words iduring the 1937 strike, claimed Schroth was bluffing and voted to strike on January 29, 1955. Schroth wrote the following piece just hours before the last edition of the Eagle went to press, to inform readers that it was possibly the last print edition of his Eagle. And sadly, it was.
The strike was different in 1955 and the Eagle could not continue to publish, because this time the craft union workers (printers and mechanics) decided not to cross the picket line. The Eagle, which enjoyed a circulation of 130,000 daily and 165,000 Sunday papers, would close forever. 630 employees lost their jobs and Brooklyn lost its only daily newspaper. This would not be the end of Brooklyn's misery. Just two years later the Brooklyn Dodgers left their home borough after winning a World Series that would not be reported by the hometown newspaper. Nor was the Eagle there to campaign against the closing of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Could the influence of the newspaper that prided itself on bringing an entire borough together--though some say its vision of the borough was by then hopelessly outdated--have prevented the heartache of losing the Dodgers and maybe the countless jobs lost at the Navy Yard?