The staff of the Chicago Daily News, the last afternoon newspaper in that city, was told by their publisher yesterday that barring a miracle, the newspaper will cease publication on March 4.
The board of directors of Field Enterprises Inc., which owns the Daily News met yesterday to decide the fate of the paper. According to James Stuart Jr., executive vice president, "The board could not foresee any way to avoid closing the paper."
But, he added, "We are obliged to meet with the unions involved, and give them a chance to discuss the situation with a view toward making suggestions or proposals."
After those meetings, he said, f ainal decision will be announced.
The death of the Daily News, a newspaper that has won 15 Pulitzer Prizes in its 103 years of publication, had been rumored all week.
Yesterday afternoon publisher Marshall Field V told a gathering of the editorial staff of the paper in a newsroom meeting that efforts to turn the financially troubled paper around in the past two years have failed, and losses had become "immense."
Field said the paper has lost $21.7 million since September 1974. "The annual excess of these costs over revenues have grown from $3.5 million in 1975 to $11 million (currently)."
Since September, 1974, Filed pointed out, "The average daily circulation of the Daily News declined from 397,598 to 329,078."
About a year and a half ago, Field gave editor James Hoge the position of editor of both the Daily News and the morning Sun-Times (circulation 581,553), with a financial commitment of $2 million over two years to turn the Daily News around.
Hoge made many changes in the afternoon operation, attempting to attract new and younger readers with several features and new special sections. Prominant columnists, like Mike Royko, were featured in vast promotional campaigns.
But circulation continued to drop at the Daily News, which ten years ago had almost twice the readers it has today.
Although the announcement of the closing was couched cautiously as "contemplating ceasing publication," staff members at the paper said privately ther is no chance of survival.
Asked for more details by the staff, both Field and Hoge would only say that they could not make any further comment because of "legal considerations." Both have scheduled meetings with leaders of the unions involved to "negotiate this contemplated actions."
But United Press International reported that the Daily News had announced it would definitely cease publications on March 4.
More than 200 editorial employees of the Daily News will be affected by the move. In his statement, Field said:
"I am aware that this contemplated action would work hardship on many local employees and we would seek to ease those hardships . . . it would be our intention to absorb many Daily News employees into the Chicago Sun-Times which has been flourishing steadily."
Only last Monday the rival Chicago Tribune (circulation 752,861) suspended publications of its afternoon home delivery edition. That edition was begun in September 1974, after a Tribune-owned afternoon daily, Chicago Today, folded.