Friday, September 28, 2007

Guild, Time Inc. agree to 3-yr contract

The Newspaper Guild of New York, representing writers, editors and photographers at Time, Sports Illustrated, People, Fortune, Fortune Small Business and Money has reached a tentative agreement for a 3-year contract that calls for annual pay increases. Complete terms are undisclosed pending ratification of the agreement by Guild members. (end of post)

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Do as we say, not as we do?

Crack open your copy of the Tribune Ethics Policy. Reporters are supposed to refrain from activities that give the appearance of a conflict. So how is it okay for Tribune Company executives to disregard the company's code of ethics and offer gifts to pols and policymakers its reporters cover?

The Cubs are offering a pair of tickets for purchase at face value to each of the pols who represent the area surrounding Wrigley Field. Steve Rhodes at The Beachwood Reporter calls the question. (end of post)

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Another ESOP tale, from a business perspective

You may feel at this point that you know everything you need to know about ESOPs, but here's another story in the news. In part:

The ESOP concept was developed in the 1950s by lawyer and investment banker Louis Kelso, who argued that the capitalist system would be stronger if all workers, not just a few stockholders, could share in owning capital-producing assets. ... The study found that ESOP companies perform better than their pre-ESOP performance would have predicted and also are more likely to remain in business. Moreover, ESOP companies have other retirement-oriented benefit plans more often than comparable non-ESOP companies.
One unnamed employee is quoted as saying "I own a piece of this company — that allows me to make it a better place to work.” He/she must have a voice in the company.(end of post)

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Free in LA

LAT may launch a free tabloid-sized, fast-read daily aimed at attracting 18-34 year-old readers and boost advertising sales. Not a new idea for Tribune: RedEye, Chicago Tribune's free daily and amNewYork (Newsday) are tabloid freebies. Reuters

Will LAT hire additional staff to produce the freebie? Or will it dump the additional work on existing staff? (end of post)

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Zell Deal will get resistance from FCC commissioner

Michael Copps, Democratic FCC member who has previously expressed concern over three proposed media mergers including Zell's purchase of Tribune, said today he still isn't convinced the proposed deals are in the public interest.

As one of five FCC commissioners, Copps will cast a vote on whether the Sirius-XM merger and Tribune sale should be allowed to proceed. As things currently stand, there would be no vote by FCC commissioners on the News Corp. deal.

"The Tribune (sale) would be a steep climb for me, given my history of concerns over consolidation," Copps said. "I do not buy into this argument that you might be considering rules changes, ergo you can't apply the current rules to current pending applications."


Shaun Sheehan, vice president for regulatory affairs at Tribune Co., said the company was "fighting for its very survival and was dependent on the continuation of the waivers."
In the bigger scheme of things, media consolidation is a big, big Newspaper Guild concern. That said, Tribune may survive its regulatory challenge, and maybe it will eventually do okay under Zell. And maybe the employees will eventually share in future profits, risky as the ESOP is for them.

But if Tribune doesn't get the waivers, it would have to downsize itself. If the company's goal is to push "hyperlocalism" in its products, why not really go local and push localism in its properties — sell to local owners willing to buy. (end of post)

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Rate cut may favor Zell Deal

The Federal Reserve's 0.5% rate cut could be good news for the Deal's financing given the current limited credit climate. “The real question is whether the [Tribune] company’s cash flow is sufficiently affected to interfere with their being able to borrow,” Silver Spring-based media analyst John Morton said. “And the company has said they don’t anticipate that it will.”

Deal failure, however, would not upset The [Baltimore] Sun’s Newspaper Guild members, said Angie Kuhl, commercial vice chair of the union unit at the paper. Kuhl said that most members prefer local control — a possibility if Tribune divests The Sun. “It’s a big, unwieldy company — and hierarchical,” Kuhl said of Tribune. “That’s one of the frustrations of employees here.”

A busted deal also would not upset Ted Venetoulis, spokesman for a local group interested in buying The Sun. “[Now] we just have to wait for Zell to make a judgment,” he said, “and not bother him until he gets his arms around [the merger].”
(end of post)

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Your health, lifestyle is fair game for employers looking to cut costs

In recent years, many employers offered healthy initiatives to their employees: discounts for health clubs and WeightWatchers classes, healthy offerings in their cafeterias and snack machines, free smoking cessation classes. But these days, employers looking to cut their health care costs any way they can may fire employees who don't quit smoking, lose weight or lower their blood pressure. According to "Get healthy or get fired" in today's Baltimore Sun (Monday's Chicago Tribune), "punitive measures are gaining a foothold in the workplace, according to lawyers and groups that follow insurance and employment trends, because health-care costs are growing at high single-digit to double-digit rates annually."

Punitive measures short of discharge may include, for example, charging employees monthly or yearly fees if they smoke. Today's huge health-care costs burden most employees. (Some just can't afford to pay for coverage.) An increase in his/her cost of the health care premium is bad news enough, but then add fees on top of that for activity outside the workplace that the employer decides is unhealthy?? Whoa!

The question for employees is: How far will these requirements on personal habits and penalties go, and what sort of criteria will employers use to define good health?
Damn good question. Guild members have the right to not only ask those questions, but the right to request a meeting to discuss the potential legal slippery slope that would allow an employer to implement medical and behavioral dictates that reach outside the workplace, the impact such dictates and fees could have on its members and alternatives to the implementation of such fees that may satisfy both side's concerns. (end of post)

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Is that your kid? Prove it.

Tribune has succeeded in irritating and insulting its LAT staffers, according to memos sent to fishbowlLA and LAObserved.

Employees are being required by Tribune, via consultant Mercer, to provide documented proof – no later than October 5 – that dependents claimed under the LAT medical benefits plan are in fact really, legally dependents — or poof! no coverage for spouse and kids after that date.

In an email exchange with management about the paperwork fiasco and the resulting panic the requirement has caused, a staffer wrote:

Making honest people fear losing their health insurance -- which polls show is a major anxiety throughout the population -- is inexcusable. It is no "assurance" to be told that Tribune will make contact before yanking your spouse and kids off their insurance. You have a moral responsibility to proactively inform each employee when their dependents have been verified to the company's satisfaction so they don't have to keep worrying.

In addition, Tribune owes an apology to every employee who received one of these threatening letters after they had already provided the paperwork. It may not meet the legal definition of workplace harassment, but the bullying approach of this audit is an affront to everyone who works hard at the Times and the other Tribune properties.
As unionized employees, YOU would have the right to be proactive on an issue like this, rather than finding yourselves in the reactive position you have found yourself in. Tribune has the right to introduce plans that will save costs. However, as a union you would have the right to have your representative meet with the company in advance to discuss for example, the current documentation requirements plan and give voice to questions and concerns on process that could eliminate similar confusion, outrage and panic that this mismanaged situation has apparently created.

The above quoted writer, to his coworkers:
Given the time, trouble and insult this exercise has put all of us through, I would also like to know how many ghost dependents this audit and the previous one end up discovering here at the Times, and whether the savings Tribune-wide are greater than the consulting fees Tribune is paying Mercer. Since Tribune's corporate values include Employee Involvement and Teamwork, such an action would be perfectly consistent with this audit's respectful skepticism of our integrity (which, when capitalized, is also a Tribune value).
Indeed! So, how's things in YOUR workplace? (end of post)

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

LAT reporter's legacy to be honored

Ruben Salazar, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times who was killed Aug. 29, 1970 during a riot he was covering in East Los Angeles, will be honored with a USPS commemorative stamp (left) for "giving voice to those who didn't have one". Staff writer Louis Sahagun wrote in today's Los Angeles Times:

In honor of trailblazing newsman Ruben Salazar's relentless efforts to chronicle the complexity of race relations in Los Angeles, the U.S. Postal Service in 2008 will issue a commemorative stamp of the former Los Angeles Times reporter and columnist.

"He was a groundbreaker for Latinos in this country, but his work spoke to all Americans," Postmaster Gen. John E. Potter said Monday. "By giving voice to those who didn't have one, Ruben Salazar worked to improve life for everybody. His reporting of the Latino experience in this country set a standard that's rarely met even today."

... [snip, snip] ....

Inspired by Salazar's legacy, [Frank] Sotomayor [associate director of USC Annenberg's Institute for Justice and Journalism] and the dozen Latino journalists working in Los Angeles at the time formed a professional organization, the California Chicano News Media Assn., to encourage other ethnic minorities to pursue careers in journalism. Over the years, the group, which has since changed it name to CCNMA Latino Journalists of California, has awarded nearly $700,000 in scholarships to 680 students and sponsored 29 journalism opportunity conferences.
(end of post)

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California Interpreters still out

Check out the CFI website for updates on the strike. CFI represents the largest corps of highly skilled professional interpreters in the nation working for one county, and has served as a role model for court interpreter organizations throughout the U.S. (Issues)
Donations to their strike fund can be sent to NCMWU, 433 Natoma St. 3rd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94103. Payable to Northern CA Media Workers, Local 39521. In the memo field: CFI Strike Relief Fund (end of post)

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Stock analyst thinks Zell will find "that 34 bucks"

Here's what Jim Cramer had to say about Tribune Monday evening on his "Mad Money" TV show on CNBC: "I think Sam Zell's gonna find that 34 bucks. I think he's gonna do it, because he is a man of his word. Because of that, if I were an arbitrageur, I would be in the stock. But I don't recommend that, so that's why I've been saying sell it if you're an employee."

Do you still hold Tribune stock??? (end of post)

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Monday, September 24, 2007

For newspapers, transition from print to online a huge, but not impossible, hurdle

More than ten years after the Internet began stealing ad dollars and eyeballs away from the daily newspapers, newspaper-publishing companies still struggle to figure out a business model that works in the new media landscape.

John C. Dvorak offered his commentary on the jam newspaper publishers are in. MarketWatch. "As more newspapers make the mistake of eliminating reporting jobs, they fall into the pit of redundancy with nothing special to offer. There are no foreign correspondents anymore. There are hardly any stringers on the site of breaking stories any more."

Tens of thousands of journalists have lost jobs during the past decade's industry upheaval, but thousands more have survived the calamity by developing multi-platform skills that enhance their expertise and value. Many publishers – Tribune Company included – are employing the new skills and expert talent of their print reporters, editors, designers, copy editors and photographers in the development and production of original content unique only to their site.

Building a loyal online readership is taking a long time — arguably too long. But some of our employers are well on the way to figuring out a new workable business model because a) they know the old one is no longer working, b) they know change has to happen and happen NOW, and c) they're including in the decision-making processes their workers' ideas and expertise and in some cases, placing them in crucial roles that will help effectuate the transition to new media.

With the advent of the television medium, radio feared its own demise. Like radio, newspapers will survive the transition to online by not only finding its own niche, but employing the top-flight seasoned journalists who can make it all happen. (end of post)

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Lovers of the press, liberty must root for the Cubs

Columbia Journalism Review's Dean Starkman doesn't care how they do it but the Chicago Cubs must win the Pennant and the Series.

The greater the Cubs’s success, therefore, the higher the price the club fetches in a sale, creating a virtuous cycle of financial success and American progress. The lower the newly private Tribune Co.’s debt, the higher its chance of success, the more likely it will continue to publish, the more reporters and editors it will employ, the more information will emanate from the Tribune, the more enlighted our polity, the wiser our leaders, and the greater the spread of the American way of life throughout the world.
Tribune generated cash flow of $1.3 billion last year. When the Zell Deal is complete, the company will initially have to meet annual interest costs of $1 billion. With revenues down and continuing to slide, there won't be much wiggle room.

(end of post)

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Guild reaches tentative agreement at Chicago Sun-Times

The new 3-year agreement will go to 190+ union members for ratification next week with full recommendation from the bargaining committee, less than a week shy of the expiration of the current contract. The agreement includes a 1.5% wage increase for all Guild-covered employees in the first year; 2% in each remaining year. Employees' healthcare contributions will increase $5 per week in the first 2 years, $10 in the final year. (end of post)

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Friday, September 21, 2007

FCC chief tips his hand to Tribune and Big Media *

Chairman Kevin Martin met privately with Tribune's editorial board yesterday prior to the FCC public hearing in Chicago. Timothy Karr wrote on Huffington Post:

Martin reportedly told his private Tribune audience that that he wants to relieve the strain placed on newspapers by the digital marketplace for news -- a claim that has been soundly disputed by a recent Free Press study on Chicago news diversity.

"Many of the properties that Tribune owns date back to that original cross-ownership here in Chicago," he said, referring to the company's many local holdings -- including the Chicago Tribune newspaper and TV stations WGN-AM 720 and WGN-Ch. 9 -- which were exempted from the 1975 cross-ownership ban."

– [snip, snip] –

If Martin's FCC proceeds in lifting cross-ownership, the Tribune or any other single company could own the main daily newspaper, eight radio stations, three television stations and a major cable provider in the same town.
Read Tribune media columnist Phil Rosenthal here.

Another viewpoint: Tribune's Truthiness: Blame the Internet

"Wherever you go, from Los Angeles to Nashville, Tampa to Chicago, there's no mistaking what the public thinks about media consolidation," said Yolanda Hippensteele, outreach director of Free Press. "They think it has gone too far at the expense of too many. And they want more local voices, more choices, and a media that actually represents their communities. The question is whether the FCC is listening."

Union leaders, industry representatives, community activists and academic experts were among the 800+ people who waited for hours to testify in front of the five FCC commissioners about the negative impacts of media consolidation.

ALSO: A Night At The (FCC) Opera -- Tribune At Center Stage E&P

(end of post)

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

August revenue down 5.2%

Classified ad sales slid on sharp real estate declines. Publishing revenue slipped 6.1% to $271 million, with ad revenue declined 7.2% to $210 million. AP More details. (end of post)

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Monday, September 17, 2007

WSJ Guild reaches tentative contract agreement with Dow Jones *

The union's bargaining committee will send the deal to to the membership with a recommendation to ratify. The agreement includes annual wage increases of 3% through 2009, compensation for jobs lost to outsourcing, and health care changes including new caps on out-of-pocket medical expenses. AP

"Obviously, this contract is not everything that we wanted and the Board believes it is short of the Quality Contract that you deserve as the people who, day in and day out, create one of the most trusted and respected products in the world," said union president Steve Yount in a note to members posted on the union's website. "But the Board also believes – at this time, under these conditions — this is the best package available."

One of the many differences between a company where employees have union representation and a company where employees are without voice and vote, is in the application of periodic salary increases. WSJ journalists will ALL receive the same percentage wage increase regardless of merit. That's not to say an employee can't request and receive an increase over and above the contractual rate nor are managers prohibited from awarding an individual a merit increase in recognition of a job well done. A union contract sets the MINUMUM wage rates — not maximums — and through collective bargaining, guarantees wage increases will be applied to all employees covered by the labor agreement.

UPDATE: "This is not the best contract we could have gotten"— The New York Observer We are nothing if not a democratic union and dissenting views are common. At the end of the day, the decision to accept or reject the tentative agreement lies solely with the voting members at the Wall Street Journal. (end of post)

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Tribune considers split in Cubs' franchise

Those close to the transaction wonder if they might not get a better price by selling the franchise in pieces, which would complicate the sale and likely delay its completion until next year, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Estimates of the value of the team, its historic home at Wrigley Field and Tribune's 25% share of Comcast SportsNet, a regional cable TV network, have rocketed to $1 billion and beyond.

The Cubs, after all, are among the biggest draws in the major leagues. About 3.1 million fans flooded into Wrigley last year, keeping the stadium 93% filled despite the team's poor on-field performance. The Cubs finished in last place in the National League's Central Division, although they've come back this year and held on to first place by a slim margin going into Friday night's game with the St. Louis Cardinals.
(end of post)

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Northern California Guild succeeds in defending rights of employees

Employers that unilaterally impose policies without negotiating with the union over the potential impact such policies will have on the terms and conditions under which union-covered employees work violate federal law.

Confirmation of that came yesterday when the Northern California Media Guild announced that the National Labor Relations Board has found that MediaNews Groups ANG Newspapers' imposed policy restricting employees' use of the company email system is illegal.

The NLRB panel ordered the company to rescind its illegal policy, post notices that it would cease violating the law and bargain in good faith with the Guild before imposing any more such rules.

Why is this important? Because left unchallenged, employers could impose or change rules regarding personal breaks, lunch breaks, telephone use, days off — you name it — perhaps for only one, or only a few ...

Most of our Guild employers respect the rights of their employees to have Guild representatives bargain on their behalf over any new rules. And usually, the employer and the workers come quickly to agreements that satisfy the needs of both sides. As it should be.

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Why media revolution is only just beginning

MarketWatch editor-in-chief David Callaway, whose first full-time job as a reporter was in 1987 for a Murdoch-owned Boston tabloid, explains in his commentary today that "as long as there are Enrons and Worldcoms out there; hedge funds and pyramid schemes; crimes and wars and corrupt leaders, there will be journalists who will find platforms to report on them — whatever the technology."

Back in 1987, it was widely assumed that newspapers were dying. The post-Watergate rush to become a reporter was over. Circulations were down. And new technologies were threatening. At one point, the hot new thing was to deliver news by fax machine, and papers were going to die because readers would be able to get news quicker by fax. They would even be able to tailor the type of news they wanted to receive. Imagine that?
[snip ..snip]
.. this is not the beginning of the end for journalism. It wasn't 20 years ago either. It's a bull market for those who can write a sentence and tell a story and know how to do it across the mediums of print, Web, audio, video and mobile. The stories are there for the taking."
Callaway is a former member of The Newspaper Guild (end of post)

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Tribune websites up for digital journalism honors

Finalists for the 8th Annual 2007 Online Journalism Awards include:

Winners will be announced during the Online News Association's national conference Oct. 18-19 in Toronto. From ONA website: "The Online Journalism Awards are a comprehensive set of journalism prizes honoring excellence in English-language Web journalism. They are administered by the Online News Association and the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California." (end of post)

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Analyst: Industry prospects better than what is implied by current share prices

Though ad revenue will continue to decline through 2008, the fall in advertising revenue is cyclical and initiatives to charge for online content are paying off better than some might expect. AP

BTW: Tribune closed at $27.51. (end of post)

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Tribune to outsource jobs at the Sun

Plans are in the works to outsource some finance dept. work to Costa Rica, India and Chicago. The Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild (WBNG) says 11 folks in the advertising credit and collection sections of the department could be impacted. Details of the plan aren't clear because the union hasn't yet met with the company to discuss alternative options for the effected employees.

“Under our contract, people can’t be laid off because of outsourcing,” [WBNG president Bill] Salganik said. “So they might be offered buyouts, might be retrained or moved elsewhere.”

Salganik said employees were informed of the move in a Wednesday letter, which did not give a specific reason for the decision. Thomas called the move “an effort to improve service to advertisers and reduce costs.” The Tribune Co. is in the midst of a private buyout, and Salganik said he was not aware of any further impending job cuts.
We find that most employees would rather have an opportunity to remain with the company even when buyout or severance packages are offered. It isn't surprising that people would rather be offered opportunities and training in other departments of the organization these days.

These are stressful times for Tribune workers, but challenging and exciting ones too! Sure, there's quite a number we've talked to that just want to get the hell out of the business entirely, but others want to be a part of the team that is creating the vision for the Tribune's new future.

And as members of the Guild, they are in a good position to do so. (end of post)

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Democracy and The Media

In an editorial in yesterday's The Seattle Times, FCC member Michael Copps (left), makes his case for democracy and against media consolidation that does not serve the public interest.

We have a system that has been buffeted by an endless cycle of consolidation, budget-cutting, and bureau-closing. We have witnessed the number of statehouse and city hall reporters declining decade after decade, despite an explosion in state and local lobbying. As the number of channels has multiplied, there is far less total local programming and reporting being produced. These days, if it bleeds, it leads.
If technology and changes in the economics of the news business have made the old ways impossible, then we need to find new ways to develop a media system that can serve democracy.
Note: The Seattle Times is exploring the state of American democracy and the news media in a series of editorials and essays titled 'The Democracy Papers." The series began yesterday.

Earlier: FCC brings media ownership debate to Chicago (end of post)

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Wednesday, September 5, 2007

This strike is about equity, fairness*

Salary increases have already been allocated; the money is in the county budget. Yet California court interpreters had to take to the streets today in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, left with no choice but to strike in protest of their low wages. The 400+ interpreters have been negotiating over pay issues since May.

"Interpreters have only had two cost-of-living increases in eight years," said Silvia Barden, who heads the California Federation of Interpreters (CFI). "We're excluded from the salary step system other employees have that provides regular increases based on years of service."

The CFI, affiliated with our parent union Communications Workers of America, seeks salary standards similar to those of thousands of other court employees.

The pay disparity has caused problems with retaining qualified interpreters. "The population we serve includes the most victimized people in society and our services open the doors of justice for them to make their cases in the courts," said Barden.

Union members' decision to strike is a painful one and almost always the least popular action workers will take to get a fair contract. A strike requires careful consideration, strategic planning, unity in execution and tremendous sacrifice.

The California interpreters are absolutely united in their fight for equity and fairness. We hope they are back to work and the bargaining table very, very soon.

* UPDATE: Workers at L.A County courthouses pledge to stay out indefinitely. Widespread disruption of legal system results. LAT (end of post)

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Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Scented newsprint ink??? *

The Los Angeles Times will have a new smell Sunday: a new scratch 'n sniff movie ad in the Calendar section will smell like frosted cake. "The scented ink ad is yet the latest tool The Times is offering its advertisers as they continue to search for new ways to reach, excite and inform L.A.'s market of buzz," said Dave Murphy, executive vice president and general manager of the Los Angeles Times Media Group.

Yeah, but will the gimmick boost circulation? We can only hope, of course.

Wonder if the pressroom will smell like frosted cake too...

* Or maybe the ad is an insert? (end of post)

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Times change

According to it's Labor Day op-ed, The Times admits it "has not been organized labor's best friend, nor has labor always been kind to The Times." But in recent years, animosity between labor and the paper has abated. Today, the Los Angeles Times regards organized labor respectfully.

And so, on this Labor Day, we revisit a tradition of excerpting editorials from these pages in order to reflect on this newspaper's long and sometimes troubled relationship with labor. We do so with acknowledgment that the past often has been heated, but with the hope that the future continues our cooling trend.
The Chandler era is gone now – and with it the Chandler's vitrolic anti-union bias that was for years reflected in The Times pages and LA civic life. Otis Chandler's hatred for unions fueled the anger of local labor activists who retaliated in 1910 with the tragic Times building blast that killed 20 Times employees.

A new era for The Times is taking shape and while there are many opportunities and challenges facing the new Tribune Company and the soon-to-be employee-owners, we hope the respect with which The Times regards organized labor will be extended to its own workforce should more Tribune employees exercise their rights and decide that being part of a union would be a good thing for them too. (end of post)

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They're all free. Take one.

Alternative papers, free tabloids sustained by younger audiences for more than a generation, have a "revived, competitive threat: their hometown dailies", according to an E&P special report, "Who Said Print is Dead?". Plummeting ad revenues and profits are forcing companies like Tribune to go after the alt papers' advertisers and readers. "Mainstream daily newspapers are churning out a dizzying catalogue of free print products — many of them aimed squarely at the club-hopping, trail-hiking, speed-dating young audience ..." Included in the report is Tribune's RedEye vs. Chicago Reader. (end of post)

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