Monday, December 22, 2008

Guild gets a seat at the table

The Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild was named last week to the creditors' committee in the Tribune bankruptcy filing. The committee also includes Merrill Lynch Capital Corp., JPMorgan Chase Bank, Deutsche Bank Trust, Warner Bros. Television, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. and Vertis.

The Guild's inclusion on the committee follows its success last week in securing Tribune's commitment to pay promised severance and health care benefits to Guild-represented employees who recently accepted a company buyout. Payments were cut off for Tribune employees who were not covered by union contracts. The payments were threatened by Tribune's filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

“Our ability to get a seat on the committee ensures that the voice of Tribune Company's workers will get heard in the proceedings,” said Bernie Lunzer, president of The Newspaper Guild-CWA.

Though it's not the table the union would prefer to be seated at, inclusion gives the Guild the opportunity to watch out for its members' best interests.


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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

As with a sale, union retains certain rights in a bankruptcy filing

The Guild at the Baltimore Sun responded quickly to yesterday's news with a bulletin letting its members know what the Chapter 11 filing means to them.

Also, according to this Chicago Tribune report, "The company has 180 days to come up with a plan the bankruptcy court accepts. Failing that, the court will consider competing plans from creditors and others."

Time to draw up competing plans. At all Trib papers. From the WBNG bulletin:

... the Guild has been working with local investors who are interested in buying The Sun, and it will continue to do so. Our goal is to get owners who are committed [to] serving the community, the readers and the advertisers with quality products and services.
From the archives: ESOP plan participation not automatic for union-covered employees

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Monday, December 8, 2008

Zell Hell. Realized.*

Today Tribune became the first major news organization to file bankruptcy. Since Zell made his bid to take over the company in early 2007, there was no shortage of expert opinion (summed up nicely here) that the complex plan under which he took the company private was risky and that employees would shoulder all the risk.

The guy who put up just $315 million of his own funds to engineer the $8 billion Tribune purchase a year ago this month in a deal that converted Tribune to "America's largest employee-owned company", now says filing Chapter 11 might ultimately save the company.

Though the company is nearly buried in $12.97 billion in debt, Zell carries little risk. Because employees own all the stock under the ESOP, they may get left holding empty stock(ing)s in the bankruptcy: the shareholders are the last to get paid out — behind Sam Zell.

"It has been, to say the least, the perfect storm," Zell said in a memo to employees. "A precipitous decline in revenue and a tough economy have coupled with a credit crisis, making it extremely difficult to support our debt. All of our major advertising categories have been dramatically impacted."

Also a year ago this month, Recovering Journalist wrote:

Just look at the tumult that accompanied Sam Zell's closing of his deal to buy Tribune Co. this week. The bankers were squeezing the deal right up to the last minute. Even Zell called it "the transaction from hell." And Zell's going to have to pedal—and peddle—as fast as he can to keep the company afloat financially. It's not just the Chicago Cubs that are going to be sold by Tribune. Look for a fire sale of real estate and newspapers (Los Angeles Times, anyone? Anyone?) as Zell strips the company for cash. And at this holiday time, say a prayer for the poor Tribune employees, who could be left holding the bag—through their retirement plan, which now owns the company through Zell's creative accounting—if things turn sour. Memo to Tribune employees: Get. The. Hell. Out.
Hundreds got out and left with relatively decent severance packages that are now in jeopardy. “All ongoing severance payments, deferred compensation and other payments to former employees have been discontinued and will be the subject of later proceedings before the court,” current employees were told in an internal Tribune memo.

Tribune Company may be saved under the Chapter 11. Current employees with less than one year in the ESOP may not suffer a big hit. It is former employees who may be impacted the most by the bankruptcy.
* Edited for clarification 12/09

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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Big boss is watching you

Bad enough that times have gotten tougher at The Times with the seemingly endless rounds of staff cuts, senior management exits and a pending lawsuit, but today LA's media watchdog, LAObserved felt compelled to issue a warning to Times staffers: according to sources, their not-so-new publisher is calling it "treason" for employees to share information about stuff going on inside the paper.

LAO's Roderick writes that "current Times leadership is unhappy enough (or paranoid enough) about stuff getting out to consider action against staffers" and advises staffers to "take precautions — use your personal email, our PO box, or pick up the phone — and don't presume they aren't watching."

For sure. As employees-at-will without benefit of just cause protection, use your best judgement.

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Monday, October 6, 2008

Cuts run deeper at LAT

Seventy-five more editorial positions are being eliminated at the LA Times. Kevin Roderick at LAObserved reports "Newsroom staffers are being told today individually and in department meetings that as many as 75 editorial positions are being cut through voluntary departures and layoffs. Some staffers were approached last week about volunteering, "enticed" with the threat that this will be the absolute final time that editorial employees will receive two weeks severance pay for each year of service when they leave."

How many parts can be surgically removed before the patient dies?

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Times columnist on the lawsuit

Times columnist Dan Neil and Phillip Gregory, one of the attorneys representing the employees' lawsuit, was interviewed Friday on KPFK's "Deadline L.A." Listen to it here.

"We want Zell and the Board removed," said Neil. "We want an independent accounting of the company's finances, especially with regard to the pension and we want a say in the future direction of the paper." The lawsuit also seeks return of employee assets.

Asked why he signed on as a plaintiff in the lawsuit, Neil said he isn't worried about his own situation, that he and his family will be okay. "What's the worse he [Zell] can do, fire me?" Neil became "more and more infuriated" with what he saw as "the rampant mismanagement by the company."

Lawsuits can take years before a judgement is made. Gregory said that to move the case along quickly, the suit was filled in federal court where it would go before a single judge who could then move to "get the class certified so that the parties suing can effectively represent all employees who belong to the class that the suit is filed on behalf of."

Neil said people are "very encouraged by the suit, if for no practical or legal reason, they just like the idea that somebody is finally pushing back against Zell."

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Zell blasts partners; employees’ law firm responds

Sam Zell thinks the lawsuit is frivolous and unnecessary: "We are partners and we need to act like it" he wrote in an email to employees yesterday. Zell admonishes Tribune employees, saying that he and they are "all in this together."

The suit may be more than a shot across his bow. The law firm representing (former and current) LAT staffers wrote (Romenesko Memos):

The current and former Tribune employees are not "all in this together" with Sam Zell. The rank and file employees have their jobs and their current and future retirement plans tied up by the machinations of Zell and his co-fiduciaries. ... [snip]

Zell's comments fail to acknowledge the billions of dollars in debt he caused the Tribune Company to incur, necessitating both the layoffs and the diminishing content of the Company's newspapers. It is unfortunate that, in typical fashion, Sam Zell is ignoring the rights and neglecting the best interests of the hard-working Tribune employees, whom he cynically refers to as "partners." Rather than working with his "partners," he is tearing the company down, brick by brick, and selling it off, in an effort to pay down the massive debt he improperly encumbered the company with. We look forward to cutting through Zell's self-serving, out of touch rhetoric and fighting for our clients -- the Tribune’s real and rightful owners -- in court.
There is nothing frivolous about the mounting employee fear and concern that Zell's house of cards will fall, leaving them all jobless and broke. So rather than stand by and do nothing, the employees are taking action. Given the legal structure of ESOPs, this lawsuit should generate tremendous interest as it winds its way through the courts. The message of the filing is clear: Tribune (current and former) employees have determined they need to use whatever tools they can to fight for their product, their journalism and their livelihood. This lawsuit is one tool available to them and we hope the courts move this one along in a speedy manner.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Employees in LA file class action lawsuit against Zell, Tribune *

From LAObserved : "... lawyers representing current and former Los Angeles Times newsroom staffers are filing a class-action federal lawsuit against Sam Zell and Tribune this morning in Los Angeles, alleging breaches of fiduciary duty, conflicts of interest and other violations of ERISA, the law that safeguards the proper handling of retirement benefits like pensions and trusts."

Interesting timing, given the current crisis in our financial systems. And how will this economic wreck effect Tribune's bank loans and, more importantly, the ESOP?

* WSJ: Six current and former Times employees, including Pulitzer Prize-winning auto critic Dan Neil, former wine and food critic Corie Brown, and former legal affairs writer Henry Weinstein, filed the lawsuit. Document here.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Don’t just sit there ...

Do something! Head out to Los Angeles to sign the petition on TellZell. Then maybe start your own: get your readers to support you and your newspaper.

It's your company, and TellZell reasons that if you want a seat at the table you need to do something. Furthermore, you should take action (even if its simply signing a petition) because its "important to our readers, to community leaders, to everybody who cares about [your area], and democracy and great news and the comics and movie reviews and -- well, everything in the paper."

The business is in dire straits. We all understand that. But you also know that the consolidation and homogenization of news-gathering even during these difficult times isn't working. So if Tribune isn't listening to your creative and innovative solutions, why not at least try for a seat at the table where the decisions are made that effect your financial interests?

So maybe you don't want to get a union going in your newsroom – though we think you should form a guild – you can sign a petition. Okay, you may feel safer doing it anonymously, but share the link with your family, friends, neighbors, community organizations – and hey, don't forget the advertisers. They have a vested interest in the newspaper's survival, too.

And yes, as TellZell warns, a petition may be ignored. But what's to lose? If Tribune ignores tens (hundreds?) of thousands of employees and readers demanding representation at the ESOP table, well then ...

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Guild prez on Zell, the industry and union strategies

Tribune declined an invitation to appear on today's Democracy Now! for a round-table discussion on the state of the industry. The program was hosted by Juan Gonzales, columnist at the New York Daily News and co-host of Democracy Now! with guests Newspaper Guild-CWA president Bernard Lunzer (pictured at left), Chris Hedges, author and former foreign correspondent for the New York Times and Linda Jue, past president of the SPJ-Northern California Chapter.

Tribune's Senior Vice President of Corporate Relations Gary Weitman wrote in a statement:

"We have gotten a great deal of attention for the actions we've taken at our newspapers to address the issues we and our peers face ... At the end of the day, we had the largest news-gathering staffs in our markets and the second and third largest in the country — in Chicago and Los Angeles. That is true even after implementing the staff reductions..."
Asked to respond, Lunzer said:
"We've watched very closely at what's been happening at the [Guild-represented] Baltimore Sun and the loss of all the international bureaus and that kind of coverage, but its important to note that what they're doing is having a great effect on local coverage as well.

The other day Sam Zell said he's not going to sell any more papers in 2008, but we think in some cases, it might be better if Zell were to consider selling more of the empire and breaking it off. We hope that local ownership would actually create more responsibility and more response back to the local market and back to the local community — they really are going to be the ones that are going to be the biggest losers in this. Less is less. And we need to say that out loud. Subscribers are not fools. They can see that these products have been diminished ... We hear that Tribune is going to save journalism through these cuts. That's not what we're seeing."
Gonzales asked Lunzer what strategies the Newspaper Guild is developing to try to confront "this new reality you're facing for your members":
"One we have been pursuing for some time is ESOP [employee stock ownership plan] strategies and we're hoping to have an announcement very soon where we might have finally been able to bring one of these to fruition...

We believe there is going to be a future for print, but we're not naive. We also understand there has to be innovation. We've been willing to bargain concessions where necessary, but we think the biggest mistake is that the owners and publishers have not been talking to the front-line workers about ... innovation. So what we're trying to do where we have to do concessions, we want to trade that for real involvement – real committees that are able to work on a business model, on the future of the product.

We still believe that there's a place for quality journalism and that people will want it... There's a lot of room for innovation, not just in news, but in advertising.
Lunzer also said The Newspaper Guild-CWA is fighting against the push for more media consolidation, and is working to help move through the House of Representatives a bill that would reverse the FCC's December 2007 cross-ownership rule change. "We think if there's more cross-ownership between broadcast and print there will be less innovation. I would tell you that most of the people we talk to in broadcast understand that broadcast is only five or six years behind print in terms of the effect that the Internet is having on the traditional delivery system."

Listen to the full discussion at Democracy Now!

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Raising (Zell) Hell in LA

The folks in LA are mad as hell and InkStainedRetch has words and pictures to prove it. Members of the newsroom staff have an anonymous agitator in Retch, who regularly pleads and prods staffers to fight back against the ill-fated business decisions that is destroying The Times. TellZell

"Here's what the Retch is proposing. We fight back with Paper Cuts. We protest, in ways big and small, in different places and different forums. We join unions. We post bumper stickers. We bake cakes. We file lawsuits. Everything we can, in as many ways as we can. Together."
Together is the only way the editorial staffers can take the steps to take back their Times. We believe that together, as a Guild union, they can not only negotiate fair employment terms and conditions, but actively participate in the future direction of their beloved newspaper.

Recently, journalists working for the MediaNews Group chain in Northern California voted to form a Guild. In a memo to her colleagues explaining her decision to join the Guild organizing campaign, Contra Costa Times reporter Sara Steffans wrote in part:
I believe our union will become a platform to promote the values we share as journalists, the ones that don’t always come to the forefront for profit-seeking owners. We need to be the voice for quality, for putting journalism first. We need to be the ones to point out that in the long run, good journalism is good business, be it online or in print.


We can sit around and mourn the demise of our industry. Or we can stand up and fight for our little corner of the world, for ourselves and our co-workers and the communities that depend on what we do.

Somebody has to stand up for what’s right.

Let’s stand together.
Full text of Sara's memo is here.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tribune cuts, we bleed

As part of their community outreach campaign, Guild members at the Baltimore Sun created a video ("Tribune Cuts, We Bleed") last week to protest Tribune's continued dismantlement of Baltimore's paper of record by slashing 100 jobs there. The rally and production and distribution of the resulting video is concerted activity protected under the National Labor Relations Act.

In his e-mail to staff announcing the worst newsroom cuts in years, Sun publisher Timothy A. Ryan wrote, "In August, 2008, The Sun redesign will debut giving readers more of what they want ..."

More of what they want? Sun staffers don't think readers will get what they want or more of it, so they're using their collective voice to tell the community what's really happening to their hometown newspaper. Video voices:

"The Guild has been here fighting this company day in and day out to try to prevent these kind of losses. But we have owners who don't care, owners who don't care about you and don't care about this community."

"As the world becomes more global, this paper is becoming more local. As America is beset with increasingly serious and complex problems, our distant corporate owners are turning us into a tabloid full of press releases ... we're desperate for paid subscribers but we're trying to bring them in by offering less. It's not going to work. It's wrong and I want no part of it."

" We've always been the news leader in Maryland ... we're right up there in the state house and we provide people with the news that they need about their elected officials, about what's going on in their communities and we just won't be able to do that job ... Seventy-five cents for a paper that's going to run bigger pictures to hide the fact that people who should be sitting in those seats won't be here to help grow the paper."

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

You asked

Maybe you're not ready to attend mass meetings or even one-on-one for a cup of coffee today, tomorrow or next week. But by the looks of the number of hits and page views to this blog, there's no doubt that many of you are looking for information; searching for answers to questions about the union. So we've put together a compilation of our most frequently asked questions about The Guild and the process to form a Guild in your workplace. Undoubtedly, there will be more questions. We're prepared to answer every one of them. And if we don't have an answer, we'll get it for you as soon as possible.

Q. Why a union and why at this time?
A. Because we can expect that more upheaval is coming. Because few individuals have leverage to negotiate better circumstances for themselves with Tribune. Because all Tribune employees want to see their newspapers remain quality papers and because its becoming clearer every day that the current chief owner does not care about either its civic duty or the Fourth Estate.

And — with a formal organization like The Newspaper Guild-CWA, employee concerns and ideas about the operation of the newsroom must be heard by management.

Q. Why the Guild?
A. Our changing industry has been undergoing tremendous cultural upheaval, which has translated to uncertainty and massive layoffs. When media companies make cost-cutting decisions — ostensibly designed to meet debt obligations (and/or improve profit margins) — reducing its workforce is among the first. The Guild is experienced in limiting the impact of cost-cutting layoffs at publications where it represents employees. At Guild locations, most planned layoffs were averted by offers to employees of incentives like enhanced severance packages, extra pension credits or extended health care coverage. The Guild in Baltimore had a seat at the table on the recent buyout offer there. It didn't prevent the layoffs, but it had a voice in how the layoffs were "selected".

Additionally, a media corporation with unorganized employees has 100% control of the workplace, often without the knowledge or experience to produce the best possible newspaper — one that educates and informs its readership community. When employees are unified, the paper will be more appealing to buyers with experience working with unions and are far more likely to see its employees as the assets they are, rather than liabilities to be stripped or discarded. MN employees launch worker-friendly idea

Q. What can the Guild do to prevent layoffs?
A. While it cannot guarantee jobs in the face of realignment, reorganization or restructure, the Guild forces the company to negotiate the terms and conditions for those impacted by layoff through buyout opportunities, enhanced severance packages and, in some cases, development of rehire lists. The Guild helps set guidelines and protections for the inevitable increased workload for the staff remaining. Without the Guild’s experience and expertise, most individuals lack the leverage to protect themselves from the impact of pending job loss.

Organized employees are more successful in trying to make sure the journalistic quality of their paper is maintained. At a time when owners have no vision for the future of journalism and are sacrificing tomorrow’s paper for today’s bottom dollar, newspaper staffers are fighting back.

Q. What is The Newspaper Guild–Communications Workers of America (TNG-CWA)?
A. Founded by newspaper reporter and columnist Heywood Broun and a small group of journalists seeking better wages and improved working conditions for the profession, TNG–CWA has continuously represented journalists and other media workers at such publications as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post to advance their economic interests, improve working conditions, and advance as far as it is able honesty in news, editorials, advertising and business practices. The Guild actively works to raise the standards of journalism and ethics in the industry. It is the industry’s leading advocate for First Amendment rights at work, rights protected under the National Labor Relations Act , Congress’ commitment to protect employee rights to assemble, speak and act as one. Additionally, The Guild particpates in, promotes and supports all the journalism minority caucuses and is a member of the International Federation of Journalists. The Guild's model contract is available on our Web site.

Q: What is the Guild’s role in our salary structure?
A. The Guild negotiates the floor for wages: the absolute minimum amounts required in Guild collective bargaining agreements based on the various experience levels. Actual salaries may be higher, based on contract provisions that allow for salary payments above the minimum levels. In other words, individuals may negotiate above the contractual top scale, usually termed “merit pay”. The Guild does not impose wage ceilings: it does not suppress salaries. Minimum salaries are negotiated to ensure wages are distributed fairly and equitably and will guarantee your individual right to seek and maintain an above-scale salary.

Q: What about dues? What will it cost?
A. Nothing, initially. TNG-CWA does not require dues to be paid until the first contract is voted and approved by the newly-organized members. The typical $3 initiation fee will not be charged to Tribune employees who become members prior to a first contract. Dues are 1.3846% of salary. For example, dues for a salary of $1500 per week would be $1080 annually (tax deductable) Dues are capped at about the first $104,000 per year in salary, according to the Guild Constitution. Most of the dues collected remain with the local for its operations.

Q: Who will run the organization?
A. You and your newly-organized coworkers. The Guild and CWA professional staff are available to train and support the members and play whatever role is desired to best represent the newsroom. In addition, the Guild and the CWA staff have extensive experience in dealing with ESOPS and sales and/or transfers in ownership in the news industry.

Q: What about costs associated with forming a union?
A. Certainly there is a cost factor involved. However, Guild and CWA members coast to coast are making an investment in you because our members understand the value to all if your newsroom is part of our union. Guild and CWA members offer experience and resources to help you decide if the Guild is the right union for you.

Q: How do we do it and how long will it take?
A. It depends on a number of factors, not the least of which is the level of commitment from a majority of the eligible employees. It should not be a decision that is made without investigation. With all the uncertainty that is Tribune, added to people’s work schedules and home schedules, its difficult to make a timeline. But the goal should be for every person to examine the current circumstances and decide if this is the right time for a union. If a majority supports representation by the Guild, the sooner you have an organization in place the better. Then, the members could assess and decide its role in the difficult world of Tribune – before more significant changes are made without input from you.

Q: What happens next?
A. That is up to you. Exercise your First Amendment rights at work and organize now. The Guild is prepared to do whatever it takes to help you make an informed decision and get a Guild in place now.

Is Tribune taking action that is in your best interest or the best interests of your paper and the communities it serves? Why shouldn't you act in your own best interest and that of the paper you love? Take back some of that 100% control current Tribune leadership holds. After all, you own the company too.

Email us with your questions, comments or concerns and put us on your schedule.

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Meet me in LA again soon

A fair number of LAT staffers met with us at The Redwood last night to learn more about how they would form a Guild at The Times and what to do next. Not surprisingly, many of the questions reflected great concern about the direction the paper is headed and what it is they can do about it now – and in the coming weeks and months once these layoffs are behind them.

Thanks to all who stopped by and for those of you who wanted to but couldn't, you'll have other opportunities to attend Guild meetings – large and small – in the days to come. We'll be in touch.

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Meet me in LA

At your request, we've scheduled an informational meeting in LA for interested Times employees tomorrow, Tuesday, July 22 at 6:30 p.m. at The Redwood Bar & Grill, 316 W. 2nd Street, just a short walk from The Times. We have reserved Redwood's private room and we'll be available to talk with you and answer your questions through 9 p.m. See you then!

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Friday, July 18, 2008

The Sun sets for 16

Because it didn't get the numbers it needed from its ranks, the Baltimore Sun pink slipped 11 editorial staffers: 3 reporters who volunteered to be laid off, 4 editorial assistants, 4 interns and 5 advertising sales persons.

The 44 newsroom staffers who applied and were accepted for the buyout will leave by August 1. Those laid off have the option of going out now or August 1.

The total loss for the newsroom is 55 union and non-union personnel.

“When Sam Zell [Tribune Co. chairman and CEO] took over, he said that you can’t cut your way to prosperity,” said Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild President Bill Salganik. “He was right then, and he is wrong now — six months later.” — Baltimore Examiner

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

How long – can this keep going on?

Inspired by the protest rally scheduled for today in Baltimore (along with encouragement from us and promoted by InkStainedRetch), Tribune employees in many departments around the country wore black in honor of the employee-owners laid off throughout the company.

In Baltimore today, more than 200 people gathered outside The Sun to express their grief and outrage at the loss of 100 talented colleagues. "Many Sun employees said they did not expect the protest to change management's mind about the cuts, but it still made them feel a bit better to unleash some of their anger and frustration. These employees believe that the paper is about to lose some of its most talented and experienced people, who are leaving "voluntarily" only because they fear what they will be asked to do if they stay." The Newspaper Guild's newly-elected top officers — TNG-CWA International Chairperson Connie Knox is a copy editor at The Sun — rallied with Sun employees telling the group "they stood behind both those leaving and those staying."

...[TNG President] Bernie Lunzer reminded everyone that these cuts are taking place all over the newspaper industry, and that those who stay must fight on as best they can to keep the newspaper's quality intact.
If we really want to honor the colleagues being forced out and support those remaining who want to "fight on" to keep all our newspapers intact, we must stand up and be counted. All the anger, fear and outrage folks are feeling today will be for nothing if it can't be channelled into constructive, positive action. Opportunities to change the status quo are before you. Just as journalists in Northern California did several weeks ago, you too can take back control of your future.

Worried? Scared? Unsure? Understandable. But ask yourself: If not now — when?

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Wear black Thursday

The Guild has put out a call to action for a rally in front of The Sun at noon Thursday – Black Thursday.

To Sun employees the rally is an opportunity to honor their talented, experienced colleagues, protest the circumstances of their departure and "let the community and our bosses know how much these cuts hurt us, our livelihoods and the community that depends on us."

Tribune employees everywhere should wear black Thursday, July 17, as a sign of respect for all those who will lose their jobs and solemn solidarity for each other.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Buyout numbers fall short, layoffs expected in Baltimore *

Thirty-four Guild members have applied for the buyout and another ten non-Guild employees are rumored to have applied, but the number is short of The Sun's goal of shedding sixty newsroom positions by the end of August. Notification to those approved for the buyout will begin Friday – as will the layoffs.

The buyout terms are similar to the package offered at other papers, however the Guild convinced The Sun to use seniority as the basis for application approval.

Guild leaders are surprised that the number of applications are as high as they are, given that it is the third round of buyouts since last June. Guild chair and Sun reporter Tamika White told the Daily Record:

"My opinion is that this is one more example of the frustration people feel here at The Sun,” she said. “The idea that the company could garner 34 [Guild] buyout applications just several months after staff reductions in this terrible, terrible economic environment, it shows that people … are reluctantly realizing that they’ve got to find something else to do and something with a little more stability."
* The Measure of a Company

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CT editor quits; is LAT publisher out too? **

Anne Marie Lipinski, editor of the Chicago Tribune since 2001, has resigned. E&P has her memo to staff announcing her upcoming departure.

I began my editorship seven months before 9/11 and in the seven years since have become accustomed and even comfortable with editing and managing through crisis and change. But professionally, this position is not the fit it once was. Personally, my family and I believe it is time.
Lipinski is the second Tribune editor to leave Tribune since Zell took over Tribune: LAT's Jim O'Shea left in January.

Rumor has it that The Times' publisher David Hiller has been called to the front office in Chicago and that his career with Tribune may be over. LAObserved reported Friday that many newsroom folks believe Baltimore Sun publisher Timothy Ryan will succeed him. An interesting choice, if true. Ryan has experience with labor contracts; the Sun is an organized newspaper.

** Updated: Hiller's out, effective immediately. His "resignation" memo at LAObserved. Full story at

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

What's in your best interest?

Zell has a personal interest in making sure the debt payments are met: Last year, he paid a mere $315 million for Tribune, then valued at $8 billion — $225 million of which was a loan that has to be repaid (with interest) at $250,000 per quarter – to him. Tribune Two-Step suggests that Zell may be making the cuts "because he needs to trim down expenses to ensure he can make payments ... to himself." We think that's a bit of a stretch, given that Zell is a gazillionaire and a late $250,000 check isn't going to change his lifestyle one bit.

But Tribune Two-Step makes this valid point: his $90m payment for the company gave Zell all the power, and the other owners whose retirement funds (and careers) are tied up in the company have no power. Zilch. Nada. No voice, either. 

Aren't we, the peons onto whom Sam strapped billions of dollars in debt, the real owners of the company? Why, then, do we have no say in any of the decisions being made on our behalf? Why, then, do we allow Sam Zell to keep telling everyone he "bought" the company when the reality is he stole it? Why, then, are we sitting back while he takes it apart, piece by piece, and prepares to sell it for scrap? And, most important, what can we do to change the course Same [sic] has set?
Why not, then, get together and organize yourselves. Even if you don't think you want to form a union per se, you share a community of interest that all Tribune employees can rally behind: your craft and your jobs. Leave inaction and paralysis behind — fear will quickly follow — and put together an employee coalition, invite concerned citizens and community organizations (they're out there) who will add their voices to yours and then, make your stand. Our industry has been in a race to the bottom for a decade and this is no time to sit back and do nothing. 

What is in your best interest? You can take action. You can stand together. Start with a few people from each paper, share a few emails, set up a conference call, brainstorm ideas, get a committee formed and set a plan of action. It will be worth your investment of time and effort. We can help.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

Friday shorts

— The list of 150 at the Los Angeles Times who will lose their jobs is almost complete. Staffers got word that the firings will begin next week. In today's memo to staff (here at LAObserved) editor David Lauter wrote that putting the list together is "painful, sad work, and we're trying to do it with as much care as we can". Not sure that's going to be very comforting to the hundreds of staffers who will spend the weekend worried sick about whether or not their number is up Monday.

I know this is a time of tremendous anxiety for people. Let's try to not make it worse for ourselves.
What does THAT mean? Sounds a bit threatening.

— Its not just the editorial side being re-vamped in Tribune's publishing division: according to a former advertising sales manager (here at TellZell), "Zell eliminated salaries and put everybody on 100% commission. The new system caused ad reps to discount the price of full page ads by up to 70% just to make sure they were bringing in commissions..." Not all ad rep salaries were eliminated. At the Baltimore Sun where non-management sales staff is covered by a collective bargaining agreement, unilateral changes to wages can't be made without negotiation.

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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Chicago cuts: 80 in the newsroom

Jobs will be lost in other departments as well, but the total loss to the Chicago Tribune newsroom will be 80 positions. Because some of those positions have been left unfilled recently, between 55 and 58 current staffers will be fired. All will be out by the end of August.

Wonder how much Zell and his top guys are making? You'd think with the company (and the industry) in such dire straits, the executives would be stepping up to share the pain.

Recovering Journalist thinks those guys should step up too:

Most newspaper CEO compensation packages still add up to millions of dollars per year, in fact, with an average among the 13 public-company newspaper CEOs of just under $6 million a year in 2007, according to corporate proxy filings with the SEC. A little belt-tightening among the fat cats might help to save some jobs–and that's no joke.
No joke at all. Here's a thought: The CT's publisher recently retired and the executive vice president for publishing has "assumed oversight of the paper temporarily" until a new publisher is named. Why not leave that position vacant too? Surely the evp/publishing can multi-task? (The remaining staff will be expected to pick up the slack when the staff is cut.) Think of it as another cost-saving measure.

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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

LA: 150 editorial staff over 2 months, different severance terms

Two hundred and fifty company wide will loose their jobs and the cuts to the news-gathering staff will amount to a 17% reduction there.

Bad news. Though expected, it's bad and worse still because most cuts will be firings that could roll on all summer. Who know's when you'll get the tap on the shoulder. Brutal. You can be sure the company is going to go slow and tread carefully so as not to trigger WARN.

But here's what we're thinking about: the severance package. If we're reading things right, the LAT package is different than Hartford's or even last year's LAT package. (The Guild in Baltimore negotiated over the package at The Sun.) LAT editor Russ Stanton did not spell out the severance terms in his memo to staff Wednesday, but Publisher David Hiller said he expected that the severance terms would match those of earlier staff buyouts at The Times.

But Michael Hiltzik reports that severance will include payment equivalent to two weeks' salary for every year of service, up to a maximum of 52 weeks, to be paid into the employee's retirement account. (Emphasis ours.) Yikes.

Last year's severance terms were one week's pay for every 6 months of service [minumum 4 weeks, maximum 52 weeks] paid thru salary continuation ... (Emphasis ours.) So those folks had income for a time while they got their Next Life up and running. (Unemployment checks don't cover the bills.)

This time? No cash. It sounds to us like you'll have to PAY to get cash out of your retirement fund what with those early withdrawal fees and all.


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Monday, June 30, 2008

Another ‘partner’ hits the blogsphere

A Chicago Tribune staffer now worried about getting sacked, says he drank the poison Kool-Aid and bought into what Sam Zell was selling him. "I even wanted to believe Lee Abrams was the innovative genius he purported to be."

Disappointed and maybe a bit pissed-off, Tribune Twostep remains hopeful.

Instead of investing in the future, they are divesting. They are stripping the company and its employees bare. They have asked for our ideas and our blood, sweat and tears. And now they seek to cast us out, having milked us of our souls.

They've taken our ideas -- and hope to profit from them -- and now are preparing to cast us aside.

So as I sit on the precipice, staring into a void of uncertainty, I can only wait and hope that things will turn out all right.
Waiting and hoping won't accomplish anything. Why not take action?

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Friday, June 27, 2008

In Los Angeles

Word is that rolling layoffs begin next week – slowly, so as to avoid a legal requirement to give 60 days notice when planning a mass layoff. Tell Zell offers staff a resignation form they can use to fire final shots as they jump ship. In a memo sent to employees Thursday, LAT publisher Hiller said "Over the next 2 months we will be rolling out our 2010 business plan..." (LAObserved)

Sounds to us like it will also roll out staff over two months and if so, it's a damned miserable way to make cuts.

If the newsroom staff were unionized, they would have more information about the company plan than they do now. Unionized employees have the right to information about and negotiate over how staff reductions will be implemented and how they will be impacted. Labor contracts typically contain language governing layoff effects bargaining and procedure.

In a Wednesday post, InkStainedRetch wrote: "It would be interesting to see if the Sun, a guild paper, was more successful at staving off staff cuts than the non-union papers. There's a direction to go, no? "

Neither the Guild nor any other union can stop an employer from determining the size of the staff it needs to operate its business. But with a guild, staving off staff cuts is possible because the workers have a seat at the table to discuss alternatives that may satisfy the needs of both the employer and its employees. There's no guarantee of course, but one thing is for sure, without a guild you have no say in how or when cuts happen.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Baltimore cuts: 55-60 newsroom staff *

A total of 100 jobs reduce the 1,400-person work force through voluntary buyouts, layoffs, attrition and by closing open positions.

The Guild at the Baltimore Sun, which represents about 400 employees in advertising, circulation, editorial, finance and building departments, learned today that the Sun's newsroom will be reduced by about 20%.

"Employees are disheartened, to say the least," said Tanika White, a reporter and co-chair of The Sun unit of the Guild. "They're angry at what they perceive to be the poor management coming from the outside that has led us to this point," White said. "They're frightened, and they have every right to be."

She said she also feared the community would suffer from decreased coverage.

"It's about democracy," White said.
The Sun is undergoing a redesign, slated for rollout in September, as are other Tribune newspapers. (Wonder what design firm is leading the project? Whichever one, it won't come cheap.)

No word yet on the number of pages the paper will lose. Will readers and advertisers will notice? (They always do.)

* The Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild responds: "Baltimore Sun employees are being punished for Tribune's mismanagement," Cet Parks, chief negotiator for the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, said in a statement. "Tribune's answer to solving declining circulation and readership is to slash employees from the payroll and cut the news hole, salaries and benefits."

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Hartford cuts: 67 pages and 57 staffers*

That's 67 pages per week and 57 staffers permanently.

Following up on an earlier announcement this month that there would be "significant reductions in the number of pages of news" and cuts in personnel, actual numbers were released today in a memo to the staff. Plans are to cut news pages from 273 per week to 206 and cut staff positions from 232 to about 175 in preparation for a new Hartford Courant rollout in September.

In last summer's Tribune-wide staff purge, the Courant newsroom lost only 8 (Tribune originally planned to cut 10), but this year's ax is way bigger. Buyout packages were handed out today and the value looks about the same as last year's.

And so it begins – again.

* Links fixed.

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For sale

Is it really such a surprise that the guy who made gazillions maximizing real-estate values is "willing to entertain offers for the company's prize real estate holdings" which include the Tribune Tower in Chicago and the Los Angeles Times Building?

There was speculation last August that Zell would sell off Tribune real estate. At the time, the LAT building was owned by the Chandler Family Trusts. That changed in April, when Tribune completed the purchase of real estate that included properties used by the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, Baltimore Sun and Hartford Courant.

Zell said today in a memo to employee-owners: "Our request for proposals, which is being issued today is likely to generate media attention and debate about what we should or should not do with the properties. Both Tribune Tower and Times Mirror Square are iconic structures, deeply intertwined with the history of this company.  But, they are also both under-utilized, and as employee-owners, it’s in our best interests to maximize the value of all our assets." Not that you have any say in the matter.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

"In the language of Sam Zell ...

don't fuck with us."

High-profile LAT columnist Steve Lopez received the LA Press Club's President Award at its 50th Annual Southern California Journalism Awards last weekend. LAObserved has an exclusive video of Lopez's comments.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Time to walk the walk

Over a year ago when we set up this blog, we were the only place (outside of Tribune's own web pages) solely dedicated to providing you with information and opinion on the Tribune sale, Sam Zell, employee stock ownership plans and the rash of layoffs that preceded and followed the change in ownership. Pressroom employees at the LAT launched a website and blog back in 2006 as part of their organizing drive, but our focus was and continues to be newsroom employees.

Since Tribune changed hands at the end of 2007, Zell and Co. have been in the headlines on a regular basis, perhaps prompting Kevin Roderick of LAObserved to make this announcement in February: "As of now, Sam Zell has his own category at LA Observed. Signs are it will be a busy one. I get now what New York journos see in the likes of Donald Trump and George Steinbrenner: endless fun copy."

In May, Tell Zell was launched. Penned anonymously by InkStainedRetch (maybe one or many LATers), the blog is "dedicated to the proposition of sifting truth from madness. Of chronicling the evil, threadbare attempts by Zell and Co. to dismantle one of the great American newspapers."

Clearly, Zell and his radio heads enjoy no mercy in LA and it appears now that LAT current and former staffers are finally stepping up and speaking out. However, anonymous protestations alone won't save your paper, your company or your craft.

InkStainedRetch "desperately, urgently believes in journalism, nut grafs and other good stuff" and implores LAT staffers not to go down without a fight. Talking the talk may make you feel better today folks, but what about tomorrow? What about your future? If you truly believe in good journalism then step up and stand together for real change and a say in the future of your newsroom and your paper. 

Last Friday Bay Area journalists voted to unionize. In a final message to their colleagues the day before the vote, the co-chairs of the organizing committee wrote:

We endured plenty to reach this point: The merger nobody wanted; the departure of colleagues unwilling to bank on a shaky paper’s future; the loss of more colleagues through our largest workforce reduction in recent memory; the gnawing fear that what we love about our jobs may inevitably erode, casualties of a broken industry.
We believe that our newsroom employees have much more to offer the paper than the fine journalism they produce, and that only by taking a seat at the table can we truly influence decisions about the direction of our craft and our company. We are a creative asset, and we believe our ideas can be put to more use than they have been.
Indeed, you are the real assets of the company. The road to unionization isn't an easy one, but winning a seat at the table can be worth the journey, as many of these comments attest to. 

Under the leadership of a CEO who thinks nothing of demeaning a newly-appointed female executive and a shock-jock CIO who fires off rambling memos and pronouncements that insult the intelligence and talent of employee-owners, organizing yourselves may be your only shot to push back and help your company chart a course to success.

The opportunity to take back your future awaits you.

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Friday, June 6, 2008

Cut jobs, cut news hole, cut pages

Faced with a worsening financial situation, Tribune's nine newspapers will go under the knife – again.

The new plan is to "right-size" (must be a new accounting term) nine newspapers by cutting pages and staff, with cutbacks happening quickly; all reductions will be achieved as early as September.

“We have found out we can take about 500 editorial pages a week out of our newspapers in a 50/50 ad-to-content ratio,” C.O.O. Randy Michaels said yesterday; and the result would still “be a good value for the consumer.” Yeah, but cutting more content gathers isn't a good value for the readers. It won't bring them back and if they don't come back, neither will the advertisers. It's a race to the bottom.

We hear newsroom layoffs at the Los Angeles Time may number 120. Straight talk from LAObserved:

Zell and Michaels seem to think that covering the world, Washington and in-depth investigations should take no more time and resources than the crap their other papers churn out. It doesn't work that way. Basically, it sounds as if they have learned nothing from the generations of newspaper editors and publishers who figured it out before — and who actually made tons of money doing it. The Zell long-range model now looks to be less content and less exclusive content, with less depth to that content, produced by less experienced people and delivered to readers in less attractive packages. Yeah, the magic formula to turn around the spiral.
About cuts at the Hartford Courant

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Thursday, June 5, 2008

Writers air their beefs with new Tribune bosses

The concerns reflect those of many in our business. Chicago Tribune Sunday magazine writer Rick Kogan and CT olumnist Dawn Turner Trice took aim at Tribune bosses during an April media awards ceremony in Chiacgo. Michael Miner (Chicago Reader) saw the video of the event. Kogan:

Those of us at the Tribune, besieged by these kind of deranged memos from the new bosses that we have that as I read them seem to be telling us, reimagine, reinvent, reinvent. That’s fine. That’s fine. Communication has to change. What troubles me is that these people, these new owners and the people at the Tribune who are sort of shamelessly taking off their coats and ties and wearing sweaters to cotton up to the iconoclastic, motorcycle-riding crowd they seem to have forgotten, and I have not heard anything about it from these guys, that the soul of a newspaper and the soul of a city is in the word.”
Turner cut right to the heart of the over-arching problem that goes beyond just the Tribune Company:
Our newspapers work harder and harder to fight extinction. But there’s an even bigger danger that has less to do with how we consume our news. The far greater threat is the quality of the content and the supply-and-demand market pressure that are being placed on all of us. Here’s what I mean. If you did a Nexis search you’ll find that over the last couple of weeks we’ve had far more stories about Barack Obama’s abysmal bowling record than we’ve had about the release of a Justice Department memo that authorized torture. . . . Over the last couple of weeks we’ve had far more stories about Barack and the Reverend Jeremiah Wright than stories on the U.S. attorney general appearing to have fabricated a key event leading up to the 9/11 attacks. . . . Young people often ask me if it’s worth going into journalism these days and I tell them yes, even though these are weird and unsettling times, when job cuts and buyouts and shrinking news space loom large, when tycoons and, yes, buffoons are buying up newspapers unaware and unconcerned of their mission.
Like Kogan and Turner, journalists everywhere worry about the future of their craft, that in today's uncertain market, quality journalism so necessary to a strong democracy must play second fiddle to profits. That is why Northern California journalists have decided to make a stand, rather than sit back and passively wait for the industry to implode.

Like many front-line workers, they want a seat at the table, stare impending trouble in the face and join in the decision-making processes that affect their lives and their community. They want better journalism and better jobs. MediaNews Group journalists in the Bay Area will will have the opportunity to vote to unionize June 13, forming a single unit that will unite the entire region under one Newspaper Guild banner.

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Monday, June 2, 2008

Stop the madness

Does the radio guy know anything about newspapers?

While newsroom employees concentrate on doing what they do best — collecting, analyzing and disseminating the news — Tribune innovation chief Lee Abrams continues to fire off memos full of (wildly imaginative? or just wild?) suggestions like repainting LAT's vans and adding sports logos to sports pages. (No one ever thought of that before. Right.)

The memos are full of hard-to-follow and sometimes-funny ramblings of the company's cheerleader, no doubt penned to rally staffers to think outside the box to come up with ideas that will help stop the company's decline of circulation and advertising revenues.

Unfortunately, people aren't going to be thinking about how to better market and sell the LAT with word out that more layoffs are on the horizon. Great talent has left ( “Time to Go”) and more may to be pushed out the door while the Chief Innovation Officer — who is likely earning the equivalent of what a few good reporters would cost — is spewing forth ideas that are not new, not innovative and not likely to improve the financial health of the horrendously debt-laden company.

Speaking of finances: Is the demise of newspapers a corporate-engineered theory? In “Decline of Journalism” former Hartford Courant reporter Thomas Williams wrote:

... some concerned and dedicated journalistic observers both inside and outside the US news business believe the demise or baggage-seat status of newspapers is a farfetched theory. It is promoted, say news insiders, by corporate executives operating large newspaper chains. They are engrossed in making news collection as cheap as possible, while forcing a larger advertising layout in newspapers at the expense of the formerly generous pages of a variety of local, national and international news. And as they do, publishers and editors claim to be inventing a new, easy-to-read, streamlined form of tabloid attractive to all ages, particularly the younger set.
Hosts of editors, reporters and readers are angry just listening to and repeatedly reading what they consider "excuses" to increase profits while eroding probing enterprise journalism. Those committed to public service news and investigative reporting believe grave industry profits to be manipulative, shallow or misleading. In fact, the very rationale for saving newspapers - cost cutting, layoffs and buyouts - is thought to have created circulation and profit drop-offs, and to foster the very predictions of a dark, deadly fiscal whirlpool. The bigger the staff and cost cuts, the more advertisers and readers are scared away, indeed creating loss of disgusted readers and lesser profits.
Re-painting the LAT trucks green won't bring back readers or increase profits.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Another asset on the block?

In an attempt to boost its short term liquidty, Tribune Media Services (TMS), which distributes news and entertainment listings, may be up for sale.

"We're providing certain information to parties who have expressed interest in some of the assets owned by TMS, but we have made no decision concerning those assets, and in no event would we sell all of TMS," the spokesman said Wednesday.
The media service could be worth about $200m.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Cablevision wins bid for Newsday

E&P reports “Tribune will receive $612 million in cash, with its 3% equity stake in the partnership valued at $20 million.”

The deal gives cable television operator Cablevision the ability to combine marketing forces with a daily that has a virtual monopoly in affluent Long Island -- and it gives Tribune a timely infusion of cash as it faces a big payment on the $8.2 billion in debt it took on to go private last December.
Cablevision owns the NBA’s New York Knicks, NHL’s New York Rangers and Madison Square Garden and the purchase of Newsday marks it's “first foray” into newspaper ownership.

The deal brings the newspaper back to local ownership.
"We admire Newsday's strong editorial voice and reputation for quality as well as its leadership in print and online journalism," Cablevision Chairman Charles Dolan [pictured] said in a statement. "We are committed to maintaining Newsday's journalistic integrity and important position in the marketplace," Dolan said.
Here's a few numbers from Bloomberg :
Newsday had a circulation of 379,613 in the six months through March, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. That's a 4.7 percent drop from a year earlier. The newspaper had $80 million in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization last year, a person familiar with the sale talks said last month.

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Murdoch’s out

So much for closing a deal with the “man of his word.” News Corp withdrew it’s $580M bid for Tribune Saturday morning. Murdoch indicated last week that he would not raise his price following the $650M bid offered by Cablevision. “It became uneconomical for us to continue,” said Teri Everett of Murdoch's News Corp.  

Zell needs a deal quickly. Revenues continue to decline as newspaper ad sales and circulation slide. With $1B in debt payments coming due this year, the Cablevision offer must certainly be more attractive, not just because its richer but because it won't face as many federal challenges as a News Corp. deal.

"I really think that Tribune is very focused on making sure that they work with someone who can get the deal closed," said Mike Simonton, a bond analyst from Chicago-based Fitch Ratings. "The regulatory and legislative uncertainty around cross ownership could have been playing a role in Tribune's thinking in terms of who to work with."

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Thursday, May 8, 2008

‘Zell owns a valuable thing’

So writes a “loyal Los Angeles Times peon” who launched a new LA blog, Tell Zell What You Really Think, to “explain what he has — from someone who desperately, urgently believes in journalism, nut grafs and all sorts of other good stuff.” On Randy Michael's promotion:

All signs point to Randy taking over. Whatever thin hopes there were for Bill Pate, Zell's BFF from an Oklahoma newspaper family, are vanishing. The radio guys are in charge.

What's that mean? Even less of a voice for the LA Times and other individual newspapers. This whole "petri dish" idea where individual papers seek their own solutions seems less likely with the publishers weakened. The Clear Channel Crew chip away.

Sam thinks Brazil is the new China. Lee thinks newspapers are the new Tears. And Randy? ...
The public (and maybe some frustrated LAT staffers?) are invited to chime in.

(via LAObserved)

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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Murdoch: ‘I trust Zell absolutely’

Confident Zell is “a man of his word,” Murdoch expects to close his deal to buy Newsday in about a week. The deal is in a "pretty advanced stage," he said. He told anaylsts today that he doesn't think Cablevision will prevail in it's $650 million bid to take Newsday off Tribune's hands.

“We see Newsday continuing to be a very important local newspaper covering two of the greatest counties in America and wealthiest counties in America and the Post covering basically the City of New York, a paper with a very different character,” Murdoch said. “We're not putting them to be one newspaper. But there are great savings in printing and distribution and normal back office (functions). There's a lot we can do together and we'll pursue that. We're very optimistic for both papers. We're hoping to wrap it up within the next week and I dont mean the end of next week, I mean within the next seven days. It takes two to agree, but we're at a pretty advanced stage.”
The unions that represent workers at the New York Post and Newsday will be ready to help him with plans for a “super printing plant”.

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Friday, May 2, 2008

Cablevision ups the ante for Newsday by $70M *

The bidding war is on. Cablevision placed a $650 million bid for the Long Island-based Tribune paper and its subsidiaries. Murdoch and Zuckerman now have the opportunity to reaccess their own offers. Though reports say Zell favors Murdoch, timing and terms are important to any deal.

Cablevision's bid would just about cover a payment due Dec. 4.
Guess who's advising Cablevision on the deal: Former Tribune Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Dennis FitzSimons, with current Tribune management's blessing.

* Is Murdoch out? According to a "person familiar with the matter", Murdoch won't raise his offer. AP

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Friday, April 25, 2008

Zuckerman matches Murdoch's $580M bid

The owners of rival NYC papers The New York Post and NY Daily News appear to be headed for a bidding war for Newsday even as the News Corp/Tribune deal is reported to be near completion. According to this AP story, Mortimer Zuckerman submitted his offer late Friday.

The Post and Daily News circulate mainly in the New York City area, while Newsday is read mostly in neighboring Long Island. That would offer either bidder the potential of selling advertisers a broad reach of readers in a single ad buy.

It is widely thought that any News Corp. deal would be met with scrutiny by regulators and consumer groups concerned that Murdoch's company would be getting too much control over the New York media market, where News Corp. also owns two local television stations.
It doesn't matter which of the tycoons wins Zell's nod, both face DOJ antitrust reviews. But Zuckerman thinks he can argue that his bid "is more attractive because it does not have the potential to fall into regulatory limbo."

Faced with $1B in debt service costs this year, Tribune is looking for cash. Fast. In a quick deal (21 days) the company closed Tuesday on a $30M sale of the buildings that are home to the Stamford Advocate and Greenwich Times, papers Tribune sold last November.

Timing – if not terms – may favor Zuckerman.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Smoke? Use your best judgement

You should quit, of course. But if you can't — or won't — at least the new Tribune has determined that the old Tribune's policy of charging you an additional $100 a month for health insurance is "inconsistent" with the new culture it's developing. From today's Tribune memo posted at Reuters Blogs:

While well-intentioned, we think the tobacco-use fee implemented by the previous management team is inconsistent with the new culture we’re developing-we’d rather you use your own judgment when it comes to tobacco use, not impose ours upon you.
If you’re still being charged the fee, it will stop and Tribune will reimburse you 100 percent for the fees you have paid. This reimbursement will occur in late May.
No change on the spousal medical fee.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

An agreement in principle

Reports are that Newsday will be become a "joint venture" with the New York Post. Terms aren't yet final of the complex deal that will give Murdoch a majority ownership of Tribune-owned Newsday and Zell the smaller stake and about $560 million in cash. From the Chicago Tribune:

One source said there was only "clean-up work" remaining and expected an official announcement soon. Another said it could be weeks before a contract is signed and was concerned about requisite regulatory approval, pointing out: "It's one thing for Rupert and Sam to work out an agreement. It's still up to the battery of lawyers to work out the finer points."
Other than the price, the media moguls have reportedly come to an informal agreement on structure and governance. More at WSJ

Newsday's union members were speculating about sale a couple of months ago when unionized workers at the New York Post alerted them to a possible deal.
Dennis Grabhorn, president of Local 406, which represents many Newsday employees, said members have been discussing several possible configurations under which the Post could partner with Newsday, which already distributes the Post on its trucks.
"I'll take any of the three" bidders named in Friday's news reports," said Grabhorn, but "the only one that is a real newspaper person is Rupert Murdoch."
Who would have ever thought newspaper workers would look to Murdoch as their top choice for employer?

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

'Breath-of-fresh-air' Zell forced to consider sale of assets

The company's solvency is threatened as a result of advertising declines. In the conference call with today with bankers and journalists, Zell said the "significant erosion of revenue" has forced the company "to consider the divestiture of some of our assets."

So now that Tribune has divested itself of people assets through a long series of buyouts (and rumors are circulating that layoffs may be on the horizon even as more executive assets are being hired) properties are next: Newsday could be let go in a non-cash asset swap deal that could save hundreds of millions in capital gains taxes.

Jeff Bercovici at reports "Zell says his underlings love his attitude".

"In the 3,000 emails I've received, all of which I read all of which I answered, perhaps the most common phrase in those emails is, quote, a breath of fresh air," he said. "We are changing the culture, we are changing the environment, and we are changing everyone's goals."

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Is Geffen still in the picture?

Nikke Finke at Deadline Hollywood has a source that says Geffen and Zell are “in serious discussions” regarding a sale of the Los Angeles Times. “It's all very hush-hush,” Finke writes on her blog, “but my source tells me: ‘Cash flow is not being met for the bankers, revenue is in freefall, and the potential liability on the Combs story is huge. Sam feels he bought a bill of goods. Geffen is back in the mix and he's going to get it for a deep discount. They're in serious discussions.’ ”

Could be Geffen is following up on last April's dinner with Zell.

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Monday, April 7, 2008


Last year when Zell bought Tribune he said he didn't buy the company "to figure out what to get rid of." But things have gone from bad to worse in our industry since the completed Zell Deal tied up your retirement funds without asking you.

The company struggles under $12.8 billion in debt, faces risk of credit default and according to today's NYT story, analysts say Zell needs to get rid of "both the Cubs and another major asset like Newsday, and relatively soon, to remain solvent."

Last year, the company had earnings (before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization) of about $1.2 billion. But 2008 is expected to be more difficult, and the company’s bond covenants require it to have earnings around $1.1 billion or risk being declared in default — even if it has the cash to make its interest payments.

Tribune’s credit rating has slipped several notches below investment grade, and its bonds are trading far below their face value, signaling that the market sees a high risk of default. The company’s long-term, unsecured debt can be bought for less than 50 cents on the dollar.
The company has scheduled a conference call with bankers on April 17 to discuss Tribune's finances. You should be on that call, too. It's your company, your money and your retirement fund at risk.

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Monday, March 31, 2008

Parting shots

Some use their farewell emails to tell Zell things they didn't tell him on "Talk to Sam" – maybe because they have more class than he? At LAObserved:

... Mr. Zell, please don't confuse arrogance with a commitment to something grander than the real estate in which we're housed or to the dollars in our ESOP. You want people to "Talk to Sam" but not to "Talkback to Sam." Perhaps that's a closer definition of arrogance.
Politics desk researcher Nona Yates nailed it:
The value in "this product" is produced right here, in the newsroom. It's the reporters, editors, photographers, researchers, librarians, artists and all the others who bring value to this paper and make it one of the best in the country. And that's in spite of the turmoil foisted upon us for the last several years. It's not the flash, not the investment bankers, or wall street or some yahoo sitting in a corporate office. People buy and read this newspaper for the news, the content that is created and distributed each and every day in whatever medium. Anyone who thinks otherwise is an idiot and screw 'em."

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Forget silly pep talks – how about ESOP info?

Despite the recent LAT reporting controversey, former Times city editor Bill Boyarsky blogging at LAObserved defends an LAT staff he thinks is "incredibly dedicated not only for slogging along but for doing some fine work for a paper that once seemed indestructible but now looks like a house of cards." Referring to Zell's own claim to be Viagra the 126-year-old LAT needs, Boyarsky writes:

I don't know about Sam, but the Times doesn't need Viagra. It needs journalists who can go to work each day without worrying about looking for a new job or whether they'll wind up with any money in the Employee Stock Ownership Program that Zell used to buy Tribune Co.


Instead of silly pep talks, Sam ought to fire off some e-mails providing transparency on the ESOP deal.
Fat chance. The Zell Deal uses their money and gambles with their futures, but most employees didn't have a choice and don't have a voice in the ESOP. With $10 billion in debt hanging over Tribune employee heads, is it any wonder some Newsday staffers hope Murdoch takes over their paper?

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Murdoch wants Newsday * **

Is a bid for the Long Island paper in play? Will the two media barons make a deal?

Crain's NY has this: "Mr. Murdoch has long had an interest in Newsday. A year ago, around the time that Tribune was exploring a sale of the entire company, he tried to establish a joint operating agreement between the Tribune paper and News Corp.’s New York Post. He told analysts and others that the agreement would create “a very, very powerful combination for advertisers” and turn the money-losing Post into a viable business “in five minutes.”

*Update: Insiders say Murdoch has competition for the buy: media mogul Mort Zuckerman (Daily News) and James L. Dolan (Cablevision). No word on the price, but analysts say Newsday could be worth $350-$400 million. NYT

** Representatives from Rupert Murdoch's New York Post discussed a possible acquisition of Newsday from the debt-laden Tribune Co. as early as late February or early March, sources said Friday. Newsday

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$79M 4Q loss

The full 2007 details are in this Tribune report in which Zell said in part, "In addition, we have begun a strategic review of certain Tribune assets to determine whether capital can be more effectively redeployed into our core operations or toward reducing our outstanding leverage."

Selling assets is part of Zell's strategy to turn the highly-leveraged company around: The old Tribune sold the Stamford Advocate and the Greenwich Times last November, but the offices and production plants weren't part of the deal. They're on the block now. Price tag unknown at this time.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Newsday avoids involuntary exits

Thirty-six accepted buyouts in the newsroom., including some veteran critics.

At the end of February, Tribune wanted to eliminate 120 Newsday jobs, including 25 unionized editorial folks, 10 editors and the 4-person national desk.

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Friday, March 14, 2008

Zell to sell?

He's not ruling out the possibilty of selling off assets. At a meeting with Baltimore Sun employees Thursday, he was asked if he'd sell The Sun. “I don't know. The goal was to keep all of the assets together.” But those goals were set with the expectation that revenue would be down 2 percent to 3 percent year over year, he said, not the 16 percent to 18 percent decline Tribune newspapers are experiencing. “If that trend continues, we may have to re-evaluate a lot of our decisions.”

Besides looking to sell off Wrigley Field and the Cubs, Zell is “evaluating what to do with The Sun's real estate holdings, including its headquarters, Port Covington printing plant and leased space for its Web operations.”

"That land on the bay is worth a lot," he said, referring to the printing plant, which sits on nearly 60 acres near the Middle Branch.
Buying and selling properties is how Zell made his fortune. Gotta hope that Zell's business strategy will ultimately provide healthy returns for Tribune workers — soon.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Laid-off CA editor appeals to academia to help save journalism

We read at LAObserved that laid-off MediaNews columnist and former LAT editor Wes Hughes has appealed in a letter to Stanford University president John Hennessey to "take on the problem of how to preserve public and investigative journalism with the same seriousness academia addressed global warming, because it is that desperate."

I’m sure it hasn’t escaped you that the newspaper industry is imploding as I write this. The Los Angeles Times for example has lost a full one-third of its circulation and its news staff has been reduced accordingly. The same is true at practically every other newspaper in the United States and the television news business isn’t far behind.

Sam Zell bought the Tribune Company for a pittance, leveraging the employees’ stock holdings to swing the deal and they threw in the once-proud L.A. Times as a sweetener.
Across the country, the barbarians are at the gates of the New York Times and if that great daily should fall, I fear for the future of America.
His letter is cc'd to Sam Zell, Dean Singleton and other prominent newspaper owners who are worried more about sliding double-digit profits than journalists' alarms that American democracy is in peril because of drastic cuts to newsroom resources. Plunging ad revenue, a major the reason for the cuts, isn't likely to reverse course any time soon given the current economic climate, so help from any corner should be welcome.

Can Stanford help save watchdog journalism from corporate greed? Maybe it can come up with a new, innovative business blueprint for media companies that will preserve investigative journalism and increase financial prosperity. We need both.

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Sunday, March 2, 2008

Save a Chicago tradition — or save jobs?

Zell is under heavy fire for his revenue-generating plans to add more night games and concerts to Wrigley Field's schedule. But his plan to sell naming rights to the stadium that is home of the Chicago Cubs, has been met with angst and outrage from Chicagoans and baseball fans across the nation.

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Carol Marin thinks Zell is the embodiment of Dr. Seuss' Sam-I-Am (Green Eggs and Ham): "Though Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham was written in 1960, the brilliant children's author apparently could see into the future. He must have had a premonition about what was going to happen in Chicago. That a billionaire named Sam-I-am Zell -- who lives in a Grinch perch high atop Michigan Avenue -- would look down one day at this great city on the lake and say to himself, "Hey, I think I'll buy it." Piece by piece. Including the Chicago Tribune. The Cubs. Wrigley Field."

But not everyone thinks selling the Cubs, the field or the naming rights to the Chicago landmark is such a bad idea. Baltimore Sun sports blogger Bill Ordine points out: "The responsibility is not Zell's or that of Tribune employees across the country to preserve Chicago baseball tradition. The Wrigley company, which is based in Chicago,  has been getting that free ride for a long time."

Zell's main responsibility here is to the Tribune company as a whole, its employees and customers, in making a tough business deal work. Like newspapers all over the country, Tribune properties have been downsizing -- and not just reporters and editors but advertising, circulation and business-side people. White-collar jobs, blue-collar jobs, in big cities, medium-sized cities and small towns, are on the line.
We're with you, Bill!

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Newsday staff reductions will affect 120* company-wide

*Updated Feb.29: 25 unionzed editorial staffers, 10 top editors and the entire national desk New York Post

Employees learned Thursday that non-union and union positions will be eliminated, with some workers' departure effective immediately. Other employees will have until the end of March. The reduction will be just under 5% of the current 2,300 employees.

The dreaded but expected news was outlined in a memo to employees from publisher Timothy P. Knight: "These difficult actions are based on our urgent need to focus on the things that drive audience and revenue growth, while we manage through a soft advertising revenue environment that requires us to significantly reduce costs. ... Though we all know we will not grow by cutting, we have no choice but to respond to the revenue decline and make cost adjustments now."

Elimination of positions in editorial, transportation and the pressroom will be done in accordance with the union contracts.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Jittery in Melville; a buyout (or sell out?) in Hartford

Though Newsday execs have yet to make a decision on the number of job cuts there, newsroom staffers are feeling worn down waiting for the ax to drop. “First you’ll hear the rumor that it’s seven positions, then 40, then 10, then you hear the newsroom will be spared, then it won’t, and there’s just all these e-mails back and forth and no one knows what’s happening,” said Mr. [William] Murphy, a reporter.

Cuts are coming, soon. Zachary Dowdy, reporter and union rep of IBT Local 46 that represents Newsday employees said, “We’ve gotten the sense that it will be this week.”

Newsday's staff has the benefit of a union contract: they can bargain over the terms and conditions of how job cuts will be made and how the staff reduction will impact the members who remain.

At the Hartford Courant where the staff does not have union representation, TV critic Roger Catlin's column “captures the quiet desperation of today's newsroom” — as a fellow columnist at the Baltimore Sun describes it — by thinking of his options “in terms of a bad new prime time game shows: ‘Buy Out or Sell Out?’ ”

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Seattle cartoonist rails on Zell

David Horsey, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial cartoonist, takes on Zell —"the most vulgar embodiment of a pervasive bean counter mentality that is threatening the best of American journalism" — with a cartoon and on his blog.

What does Zell know about journalism? No more than any other billionaire real estate mogul. But that hasn't stopped him from telling off journalists at some of the country's best newspapers -- the Chicago Tribune, Newsday, the Hartford Courant, the Baltimore Sun and, finest of all, the Los Angeles Times. Zell has told these new employees of his that they are practitioners of an arrogant kind of journalism that doesn't give readers what they want and fails to make increasing company profits a key objective of news gathering.
Also: At another tour stop at Tribune's Washington bureau, Zell rattled reporters from four of its biggest dailies when he told them the bureau was overstaffed, the structure "unsupportable " and its "bloated" size is "unequivocally economically unjustifiable." More at Chicago Tribune

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Powerless against a corporate agenda?

So what if — after giving careful consideration to that voluntary buyout package the company has offered — you decide that you're just not in a secure enough financial position to take the few bucks and sally forth into an unknown future (the kids, the mortgage, health insurance...) so you figure you'd better stick it out (the kids, the mortgage, health insurance...) and take the chance that maybe the future with Tribune will be good for your career and better for your bank account.

If you've made the decision to stay — and provided Tribune doesn't lay you off — there's something you might want to consider: You may have all sorts of great suggestions for improving the product and many exciting and innovative ideas to increase the company's prosperity  — but will Tribune listen? And just how will your being able to "Talk to Sam" really make your life better? What can you do to improve your working life? Or that of your coworkers? As an employee-owner, does your voice even matter?

Having a voice at his workplace matters to Bay Area reporter Josh Richman. The MediaNews empire — like the Tribune empire— is slashing jobs in its effort to improve its bottom line. The bloodletting in the Bay Area comes amidst a powered-up newsroom organizing drive. So in an update to newspaper workers throughout the region — from Walnut Creek to San Francisco to San Jose — Josh writes:

Certainly this week’s news of buyout offers and impending layoffs has put us all in a grim state of mind, and rightly so: We’re journalism professionals who take our work and our careers very seriously, and the thought of giving it away for up to half a year’s pay (or having it taken away for half that) doesn’t sit well with anyone. .... But we have to see the bigger picture here. ... Times are tough all around .... Having a voice, a seat at the table, as this company and our industry decide what they will be for the years and decades to come can save jobs and preserve the journalistic quality for which we all strive. Now more than ever, we should be trying to insinuate ourselves into the dialogue rather than just sitting here with no choice but to take it as the company dishes it out. The company would have you believe your individual voices are stronger, but why not retain your own voice while adding yours to a unified, union voice the company is legally required to hear?
Tribune workers from Hartford to LA wisely ask what The Guild can do for them — "Show us where you've had success" — and we are happy to describe and explain. Give us the forum and we'll help you help yourselves. In the meantime, refer back to our FAQ, then add us to your browser's Favorites.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Q & A in LA

Sam Zell was at the Hammer Museum in LA Thursday night where LAObserved's Kevin Roderick got a chance to shake his hand and talk with him about the LAT and newspapers. "...if his opinions and assumptions carry the day, it's clear the Times will become a much different — and probably a lesser — news organization." Zell has his own category at LAObserved.

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