Saturday, August 16, 2008

Tribune axes more than 40 newsroom staffers


The Chicago Tribune on Friday laid off more than 40 newsroom employees -- twice the number many people had expected -- as part of the Tribune Co.'s plan to cut $8.8 million in salaries and benefits at the 161-year-old newspaper.

The cuts, combined with more than 30 journalists' voluntary departures a week ago, left the Tribune with 70 fewer newsroom positions. The newsroom now has 480 staffers.

Mark Hinojosa, associate managing editor for multimedia, confirmed Friday that he was laid off after working for the Tribune for 17 years.

Hinojosa, who will turn 52 on Sunday, described the mood in the newsroom as tense since Tribune executives announced July 25 that layoffs were planned.

"Everyone was grieving for their friends and colleagues who have now left," Hinojosa said.

In a memo Friday, Tribune Editor Gerould W. Kern said, "While painful, these staff reductions are necessary to establish the foundation for a sustainable future."

The journalists laid off will get an allocation to their cash balance account equal to one week's pay for each consecutive period of six weeks of service, with a minimum of three months and a maximum of 52 weeks, according to Kern's memo.

Real estate magnate and billionaire Sam Zell swallowed $13 billion in debt last December when he took control of Tribune Co., converting it from stockholder to employee ownership.

Last week, the Tribune Co., dealing with an industrywide recession and a mountain of debt, reported a $4.53 billion net loss in the second quarter, primarily due to $3.84 billion in charges to write down the value of goodwill assets. The asset write-downs included the Times-Mirror Co newspapers that Tribune acquired eight years ago.


Meet the newest L.A. Times publisher

By Kevin Roderick • BioEmail LA Observed

The reports — starting, I believe, with Cynthia Littleton in Variety back in July — have all been accurate. Up next in the rotating chair of Los Angeles Times publisher is Eddy Hartenstein, the former head of DirecTV. Tonight's Times story says he will take over on Monday. Hartenstein says he was approached by Sam Zell about a month ago and took the job after being assured by Zell that the Times is NOT for sale. "One of the questions I asked Sam was: Are you going to keep this?" Hartenstein told the Times. The answer "was a strong, affirmative 'Yes. This is a keeper.' "

The Times story notes that Hartenstein takes over "at a time when The Times and most other newspapers are losing readers and advertising revenue at a significant rate. Some observers are even questioning whether the newspaper business as currently constituted can survive." But the new publisher, who is 57 and grew up in Alhambra, says "I'm not coming into this with blinders on. I realize that the problems are huge and daunting, but I don't believe there's anything that can't be fixed as long as everyone is pulling in the same direction."

While pursuing a master's in applied mechanics at Caltech in his spare time, Hartenstein was moving up the ladder at Hughes and germinating an idea that would shake up the television industry: using satellites and digital technologies to deliver programming to viewers' homes. Not only would the sound and picture be sharper, satellite TV would make an end run around local cable monopolies, he reasoned. In the early '90s, Hartenstein persuaded his bosses at GM to finance the venture that would become DirecTV Group Inc. In 1994, DirecTV revolutionized the satellite TV business when it introduced a small receiving dish that could be mounted on a rooftop or apartment balcony, eliminating the need for the wading-pool-sized backyard dishes that had been the standard until then.

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