NEW YORK — Shock and sorrow over the death of New York Daily News savior Robert Maxwell mixed with anxiety over the paper's future Tuesday, even as Kevin Maxwell was named publisher of the money-losing tabloid and vowed to continue his father's support for it.
"My father was tremendously excited by the News and its prospects," Maxwell, 32, said in a statement. "We are completely committed to continuing the marvelous comeback of the newspaper by providing the support it needs to prosper in the years ahead.
"The Maxwell family," he added, "is committed, as well, to the people who produce the Daily News, the millions of New Yorkers who read it daily and the businesses who advertise in its pages."
Young Maxwell is scheduled to come to New York Thursday to meet with managers and union leaders at the paper. At a meeting of News staff members late Tuesday, Editor James P. Willse said the paper had been through "a divine testing" this year and that it would survive this latest blow.
Willse was referring to the bitter five-month strike that almost killed the Daily News and ushered in Maxwell's takeover of the paper in March, and the stunning heart-attack death of veteran tabloid editor John Cotter late last month, just three days before he was to become managing editor for news.
"It feels like this paper is snake-bit," reporter Tom Robbins said. "If you could pick the most astonishing and unbelievable thing to happen to this newspaper, this would be it."
Reporter Andrew Kirtzman added: "People are scared, but that's a pretty common thing here. Cataclysmic events are not uncommon at the Daily News."
The future "depends on what his heirs think about this newspaper as an investment," added Richard Rosen, deputy Sunday editor. "Don't bury us yet. This is a resilient newspaper."
Publishers of the New York Post and New York Newsday, tabloids locked in a fierce competitive battle with the News, offered condolences to Maxwell's family and employees. They declined to speculate publicly about the impact of Maxwell's death.
Newsday is published by Times Mirror Co., which also owns The Los Angeles Times.
The rival papers "are probably sitting back, licking their chops," said Kenneth T. Berents, vice president and media analyst of Alex. Brown & Son, a Baltimore-based brokerage firm. Maxwell's sons, who will take control of the media empire, "may well continue to operate the paper in honor of their father," Berents added. "But a strict business judgement would have eliminated that paper a long time ago."
Edward J. Atorino, vice president and media analyst at Salomon Bros. in New York, added: "Maxwell did a lot of the right things, but the economy and advertising have been lagging, and the paper desperately needs a new plant. Will someone spend $200 million to $300 million on a new plant?"
But J. Kendrick Noble, an industry consultant, said Kevin Maxwell "might focus more on the business and less on doing deals than his father did, and that could be a positive for the paper."
The Daily News has regained about half the circulation it lost in the bitter walkout, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulation. For the six months that ended Sept. 30, the paper had daily circulation of 762,000 and 912,000 on Sundays, versus a pre-strike circulation of 1,095,000 daily and 1,225,000 Sundays.
The New York Post average circulation in the six months that ended Sept. 30 was 552,000, up 42,000 from a year earlier but down from the 645,000 it averaged during the strike. The Post does not have a Sunday edition. New York Newsday had daily circulation of 269,000 during the six months that ended Sept. 30, up 47,000 from the year-earlier period but down from the 312,000 it averaged during the strike.