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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