Thursday, January 31, 2008

Bought and sold

In a deal expected to close in April, Tribune will pay $175 million for real estate it currently leases for the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, Baltimore Sun and Hartford Courant.

Meanwhile, the KTLA building on Hollywood's Sunset Boulevard reported to have been worth $175 million in August of last year sold for $125M.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Press freedom advocate applauds filters removal

Once-jailed freelance journalist and videoblogger Josh Wolf doesn't often applaud "the actions of the beancounters in the mainstream media", but he gives Zell' props for his announcement that all content filters will be removed from Tribune computers.

... it's encouraging to know that reporters at the LA Times and other Tribune publications will no longer have to leave the office to research a story deemed off-limits by the content filters implemented by their IT department. Well done Zell ...
Last year Josh received the Guild's Freedom Award, an award underwritten by a bequest from long-time Guild member Herbert Block and presented to the person or organization who best exemplifies the late Washington Post political cartoonist’s devotion to free speech and assembly and to his passionate belief in the importance of a vigorous free press.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Question authority – at your own risk

So now you know. At the New Tribune, you can indeed get in trouble if you question authority or "push back if you don't like the answer" because you could be fired. No doubt Mr. O'Shea thought he was adhering to the new employee handbook's Rule #1– "Use your best judgement" – when he pushed back in defense of his newsroom's priorities.

The handbook distributed last week that's loaded with seemingly witty and wise common sense looks this week more like what E&P's Mark Fitzgerald describes as "the same old corporate hypocrisy of a corporation that preaches values -- but really values a by-the-book, finances-first, mission-second approach to business. "

... perhaps Tribune should take some of the punch lines from its new handbook, and put them on those schmaltzy "motivational" posters with eagles and sunrises over mountains and rock climbers. You know, the kind of poster prominently displayed in places that, in reality, are white-collar sweatshops.
Yeah, put those up next to the penguin posters.

Perhaps it's time to use your best judgement.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

LAT's O'Shea is out *

Jim O'Shea is the third successsive editor to leave The Times over budgetary issues. Publisher David Hiller claims O'Shea wasn't exactly fired — his departure is part of a reorganization under the New Tribune. Right.

LADN reporter and union leader Brent Hopkins comments on his blog:

As much as I enjoy when we beat the Times on a story, I take no pleasure when I see things like this. As Marty Kaplan says at the end, it seems like this is a story we hear every few months, with an editor or publisher getting the axe for refusing to take it to the necks of their staff. And whether it's in our company or our competitor, it's always a shame.
Lots of coverage at LAObserved, NYT and LAT. Former LAT editor John Carroll tells E&P that OShea's dismissal is part of "an ongoing instability" in that newsroom.

* In his own words: O'Shea's memo to staff. We took note of this:
We journalists have our faults, but we also have a lot to offer. Too often we’ve been dismissed as budgetary adolescents who can’t be trusted to conserve our resources. That is wrong. Journalists and not accountants should seize responsibility for the financial health of our newspapers so journalists can make decisions about the size of our staffs and how much news remains in our papers and web sites.
We wish you well, Mr. O'Shea.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

#1 rule: Use your best judgement

The new employee handbook is short – well, at least it's a third the length of the big old one — loaded with straight-talk and light on long-winded legalese that tends to make one's eyes glaze over.

The handbook's policies appear to reflect the New Tribune philosophy and guidelines (rules) for future success: for example employees are told to collaborate, compete, play fair, take intelligent risk, question authority. All good.

However, the Handbook doesn't apply to unionized employees, even though they received copies: "This handbook applies to all non-union Tribune employees ... "

So does that mean they can't collaborate, compete, play fair, take intelligent risk or question authority? Of course not, but the policies don't supersede their collective bargaining agreements.

Good thing. Under Part 3:

1.1. Employment with Tribune is at ­will unless this relationship has been modified by the specific terms of a contract that’s been signed by you and by an authorized representative of the company, or by a collective bargaining agreement.
1.2. At ­will employment means that either Tribune and/or you can terminate employment at any time for any legal reason, with or without cause.
One of the many benefits described in a union contract is in a section titled "Job Security", which is where you'd find the provisions prohibiting discipline or termination without just cause.

Good thing, because the term "best judgement" is really subjective.

More here at and LAObserved
(end of post)

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

From Allentown to Hartford ...

Zell hit Hartford and the headline gurus there topped Kenneth Gosselin's report on his visit with two words: "Salty Sam"

Zell, wearing his trademark cowboy boots, jeans and shirt wide-open at the neck, and exulting in his salty language, declared that the challenge is to build revenue, not cut more jobs — as The Courant and other Tribune businesses have done in recent years.
Zell said he's taken "some pointed questions" from employee-owners. During his visit to the Los Angeles Times Tuesday he was hit with one from a reporter who said employees were taking all the risk.
"I responded to her by telling her she was full of shit," Zell said. "And that's a quote."
That's it? No explanation of just how it is that they are not taking all the risk?

Or, was the fact that he thinks she's full of shit his final answer? Nice.

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Zell's Deal analyzed *

The upside to the Deal is that each employee could average "tens of thousands of dollars, perhaps hundreds of thousands". Chicagoan David Warsh,, offers up a bit of history on ESOPs, commentary on Tribune's checkered history and its recent misfortune with corporate leadership made up of accountants and investment bankers "with little feel for the newspaper business" and he roots "for the employees of Tribune Co.'s newspapers – past, present and future."

There are flaws in the ESOP, naturally, from the employees’ point of view. Union representatives point to the lack of any consultation by employees in selecting the ESOP trustee that will play the lead role in governing the corporation. They may be employee-owners, but they don’t have much of a voice. Retirement accounts will remain partially diversified, but will be overly concentrated in Tribune stock. Still, at the end of the day the Zell transaction means that a company that is in need of significant change will succeed or fail through the workings of a partnership between a tycoon and his partners, the employees.
Rather than seeing his unionized workers as separate from the rest of the company's employees, we are hopeful that Zell will come to understand that they "work just as hard as everyone else" in the company and "are just as vested in its success". Zell visits Newsday

* Zell's employee-partners at the Allentown Morning Call "clapped and cheered" when he "promised to shift decision-making authority to Allentown" during his visit there Wednesday afternoon. Must be making the rounds, instilling hope and energizing all his partners with a positive message: be innovative, work hard, be a winner and reap the reward$.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Cuts (again) in Newport News, VA

Close to 100 positions have been lost at the Newport News Daily Press over the last few years and now 14 more positions have been cut in the newsroom, operations, finance and advertising departments.

"Cutting reporters hurts the product," said Daily Press Publisher Digby Solomon. "Cutting salespeople hurts the product."
Cutting the folks that support the journos and sales reps — editorial assistants, librarians and clerks to name a few, hurts the product too. Just ask a reporter or salesperson.

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Zell gets Fine advice ...

but not so fine from a labor perspective.

We're sure Tribune drivers and pressmen wouldn't be happy at all if Zell takes Businessweek's Jon Fine's suggestion to "outsource all printing in as many markets as soon as possible. Ditto distribution."

I know, I know, there are union complications in some of your markets. But this is the least attractive part of what you've bought. You've got better, money-making things to think about these days.
Outsourcing is introduced to save time and money on human resources. It does not make more or better media products.

Rather than view organized departments of the workforce as unattractive union complications, some of our employers recognize the value in working with the unions whose members are eager to help their companies streamline and improve production, find solutions that cut costs but not quality and work together to develop new ways to address the enormous challenges facing the industry.

Some of our employers view us as the company assets we are, not unattractive parts of a recent purchase.

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Allentown Call gets reorganized

We'd like it to get "organized" if you know what we mean, but the reorganizeation plan as outlined here will (surprise, surprise) reduce editorial costs. Included in the plan is the elimination of 10 positions: news editor, asst. copy chief/features, sports CE, features CE, special projects editor, librarian, page designer, sports reporter, opinion writer and a business editor.

Plans are to create 3 new ones "to help build the print and on-line audience" — a watchdog reporter, a lab tech and an on-line sports producer. (Sounds like night work for all and we'll bet at lower wage and benefits than the 10 eliminated.)

What happens to the work left behind by departing employees? Did it disappear?

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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Are you toiling in your newsroom?

Editor of the Las Vegas Sun and new member of the New Tribune board, Brian Greenspun said in yesterday's LAT opinion piece that he believes "in the vitality and the vital nature of America's newsrooms and the people who toil in them."

Great for the most part. But does he really believe dedicated, hard-working and talented journalists toil in America's newsrooms? According to Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary definition, toil means "laborious efforts", "a long strenuous fatiguing labor" or implies "prolonged and fatiguing labor".

Well, maybe journalists must "toil" in Mr. Greenspun's newsroom. However, it's a well documented fact that "long strenuous fatiguing labor" contributes to burnout, stress, illness, and other negative effects on workers and their productivity.

For those of us in unionized newsrooms, we don't "toil" at our work. Sure, we willingly put our hearts and souls into what we do. We believe passionately in what we do. But to define it as toil? struggle? battle?

Where journalists are organized, though most work very hard and oft times choose to work long hours, their collectively-bargained terms and conditions of employment require a workplace quality of life that provides safeguards against burnout and similar negative effects of overwork , thus ensuring "the (continued) vitality" in and of the newsroom and quality journalism employees (and owners) can be proud of.

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