NEW YORK (AP) – Former Daily News editor-in-chief Michael O’Neill, who oversaw coverage of the city’s financial crisis in the 1970s, has died at age 89.
He started at the Daily News in its Washington bureau in 1956 and rose through the ranks to become the top editor in 1975. His tenure included the famous Daily News headline about President Gerald Ford’s speech denying the city money during the financial crisis, “Ford to City: Drop Dead.”
O’Neill died Tuesday at his home in Scarsdale, north of the city, from complications of pulmonary fibrosis, his daughter Kathryn O’Neill said.
The newspaper’s publisher, Mort Zuckerman, said O’Neill “brought the Daily News into the modern newspapering era with an emphasis on investigative reporting.”
“Mike was far ahead of his time in recognizing the importance of what today is called hyper-local content and made the Daily News a force for civic good,” Zuckerman said, adding, “He superbly served the Daily News and New York. We have lost a great journalist and a wonderful man.”
The Associated Press’ senior managing editor, Michael Oreskes, who reported for the Daily News from 1975 to 1981, remembered O’Neill as “constantly striding around the newsroom encouraging us to do more and be smarter.”
“And when he wasn’t, it was because he was out and about in the city during one of its most difficult periods,” Oreskes said. “He was as comfortable talking about the search for the serial killer Son of Sam as he was talking to the bankers who controlled the city’s fiscal fate.”
Oreskes said O’Neill was “a model of a journalist who believed reporting could make a difference for his community.”
O’Neill, who stepped down from the top position in 1982, was lauded for steps he had taken such as introducing columnists including Jimmy Breslin and Mike Lupica and for broader coverage of the city’s five boroughs and development of different newspaper sections.
O’Neill served on the board of the Fund for the City of New York from the mid-1990s until 2006. Kathryn O’Neill said he took up sailing and woodworking, teaching himself to make furniture.
O’Neill also is survived by his wife, Mary Jane O’Neill; two sons, Michael and Kevin; another daughter, Maureen, and five grandchildren.
A memorial will be held at the Larchmont Yacht Club in Larchmont on June 8.
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