NEW YORK (AP) _ Publisher Mortimer Zuckerman today visited his new property, the Daily News, to meet with editorial employees still reeling from layoffs that one reporter called a ''bloodletting.''

Some 170 of the 540 employees covered by the Newspaper Guild were being let go. The guild represents workers in the newsroom and advertising and circulation departments.

''They don't like it. Who blames them?'' said Zuckerman, publisher of U.S. News & World Report. ''I don't like it, but I'm going to save the other 1,500 jobs.''

Zuckerman held a private meeting with the newsroom staff today. On his way, he brushed off the shouted questions of reporters from other news organizations who staked out the News building.

After a tortuous, four-month process, Zuckerman signed a $36.3 million purchase agreement Thursday and was to formally assume ownership today of the 73-year-old tabloid.

The infusion of cash from the real-estate developer and magazine publisher could revive a newspaper that has been under bankruptcy protection for 13 months and could set off a four-way newspaper war in New York City.

Taking over the paper without a contract with the Newspaper Guild, he began reshaping the newsroom even before he signed the closing documents.

''The bloodletting has begun,'' said Jerry Capeci, a reporter.

''I'm thankful I have the option to stay here, and I'm devastated that the others don't,'' said Don Singleton, a 28-year News veteran. ''This is the worst day of my professional life.''

''It was just a chain reaction of sadness,'' said Jerry Rosa, a reporter who lost his job.

Some newsroom employees didn't leave their desks until late at night, preferring the brief ''sit-in'' to visiting the lobby office where letters awaited each of the Newspaper Guild members.

Zuckerman, 55, said the housecleaning was part of his effort at ''improving the editorial product to be competitive in the 1990s.''

''We're going to give it the kind of sassy humor and edge that is a part of New York life,'' he said. He said he planned to hire new writers and editors.

Editor James Willse, who assumed the publisher's job during the bankrupcy crisis, said he would not be staying on.

The Guild is the only one of 10 unions that hasn't reached an agreement with the new owner, who also owns The Atlantic Monthly.

In a key victory, Zuckerman got court support for ending lifetime job guarantees for typographers, whose jobs had been made obsolete by new technology. The guarantees were costing the paper millions a year.

Zuckerman promised to put some swagger back into a newspaper that has entertained its audience since 1919 with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists, mob stories, flashy headlines and lots of pictures.

Over the years, the newspaper lost circulation because of competition from television and the migration of readers to the suburbs. In the last decade, it has lost more than $100 million.

The newspaper fell from a peak circulation of nearly 5 million on Sundays and 2.4 million on weekdays in 1947 to fewer than 2 million by the 1980s. Current circulation is just under 800,000 on weekdays.

The Tribune Co. tried to sell the News in 1982 but failed. The company hung on to it through the decade, losing $115 million. A crippling blow came in 1990, when a four-month strike began and circulation fell 50 percent.

In 1991, Robert Maxwell, the flamboyant British publishing magnate, agreed to rescue the paper. But before the year was out, Maxwell was found dead in waters off the Canary Islands.

Within a month, his publishing empire had collapsed and the Daily News entered bankruptcy protection.