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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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Guild approves Sun buyout plan

Dropping its negotiating position that two weeks was not enough time for employees to decide whether to participate in The Sun’s recently announced buyout plan, the Baltimore-Washington Newspaper Guild said Monday that its 465-member unit at the Tribune Co. newspaper could participate.

“We have agreed,” Guild President Bill Salganik said of management’s plan to cut 45 positions throughout the Baltimore Sun Media Group’s work force. “We look forward, however, to The Sun finding more ways to generate revenue rather than balancing the budget by reducing the number of journalists and customer-service people.” Full story

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We're in a crisis

Zell tells his partners in Chicago that his boorish language isn't "disrespecting anybody". He's trying to make everybody uncomfortable. "This business has been eroding before your eyes and you're worried about my language? ... Everything I said was with an intent to get everybody to get off their [behinds] and understand this is a crisis. We've got to save this business. We've got to make this work. And we've got to prioritize what we get all pushed out of shape about. ... If we keep operating the way we've been operating, there is no future."

Employees don't need another reason to be uncomfortable. The people who do the work — write, shoot, edit, design, sell, and produce and pour their hearts, souls and talent into making the papers meaningful and important to readers and advertisers — worry everyday whether or not their Tribune careers will end in a few weeks. They are not the ones that created Tribune's crisis. Maybe the corporate suits need to get off their asses and understand they need to change the way they operate, find that new business model that will turn the print industry around.

Dumping 500 partners is a short-term fix. Tribune (and the whole industry) needs a long-term solution. To his credit, Zell invited every employee/owner to offer up their creative ideas for change.

Who knows? The idea for long-term success may come from one of Tribune's rank and file partners.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Trib union leaders: cuts unsettling but not surprising

Zachary Dowdy and Bill Salganik were not surprised with Wednesday's announcement of more Tribune job cuts — and said they actually welcomed the option of buyouts over layoffs. From E&P:

"... Sun reporter Bill Salganik, president of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, and Zachary Dowdy, president of Newsday's Graphic Communications Conference Local 406, said more cuts in the face of recent past buyouts at both papers, and other Tribune properties such as the Los Angeles Times, are unsettling.

"Continuing to cut journalists and cut customer service people is not a good thing," said Salganik, a 30-year Sun veteran who spoke just hours after the paper announced a buyout offer seeking to eliminate 45 jobs newspaperwide. "Those of us who work here don't feel like there are too many of us."
Why is the New Tribune using the same old business strategy to cut costs as the Old Tribune?

Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild wants Tribune to give Sun employees more than 2 weeks to consider buyout plan that is different and more complicated than recent plans.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Stanton named LAT editor

Innovation editor Russ Stanton gets the corner office.

Also in the Times announcement, we learn that two new positions have been created — "President, Los Angeles Times Newspaper" and "Senior Vice President, Administration".

How many newsroom jobs need to be eliminated to fund those new top-level positions?

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Layoffs ahead *

Zell's sent a memo to staff announcing staff reductions in the publishing group and corporate office: each newspaper will determine which reduction program (voluntary separation programs, involuntary layoffs, attrition and closing of open positions) will work best for their needs.

Most of the affected positions are in support service areas, such as finance, HR and technology. We are creating a flatter organizational structure, eliminating layers of personnel that inadvertently created bureaucracy. The result will be a streamlined culture that accelerates our decision making, and enables us to act quickly.
So, whoever goes in as lead editor at the LAT will have to cut the newsroom staff. (Cuts O'Shea didn't want to make.)
Tribune Co., struggling with declining revenue, today said it would cut staff by 400 to 500 people companywide, or around 2% of the Chicago-based media company's workforce. At the Los Angeles Times, 100 to 150 jobs will be eliminated, 40 to 50 in the newsroom, through a combination of attrition, voluntary buyouts and, if necessary, layoffs, Publisher David D. Hiller said in an interview this morning.
Read more here.

* No word yet on Newsday, but 45 (10 in the newsroom) at the Hartford Courant , 45 at the Baltimore Sun, 100 at the Chicago Tribune Media Group ( RedEye, Hoy, and others). Everyone that's going has to be out be March 31.

** Union leaders not surprised E&P

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The deep (LAT) divide

Zell may have excited some, outraged others, but one thing is for sure according to The New York Observer, "his guarantee of change only further undersored the newsroom deepest division: the debate over who should replace Mr. O'Shea as the paper's lead editor. On this issue, the paper is literally torn in two."

“It’s a battle over the heart and soul of the newspaper,” said Jeffrey Rabin, a transportation reporter and 20-year veteran at the paper. “What is the L.A. Times? The place is in a panic, it has been for some time and that’s why the choice of who’s going to be editor is so interesting. John [Arthur] represents one school, Russ [Stanton] represents the other school.”
A ship without a rudder is enough to make everyone run for a life jacket. Newsrooms with bargaining contracts in place tend to have more stability during rough, changing times. The captain of our ships (and the owners, too) change all the time, but unionized folks have less to wring their hands over during regime changes, though all would agree that everyone has a stake in who the new editor (or owner) is and the direction he/she will take the paper.

Even with a union contract, the ultimate decision comes from the top. Let's hope the new editor isn't one of Zell's business buddies.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Ok for him, but not for you

Away for a day, and look what we almost missed: LAObserved has the memo from LAT managers that follows up on yesterday's editorial meeting held to address "concerns of some Times staffers about Zell's comments."

It's not good judgment to use profane or hostile language and we can't tolerate that. Looking at pornography on the job, unless in pursuit of a story, also is not good judgment. We need to maintain an open workplace where everyone feels free to contribute without fear of discrimination or threat of harassment.
Yeah, allowing a hostile work environment to exist is in violation of federal law. Issuing that memo may be an attempt to avoid the obvious potential for lawsuits. 

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Another reader heard from

An Orlando Sentinel reader's response to a Sunday column describing Zell's profanity-laced meeting with the staff and his idea of what readers want :

If someone were to ask me, I'd start by saying that I want my paper to arrive dry, on time, and within 5 feet of my front door. I would pay extra for a paper that prints items that really affect my existence. Not what the latest heinous crime is, but what I need to know to prevent it in my neighborhood. I'd peruse the overseas story with the local connection. I'd even dare to read the occasional gossip that makes me feel grateful for what I have.

What leaves me and my neighbors scratching our heads is when we see headlines trumpeting news of economic hard times. Regular people with middle- and lower-class incomes knew that years ago. Maybe someone should have asked us then.

 Perhaps Mr. Zell can sell a few more papers by taking the time to step out of his tent and listen to what people want.
We think its a pretty good bet that readers and advertisers would not have fled our pages in droves if newspaper owners listened more to the community than it does to Wall Street. 

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Monday, February 11, 2008

LAT readers react to Zell's vulgar comments

Sam Zell's coarse language is not getting a pass from readers:

"Mr. Zell sounds like the typical cranky old billionaire who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing ... I do hope that the writer of the report, Molly Selvin, doesn't get reprimanded for being a journalist, something about which Mr. Zell seems to be clueless as he wanders about the newspaper office in the fog of business profits, knocking down the furniture of good journalism and community service."

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Thursday, February 7, 2008

Zell checks in at the LAT* **

Kevin Roderick has some "second-hand via sources" info on Zell's visit with Los Angeles Times staff, along with a copy of a weird email Zell sent to his "fellow employees" .... LAObserved

* Visit was "wildly entertaining" with a "lot of laughter and a lot of clapping. A lot of good energy." The New York Observer

Okay. Aside from getting his view on Jim O'Shea's parting shot ("he pissed all over the company where he worked for 30 years") and a green light to visit your favorite porn sites (as long as you're productive — no pun intended, we guess), no word on a new executive editor or when more cuts might be made? (Corporate cuts, that is.)

Hey, we don't like to see anyone lose their job, but in this difficult economic climate it does seem to make better sense to hang on to the experienced content-gatherers and their support teams — the heart and soul of every successful media company — by reducing some "corporate layers" at Tribune Tower.

** New editor to be announced next week, reports a Times pressman via LAObserved

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Wednesday, February 6, 2008

New employee handbook isn't original *

New Tribune EVP Randy Michaels, hand-picked by Zell to head up Tribune's internet and broadcast divisions appears to have brought more than just his controversial self to the executive suites: he brought along his employee handbook.

Michaels was formerly CEO of Local TV LLC, a broadcast holding company that partnered a deal in December with Tribune to form a third-party broadcast management company. According to reports, he has a very lucrative past association with Zell from a 1990s radio company business deal.

According to this December Chicago Tribune story, Michaels "generates extreme reactions. His critics say he is a cost-cutter, an aggressive boss who doesn't like to lose and a man who cut the heart and soul out of local radio stations to boost the bottom line."

Does he swear at his staff too?

*This Thing Looks Like That Thing

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Monday, February 4, 2008

Zell: 'F-You'*

Sam Zell's foul-mouth bluntness was on display last week when he visited the Orlando Sentinel newsroom and got hit with a question he didn't like. In response to pointed questions from a photographer about softening news coverage:

The journalist in the video asked where the paper's journalism was headed, and Zell said journalists needed to focus on what readers want, thus helping generate revenue to reinvest in the paper.

The journalist then followed up, saying readers want "puppy dogs" rather than real information. Zell took umbrage, delivering the eminently quotable line, "you're giving me the classic... journalistic arrogance of deciding that puppies don't count."

Zell dropped his F-bomb a few breaths later, at the very end of his answer.
Watch the video here.

Thick skins are needed when questioning (Zell) authority (New Employee Handbook, Part 2, #8). At least he apologized for his offensive language.

*Challenge authority, if you dare. "This is not the way to align anyone to your vision," said Warren Bennis, a USC business professor and co-author of "Judgment: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls." "Zell made the fundamental error of any change agent, which is you've got to have a reservoir of goodwill." LAT
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