Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Los Angeles Times cuts 10% of editorial staff

by Staff, Brand Republic 28-Oct-08, 11:55

LOS ANGELES - Tribune Co's Los Angeles Times has cut 10% of its editorial staff, laying-off 75 employees as part of a 200-person reduction that began last week.

The staff cuts come on top of earlier reductions made this year, including 100 lay-offs in February, which included 40 editorial staff, followed by 135 newsroom lay-offs in July after the newspaper trimmed its page count.

A total of 660 employees are left in the Times editorial team, nearly half the amount it had seven years ago.

In a statement, publisher Eddy W Hartenstein, said: "The Times is no less immune to the twists and turns of the current economic situation than virtually all other businesses and institutions. As such, we continue to evaluate and realign our organisations and operations."

Since entrepreneur Sam Zell took over Tribune last year, the company has eliminated 2,000 jobs in an effort to cut sagging debt.

The announcement comes a week after the New York Times had its stock status downgraded to "junk", meaning that the newspaper would struggle to secure financial backing in the future. However, editor Bill Keller told The New York Observer today that there would be no immediate staff cuts at the NYT.

In the UK, the Financial Times is considering laying-off up to 60 staff.
Job losses are also on the horizon at the Daily Mail after Associated Newspapers announced that it would be merging its Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday sales teams last week.

Yesterday, Midlands News Association announced 120 lay-offs as it merged the business functions of two of its papers.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Incredibly, Deep New Cutbacks At L.A. Times

Kevin Roderick LA Observed

This is a breaking situation this afternoon. Editors met over the weekend to get the word and to refine their lists. 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.

When new publisher Eddy Hartenstein took over in August, right after the last round of deep cuts, he was asked repeatedly about the prospect of new layoffs, and according to a first-hand report I passed along then:

The question of more layoffs was posed in half a dozen different ways and he said he hadn't been given a target number for the staff, that Sam Zell told him to run the place, etc., etc. He did say (as did Mark Willes and Sam Zell) that we can't cut our way to prosperity.

I've emailed Hartenstein and Times spokeswoman Nancy Sullivan some questions about what has changed since August and the extent of this round of cutbacks. My sources say the newsroom staffing level is headed to about 650, but I don't know if that includes the decimation of the Washington bureau expected by many there after the November election.

Associate Editor for features Leo Wolinsky held a meeting with his staff shortly amid strong rumors that he is leaving. Wolinsky confirmed to his people that he's out, citing staff reorganization. Wolinsky, you'll remember, moved over into the features job during the March buyout wave after years as the page one editor under a few different titles.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Tribune keeping ahead of massive debt load

By Ameet Sachdev Chicago Tribune reporter
October 3, 2008

Investors that made big bets on newspapers in recent years are struggling with their balance sheets as advertising revenues continue to fall.In recent days, Avista Capital Partners, a New York private-equity firm that paid $530 million for the Star Tribune in Minneapolis last year, said the paper has stopped making debt payments. Creative Loafing Inc., a Tampa-based alternative newspaper chain that bought the Chicago Reader in 2007, filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition.

Newspaper publisher McClatchy Co., which acquired Knight Ridder in 2006, avoided potential default by renegotiating its agreement with lenders.

The situation, for the moment, is not so dire at Chicago-based Tribune Co., debt analysts said. The financial turmoil has led to a spike in short-term interest rates that could pressure the company's cash flow, but it has more financial flexibility than some of its media brethren."Tribune has some breathing room," said Dave Novosel, an analyst at Gimme Credit, a Chicago-based bond research house. "There's nothing imminent that would necessitate a renegotiation of [lending] terms."

The diversified media company, which owns the Chicago Tribune, went private in December in an $8.2 billion buyout led by Chicago real estate billionaire Sam Zell that increased its debt to almost $14 billion.

At the end of the second quarter, Tribune Co.'s debt was $12.5 billion after asset sales, including control of Newsday in Long Island. But confidence is shaky over whether Tribune Co. will be able to repay debt long term. Its debt is rated at non-investment, or junk, and some loans trade at about 50 cents on the dollar.

Rising interest rates could cost the company nearly $100 million more annually, according to analysts, putting more pressure on the company to sell the Chicago Cubs by the end of 2008 or early next year. Debt analysts and investors are counting on Tribune Co. to execute that deal in that time frame because of a looming debt payment of nearly $600 million in June, as well as tighter lending requirements in 2009. Some predict a package of the Cubs, Wrigley Field and related broadcast properties could fetch more than $1 billion. Some of the proceeds are expected to be used to pay off the June loan.

A Tribune Co. spokesman declined to comment.Without a timely sale of the Cubs, Tribune Co. would have to consider selling other assets to meet the conditions of its loans. While newspaper properties are declining in value, Tribune Co., unlike some other media companies, has other attractive assets, including broadcast stations, real estate and a stake in the Food Network cable channel.

Zell has indicated Tribune Co. is on track to pick a winning bidder in its Cubs auction by year's end. Prospective buyers include Mark Cuban, owner of the National Basketball Association's Dallas Mavericks; the Ricketts family, founder of Omaha-based online brokerage Ameritrade; Hersch Klaff, a Chicago real estate investor; and two New York private-equity investors.

Tribune has not set a deadline for the next round of bids, according to sources close to the transaction.It's too early to tell whether the credit crisis will have an impact on a Cubs deal. "Even in today's constricted environment, I'm pretty confident [Zell] can get a deal done," Novosel said.


Thursday, October 2, 2008

Local NBC stations seeing 'tremendous effect' from U.S. financial crisis

From Bloomberg News

The downturn has hurt the stations, 'whose businesses were highly dependent' on auto and retail ads, NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker says. Sales at the national level have yet to be affected.

NBC Universal's local television stations are seeing a "tremendous effect" from the economic climate, though advertising sales haven't been hurt at the national level yet, Chief Executive Jeff Zucker said Friday.The economic downturn in the U.S. has had a "profound effect on our local television stations, whose businesses were highly dependent on auto" industry and retail advertising, Zucker said at a conference in London."We haven't seen an advertising slowdown on a national level yet in the United States, but it's obviously something that I'm concerned about," Zucker said. "If you're not concerned about it, you are in denial about what's going to happen in the next 12 months."

The U.S. is suffering the biggest financial meltdown since the Great Depression, which is likely to hurt consumer spending and the economy. NBC Universal, 80% owned by Fairfield, Conn.-based General Electric Co. and 20% by Paris-based Vivendi, is seeing the effects on its businesses, particularly theme parks, Zucker said.The company is bolstering its international business to produce movies and shows for specific local audiences.

On Aug. 20, NBC Universal said it agreed to buy London-based Carnival Film & Television Ltd. and the library rights to its titles. Carnival produces "Hotel Babylon" for British Broadcasting Corp. and "Midnight Man" for ITV."Carnival gave us a jump-start to hit the ground running," he said. Overseas operations are "an opportunity to correct the cost structure that exists in the United States," Zucker said.

Asked whether he's "waving a checkbook" at international producers, Zucker said he's "not here with a checkbook today."NBC Universal will "look at opportunities as they come up," Zucker said, though he would "like to see this grow organically."On Thursday, GE reduced its annual profit forecast for the second time this year and suspended its stock buyback.

Zucker said GE's commitment to NBC Universal in the last 16 months had been "profound.""They've invested more than $2 billion in the last 16 months alone," he said. "So I think GE's commitment to NBC Universal has been rock-solid."

Tribune's Financial Woes Reflect Overall Market Trends

James Erik Abels and Tom Van Riper

Sam Zell's Tribune Co. (nyse: TRB - news - people ), now famous for a $8.2 billion buyout deal last year that boosted the company's debt to more than $12 billion, about six times its market cap has big financial woes. But despite those numbers, some finance insiders think Zell's creditors will keep betting on him even if the advertising market tightens further because of his willingness to sell off assets and cut operating expenses.

The cash-starved New York Sun went under Monday and Wednesday the Minneapolis Star Tribune said it was skipping a $9 million quarterly debt payment, prompting worries of a potential bankruptcy.

Standard & Poor's Wednesday put newspaper giant Gannett (nyse: GCI - news - people ) on credit watch, concerned revenue declines could accelerate at the newspaper giant. The company downplayed the move in a statement with CEO Craig Dubow saying its "underlying fundamentals remain strong."

With the nation's financial system in the grips of a credit crunch, Gannett and the rest of the already-weak newspaper industry are in a tough spot. With sinking credit ratings and tight debt markets will make it tougher for them to invest and survive.

At a Baa3 rating, the New York Times' debt rating isn't junk--yet. The company is hoping that recent consolidation of production facilities and plans for staff reductions will bring enough cost savings to reduce its $1.1 billion debt load. The tough market for selling newspapers may make that impossible.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


San Francisco Bay Guardian

At the SPP meeting in Ottawa, Canada, on February 23, 2007, Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez met with Canadian Ministry of Industry Maxime Bernier, Mexican Secretary of the Economy Eduardo Sojo, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Peter MacKay, Mexican Secretary of External Affairs Patricia Espinosa Castellano, Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, Canadian Minister of Public Safety Stockwell Day, and Mexican Secretary of the Interior Francisco Javier Ramirez Acuna.

Coupling the perennial issue of security with Wall Street's measures of prosperity, the leaders of the three North American nations convened the Security and Prosperity Partnership. The White House–led initiative — launched at a March 23, 2005, meeting of President Bush, Mexico's then-president Vicente Fox, and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin — joins beefed-up commerce with coordinated military operations to promote what it calls "borderless unity."

Critics call it "NAFTA on steroids." However, unlike NAFTA, the SPP was formed in secret, without public input.

"The SPP is not a law, or a treaty, or even a signed agreement," Laura Carlsen wrote in a report for the Center for International Policy. "All these would require public debate and participation of Congress, both of which the SPP has scrupulously avoided."

Instead the SPP has a special workgroup: the North American Competitiveness Council. It's a coalition of private companies that are, according to the SPP Web site, "adding high-level business input [that] will assist governments in enhancing North America's competitive position and engage the private sector as partners in finding solutions."

The NACC includes the Chevron Corporation, Ford Motor Company, General Electric, Lockheed Martin Corporation, Merck & Co. Inc., New York Life Insurance Co., Procter & Gamble Co., and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

"Where are the environmental council, the labor council, and the citizen's council in this process?" Carlsen asked.

A look at NAFTA's unpopularity among citizens in all three nations is evidence of why its expansion would need to be disguised. "It's a scheme to create a borderless North American Union under US control without barriers to trade and capital flows for corporate giants, mainly US ones," wrote Steven Lendman in Global Research. "It's also to insure America gets free and unlimited access to Canadian and Mexican resources, mainly oil, and in the case of Canada, water as well."

Sources: "Deep Integration," Laura Carlsen, Center for International Policy, May 30, 2007; "The Militarization and Annexation of North America," Stephen Lendman, Global Research, July 19, 2007; "The North American Union," Constance Fogal, Global Research, Aug. 2, 2007.

Security and Prosperity Partnership Of North America

SPP Background

The Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (SPP) was launched in March of 2005 as a trilateral effort to increase security and enhance prosperity among the United States, Canada and Mexico through greater cooperation and information sharing.

This trilateral initiative is premised on our security and our economic prosperity being mutually reinforcing. The SPP recognizes that our three great nations are bound by a shared belief in freedom, economic opportunity, and strong democratic institutions.

The SPP provides the framework to ensure that North America is the safest and best place to live and do business. It includes ambitious security and prosperity programs to keep our borders closed to terrorism yet open to trade.

The SPP builds upon, but is separate from, our long-standing trade and economic relationships.

It energizes other aspects of our cooperative relations, such as the protection of our environment, our food supply, and our public health.

Looking forward, President Bush, Prime Minister Harper and President Fox identified emergency management; influenza pandemics, including avian influenza; energy security; and safe and secure gateways (border security and facilitation) as key priorities for the SPP. The Leaders also announced the creation of North American Competitiveness Council to fully incorporate the private sector into the SPP process.

Prosperity Agenda
Prosperity Working Groups
Security Agenda
SPP Documents and Useful Links
SPP Comment Form
White House SPP Fact Sheet March 31, 2006

Joint Statement by Ministers Responsible for the Security and Prosperity of North America
Los Cabos, MexicoFebruary 28, 2008
Carlos Gutierrez, Secretary of Commerce, United StatesMichael Chertoff, Secretary of Homeland Security, United StatesEduardo Sojo, Secretary of Economy, MexicoJuan MouriƱo, Secretary of Interior, MexicoJim Prentice, Minister of Industry, CanadaStockwell Day, Minister of Public Safety, Canada