Saturday, November 29, 2008

Showdown Looms Over 'Card Check' Union Drives

The Wall Street Journal

WASHINGTON -- While Washington debates how much unions are to blame for Detroit auto makers' woes, a broader face-off is brewing between labor and employers.

The stakes in the struggle went up Tuesday, as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said it will spend about $10 million in the coming months to fight legislation that would allow workers to organize without a secret ballot vote. Such "card check" organization drives are a top priority of union leaders, who want President-elect Barack Obama and a Democratic Congress to enact legislation easing union-organizing rules.

Randel Johnson, vice president for labor, immigration and employee benefits at the Chamber, said defeating the measure was the lobby group's top priority in the coming session of Congress, and he described the coming fight in Congress over the issue as a "firestorm bordering on Armageddon."

Mr. Johnson also took aim at the United Auto Workers, saying the union must accept cuts to health-care and pension benefits if the unionized Detroit auto makers are to win a federal bailout.

"There's no secret about the entitlement-cost overhead the auto makers are sustaining," Mr. Johnson said. "It's got to be looked at if they're going to survive."

The auto-industry bailout, card check and other items on labor's agenda cut to a signature Obama issue: how to produce more gains for middle-class Americans, whose wages have largely stagnated during the past decade. The coming debate of worker-employer issues also will turn on questions about whether companies can be adaptable enough to compete in a global economy if they also have strong unions.

Union leaders say giving workers more power through collective bargaining and labor-friendly federal rules is critical to Mr. Obama's effort to boost the economy by raising living standards for the middle class.

Union membership dropped to 12% of the labor force last year from 20% in 1983, the earliest year that the Bureau of Labor Statistics uses for its comparisons.

"We're looking to restore the law the way it was in 1935," Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern said in a recent meeting with reporters, referring to the current card-check debate. Mr. Stern says employers want to keep their power, but giving workers an easier path to organizing will help the economy by creating a more equitable distribution of wealth. Mr. Stern points out that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has attributed some wealth inequality to lower rates of unionization.

Employers, led in Washington by the Chamber, counter that returning to New Deal-era unionism will make the U.S. less competitive, and they point to the travails of Detroit's unionized auto makers. But James Galbraith, an economist at the University of Texas at Austin, said "unionization and competitiveness are not incompatible." He cited the aerospace and oil industries as examples where the two coexist. "You can't say the decline of the auto industry is due to the strength of the UAW," he added.

Many Republicans in Congress have expressed opposition to both the proposed Detroit bailout and the Employee Free Choice Act, which is how the card-check measure is officially known.

"There are a lot of legacy issues, some of which management has created, some of which labor has created," said Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.), referring to the troubled auto companies. "Going ahead there's going to be this balance-of-power issue" between unions and managements in the U.S. "One of the most destructive things I think could happen between labor and management ahead is this card-check issue."

After Congress decides on the Detroit bailout and the card-check proposal, unions have more measures they will press to get passed.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2007, approved by the House but blocked in the Senate, would effectively eliminate the statute of limitations on pay-discrimination lawsuits, making it easier for workers to sue their employers over unequal pay. The proposal is named for a woman whose suit for back pay was denied because the courts ruled she had waited too long to file her claim.

The Healthy Families Act would improve paid sick leave for union workers. The Respect Act -- Respect is an acronym for Re-Empowerment of Skilled and Professional Employees and Construction Tradeworkers -- would sharply limit which workers are classified as supervisors, a boon to unions, which now can't organize supervisors under federal law.

Some in union circles talk of trying to reverse the Right to Work laws that are enforced in 22 states, which forbid unions and employers to make union membership or dues a condition of employment.

Unions also will play a big role in debates over health care and trade agreements.

Employers are waiting to see just how supportive of unions Mr. Obama and the Democrats will be, while sending a message that the president-elect will need business backing to succeed.

"We understand that we're in a congressional environment right now that's going to be difficult for us. It's not just the unions being emboldened, but it's also the Democrats," said Marc Freedman, director of labor-law policy for the Chamber of Commerce in Washington, which represents more than three million businesses and organizations.

If Mr. Obama, who has said he favors card check, pushes it through Congress and quickly signs it in office, "it will dramatically undermine the Obama administration having any kind of cooperative relationship with the employer community," he said.

—Corey Boles contributed to this article.

Write to Melanie Trottman at

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Abrams: Tribune Should Study USA Today's Success

by Bob Norman
The Daily Pulp

We have the latest think piece from Tribune Co. Innovation Chief Lee Abrams and it's another doozy. I can't begin to capture the Abrams vibe, but here are some highlights:

-- He proposes to "blow up" an underperforming TV station in the Tribune chain and totally "rethink" the medium. His ideas include counting down stories and putting a timer to show viewers what's coming up (both of which are already staples of some cable news programs). He wants the news program to include a "Crime Center." Abrams also suggests going to one anchor to kill the "mindless happy talk" and interviewing people on the street.

"Every day, an average person is interviewed about top stories," Abrams writes. "We've heard what the experts think, lets open it up to REAL people. This could be red hot. What the average citizen's take on the topics is."

Finally he wants to get the talent out of all those stodgy suits: "What with the suits and ties. I'm not suggesting sloppy...but business casual...maybe even eccentric as the Crime expert could be in a Columbo styled rumpled sweater."

-- Abrams details the Hartford Courant's plan for inauguration coverage, which will include a "ten-day countdown," an "MLK day," and a poem commissioned from African American poet Marilyn Nelson.

-- Saying it might "rankle traditionalists," he links an Advertising Age story about USA Today headlined "Why Brevity and Pretty, Pretty Colors Still Work," telling Tribune staffers "it never hurts to study success."

Abrams says "Part of the scenario is that there's SO much pressure to meet revenue goals that the content re-invention is off the radar. Cant worry about that when there are more pressing issues. Well, as with our newspapers, it's never been more important to re-invent CONTENT and HOW WE EXECUTE, in ADDITION to the extreme revenue pressures... *BLOW IT UP. OK, not where it's performing well, but I think maybe we need to isolate a station that is NOT doing well and do a complete re-think..."

"TOP 10. Number the stories. Give them a "handle" "In tonight's Top Ten: #1 Obama announces he's a Muslim; #2 Pirates sink US Sub; #3 etc......

*LEFT/RIGHT: We are in a polar political society. This is Pure 100% argument starting tension. A local Shana Alexander thing. No shortage of topics.

*CLASSIC NEWS: A 5 years ago, 10 years ago flashback segment. Classic works in EVERY media...why not TV. Mine the archives!

*HOME MOVIES: A daily local YouTube.

NEWSPAPERS: What if we REALLY balanced;

*Great writing
*Story selection that was always dead on the mark
*Stunning design
*Edgy and noticeable marketing
*Realistic staffing levels
*Competitive focus (beyond getting the story first...I'm talking re-claiming news dominance to the mainstream)
*Web Interaction that was, well, really web interaction
*Technological advances that rival the pure tech businesses
*Ad Sales that were revenue machines."

See it is in its entirety:

If Tribune had any respect for, and took in to consideration the input from, their broadcast TV employees, particularly the 70% of that are union represented, some actual innovation might happen.

Cutting back on quality control, cutting staff to bare minimums, and generally throwing nickles around like manhole covers is no way to promote innovation.

Dump the CW affiliation, hire the best writers and producers to create quality product, put your experienced station crews to work making quality TV shows.

Take a lesson from USA Network, TBS, Showtime, and Lifetime, and while you're at it hire away some of their creative staff.


More New Research on Failure of U.S. Labor Law just put out 2 new fact sheets to showcase more failures of our current labor law system in protecting workers. The first piece exposes the inadequate penalties employers face for violating the National Labor Relations Act -- particularly in comparison with the penalties that employers face for breaking other types of employment law. The second exposes the millions of workers --nearly 1/4 -- who are denied legally-protected collective bargaining rights. Summaries below. -

The Inadequate Costs of Labor Law Violations

Employers have little incentive to abide by the National Labor Relations Act, as the costs of violating the law are minimal. Though many employers violate the NLRA, its scant deterrents fail to prevent employer lawlessness. Its ineffectiveness becomes even more apparent when compared to the fines and damages that exist for violations of other federal employment laws. Our analysis of these discrepancies reveals the need for the Employee Free Choice Act, which would toughen penalties on those who break the NLRA.

If passed, the Employee Free Choice Act will address the insufficient law by increasing penalties on those who break the law and giving workers the just compensation they deserve.

See Charts at:

The Haves and the Have Nots: How American Labor Law Denies a Quarter of the Workforce Collective Bargaining Rights

The right to organize and bargain collectively under the protection of law is the bedrock upon which workers are able to form or join a labor union. American labor law has not kept pace with the changing nature and face of the modern workplace and increasingly excludes more and more workers from this legal protection. Increasing numbers of employees have a supervisory aspect or capacity of their work. More and more immigrants join the workforce, especially in the agricultural sector, and more people have been classified as independent contractors, whether by choice or by an employer’s decision. As these changes take place, American labor law denies these workers their legally-protected right to form unions and collectively bargain by either defining workers as not employees or by expressly excluding them.

With the election of a pro-worker president and greater pro-worker majorities in Congress, the political conditions are ripe for addressing the problem of a diminishing population of workers with protected union rights. Congress could clarify or expand the definition of “employee” under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to better reflect the realities of today’s workforce. Several bills have been introduced that would restore collective bargaining rights to employees wrongly categorized as supervisors, independent contractors, and students, and would strengthen the law’s protections of immigrant workers. Additionally, President-elect Obama could appoint members to the National Labor Relations Board and judges to the federal courts to better uphold the NLRA’s mission to promote collective bargaining, and reverse the course of the Bush Administration to narrow the law’s coverage.

This report provides an accurate, up-to-date analysis of the number and type of workers without collective bargaining rights, as well as recent trends in the workforce and legal rulings that have impacted that number. There are 140.5 million people in the civilian workforce. Our research found that of these employees, 33.5 million, or 23.8%, have no rights under the NLRA or any other labor law: no legally-protected right to join or form a union, no legally-protected right to bargain collectively for their wages and conditions of work, and therefore, effectively no freedom of association in the workplace.

The granting of collective bargaining rights differs by sector, industry, and state:

The NLRA excludes various categories of workers from coverage: supervisors and managers, small business employees, independent contractors, agricultural workers, domestic workers, and most public employees.
While workers in some of these categories have been granted rights under various state and local statutes, some recent Supreme Court decisions and choices by large employers in effect deprive more and more employees of collective bargaining rights or their meaningful exercise.

Among public employees, 15.7 million (or 74.5% of all public employees) have been granted rights, whereas 5.4 million (or 25.5%) are without collective bargaining rights.

Among private sector employees, 101.1 million (or 85%) have collective bargaining rights. By contrast, 17.8 million private employees (15%) have no right to collective bargaining with their employers.

How American Labor Law Denies a Quarter of the Workforce Collective Bargaining Rights

» Download Executive Summary (PDF)
» Download Full Report (PDF)

The right to organize and bargain collectively under the protection of law is the bedrock upon which workers are able to form or join a labor union. American labor law has not kept pace with the changing nature and face of the modern workplace and increasingly excludes more and more workers from this legal protection. Increasing numbers of employees have a supervisory aspect or capacity of their work. More and more immigrants join the workforce, especially in the agricultural sector, and more people have been classified as independent contractors, whether by choice or by an employer’s decision. As these changes take place, American labor law denies these workers their legally-protected right to form unions and collectively bargain by either defining workers as not employees or by expressly excluding them.

With the election of a pro-worker president and greater pro-worker majorities in Congress, the political conditions are ripe for addressing the problem of a diminishing population of workers with protected union rights. Congress could clarify or expand the definition of “employee” under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to better reflect the realities of today’s workforce. Several bills have been introduced that would restore collective bargaining rights to employees wrongly categorized as supervisors, independent contractors, and students, and would strengthen the law’s protections of immigrant workers. Additionally, President-elect Obama could appoint members to the National Labor Relations Board and judges to the federal courts to better uphold the NLRA’s mission to promote collective bargaining, and reverse the course of the Bush Administration to narrow the law’s coverage.

This report provides an accurate, up-to-date analysis of the number and type of workers without collective bargaining rights, as well as recent trends in the workforce and legal rulings that have impacted that number. There are 140.5 million people in the civilian workforce. Our research found that of these employees, 33.5 million, or 23.8%, have no rights under the NLRA or any other labor law: no legally-protected right to join or form a union, no legally-protected right to bargain collectively for their wages and conditions of work, and therefore, effectively no freedom of association in the workplace.

The granting of collective bargaining rights differs by sector, industry, and state:

The NLRA excludes various categories of workers from coverage: supervisors and managers, small business employees, independent contractors, agricultural workers, domestic workers, and most public employees.
While workers in some of these categories have been granted rights under various state and local statutes, some recent Supreme Court decisions and choices by large employers in effect deprive more and more employees of collective bargaining rights or their meaningful exercise.
Among public employees, 15.7 million (or 74.5% of all public employees) have been granted rights, whereas 5.4 million (or 25.5%) are without collective bargaining rights.
Among private sector employees, 101.1 million (or 85%) have collective bargaining rights. By contrast, 17.8 million private employees (15%) have no right to collective bargaining with their employers.

The number of workers who have either no collective bargaining rights, or no meaningful way to exercise these rights continues to grow. The Supreme Court ruling Hoffman Plastics made it more difficult for immigrant workers to receive restitution when their labor rights are violated. Additionally, decisions by the Bush Labor Board have excluded employees with minimal supervisory duties, disabled janitors, graduate student assistants, newspaper carriers, and other categories of workers from the law’s protections. A growing number of employers like FedEx Ground are misclassifying their employees as independent contractors, thus increasing the number of workers who lack basic protection of their rights.

The broken labor law system in the United States denies too many workers the right to collective bargaining, or does not effectively protect them when they try to exercise this internationally recognized human right. The NLRA, passed decades ago, hasn’t kept up with the dramatic changes in the American economy. It’s time for lawmakers to reform this obsolete law to give employers and workers clarity in determining who is eligible to join or form a union. Until the law changes, millions of workers will continue being denied standard workplace protections, and more importantly, the chance to have a union and improve their standard of living.

IBEW Techs at NBC CH10 Authorize Strike

IBEW Local 98 represented Broadcast Engineers at Philadelphia NBC affiliate CH 10 have voted to strike if their current contract talks with the station reach a stalemate.

The members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98, are upset that the station is trying to do away with seniority.

NBC affiliate CH 10 and Fox 29 recently entered into an agreement to share ENG video footage as a cost saving measure for both Philadelphia TV stations. That arrangement could become problematic in the event of a strike.

Union represented employees at NBC10 and Fox29 are concerned about the video sharing agreement between the two stations. Many are worried that this agreement will result in job cuts.

A few months ago the stations began sharing some helicopter services, then recently it was announced that they would share video for certain events.

The union, which represents around 75 employees at NBC CH 10, has been working without a contract for the last three months.

The same type of situation occurred at CBS CH 3, where the technical employees worked without a contract for two years.

When they authorized a strike, a settlement was reached with CBS CH 3 station management two weeks later.

A Ch 10 spokeswoman declined to comment, citing the station's policy not to discuss personnel and collective bargaining matters.

NLRB to CNN: Rehire workers

National Labor Relations Board finds the network violated labor laws
By Leslie Simmons

Nov 24, 2008, 08:19 PM ET

The National Labor Relations Board has ordered CNN to reinstate more than 100 workers in New York and Washington after finding that the news network violated labor laws when it ended its subcontract agreement with Team Video for camera, studio and engineering work.

In December 2003 and January 2004, CNN ended its long-standing relationship with Team Video and directly hired employees to perform the tech work at the two bureaus. According to the 169-page decision, CNN's goal was to operate the bureaus without a union.

Administrative law Judge Arthur Amchan, however, found that CNN was a joint employer of Team Video Services and was obligated to recognize and bargain with the National Association of Broadcast Employees & Technicians-Communications Workers of America over the decision to terminate the subcontracting relationship, as well as in the hiring of new employees.

Amchan found that CNN engaged in "widespread and egregious misconduct demonstrating a flagrant and general disregard for the employees' fundamental rights."

CNN said it will appeal the decision.

"CNN disagrees with the recommended decision and denies that it violated the National Labor Relations Act," the network said. "CNN plans to appeal this decision to the full NLRB. Because an appeal will be filed, the judge's recommended decision is not enforceable and is not binding."

Amchan's decision also orders CNN to recognize the unions in New York and Washington; retrain those reinstated, if needed; and restore any bargaining work that was outsourced after the Team Video contracts ended.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Screen Actors Guild To Seek Strike Authorization

The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Screen Actors Guild said Saturday it will ask its members to authorize a strike after its first contract talks in four months with Hollywood studios failed despite the help of a federal mediator.

Federal mediator Juan Carlos Gonzalez adjourned the talks between SAG and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers shortly before 1 a.m. after two marathon sessions failed to produce an agreement. No new talks are scheduled.

The SAG, representing more than 120,000 actors in movies, television and other media, said in a statement that it will launch a "full-scale education campaign in support of a strike authorization."

Talks broke down after the studios sought the right to create productions for new media, such as the Internet, using nonunion actors and without paying residuals, said Doug Allen, SAG national executive director and chief negotiator.

Residuals are payments to actors that are made every time a production airs, such as TV reruns. Many SAG members rely on residuals for more than half of their income, Allen said.

"They're asking us to bless a system we believe would be the beginning of the end of residuals, and that's a very scary thought for working actors," he said.

The producers' alliance condemned the SAG decision and said it remains the only major Hollywood guild without a labor deal this year.

"Now, SAG is bizarrely asking its members to bail out the failed negotiating strategy with a strike vote — at a time of historic economic crisis," a producers' statement said. "The tone-deafness of SAG is stunning."

SAG's national board has already authorized its negotiating committee to call for a strike authorization vote if mediation failed. The vote would take more than a month and require more than 75 percent approval to pass.

SAG wants union coverage for all Internet-only productions regardless of budget and residual payments for Internet productions replayed online, as well as continued actor protections during work stoppages.

But the AMPTP said it was untenable for SAG to demand a better deal than what writers, directors and another actors union accepted earlier in the year, especially now that the economy has worsened.

The producers' group this week said it had reached its sixth labor deal this year, a tentative agreement on a three-year contract with the local branches of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts, accounting for 35,000 workers.

The stagehands alliance accepted Internet provisions that were modeled on agreements with other unions, the producers group said.

Actors in prime-time television shows and movies have been working under the terms of a contract that expired June 30, with the hope of avoiding a repeat of the 100-day writers strike which shut down production of dozens of TV shows and cost the Los Angeles area economy an estimated $2.5 billion.

The Screen Actors Guild representative said "Management continues to insist on terms we cannot possibly accept on behalf of our members," the union said in a statement. "We remain committed to avoiding a strike but now more than ever we cannot allow our employers to experiment with our careers."

The AMPTP had no immediate response.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Red Flags Flying at Mega-LBOs


Red Flags Flying After Big Buyouts

Some of the mega-buyouts that private equity shops labored to assemble during the go-go years of the credit boom are coming apart at the seams. These $10 billion-plus deals were usually predicated on expectations that asset prices would rise and debt markets would remain welcoming.

With those hopes dashed, several monster buyouts are starting to fly red flags. Among the biggest, Tribune,looks to be the megadeal most at risk. Sam Zell’s $12 billion buyout of the company, the publisher of The Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune, was financed nearly entirely with debt. Operating cash flow was down by 66 percent in the third quarter. Tribune is on the cusp of breaching its debt covenants, and some of its bonds trade for as little as 9 cents on the dollar. With the advertising market deteriorating in line with the economy, Tribune has few easy options to stabilize its revenue.

Clear Channel, the radio broadcaster, is also deteriorating fast. Bought by Bain and Thomas H. Lee Partners, it has been through the wringer twice. The private equity firms had to pay top dollar to win shareholder approval for their $27.5 billion purchase in mid-2007. Then they were forced to go to court when lenders balked at providing financing. Now, revenue in its radio segment is falling. It was down 7 percent year-over-year in the third quarter, and operating income was down by 20 percent. Citigroup reckons the company’s debt will rise to a crushing 12.5 times cash flow sometime next year.

Many of the problems facing these private companies are shared by their public peers. But leveraged buyouts have less flexibility to weather falling revenue because of their high debt levels. The more lenient debt structures they secured in the good times might buy them some wiggle room. But they do not solve the fundamental business problems that are really threatening the mega-buyouts’ viability.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

CWA-NABET VS CNN Lawsuit Update -The Union Wins!!

The National Labor Relations Board’s Unfair Labor Practice case against CNN and Team Video Services went to Administrative Law Judge Arthur Amchan in October. The ALJ Decision was issued this week. The judge ruled for the union in all respects.

In the scathing 169 page decision, the ALJ finds that CNN and TVS were joint employers, that the CWA-NABET Locals 11 and 31 were legitimate successors, and that those not hired were fired as part of the sham Bureau staffing project.

The judge orders CNN to reinstate the union contracts upon their request, to recognize and bargain with the two CWA-NABET locals, order reinstatement and back pay for the discriminatees, provide training if necessary to the rehired employees, the payment of back dues to Locals 31 and 11 for those employees on checkoff, and the ALJ orders a broad cease and desist order.

The company is also ordered to post notices throughout the workplace and to mail copies of that notice to all persons working at the CNN bureaus at the time the TVS contracts were cancelled.

At every turn, the Administrative Law Judge discredits CNN witnesses and credits the witnesses who testified for the two unions.

While I have not had the time to fully digest the decision, it is clear that this is a complete victory for CWA-NABET.

It’s important to understand that the Judge’s ruling may not be the final chapter, there is an appeals process afforded to the side that loses. The Judge’s ruling is first appealed to the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, D.C. who are appointed by the U.S. President.

Sometime after the next presidential administration takes office, a reconstituted National Labor Relations Board will be appointed pending Senate approval. Until the new board is in place nothing will happen in regards to an appeal.

Following a decision by the Board, the losing side can then appeal to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Each step in the process can be lengthy due to the complexities of this case and the large volume of documents involved. Of course, there’s always the chance that all appeals will not be filed, but if it does, it should not come as a surprise to CWA-NABET members.

Still this ruling is a good thing for labor, it is nice to win one.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

WGA Files for Arbitration, Claims Producers Aren’t Paying New-Media Residuals

By Andrew Krukowski

The Writers Guild of America is filing arbitration against the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers for allegedly failing to comply with the new contract negotiated out of the 100-day strike that shut down Hollywood during the winter of 2007-08, the WGA announced today.

At the heart of the dispute is new-media residuals, which was what originally sent the WGA to the picket lines in January. The WGA said members of the AMPTP have failed to pay residuals for programming sold through electronic downloads, such as through the Apple iTunes store, as well as streaming television shows on the Internet.

“Our agreement with the companies on material released to EST [electronic sell-through] covers feature films produced after July 1, 1971, and television programs produced after 1977,” said John F. Bowman, WGA West Board member and chair of the 2007 WGA Negotiating Committee. “The companies have reneged on this agreement and are taking the position that only programs produced after February 13, 2008, are covered by the new provision. This may be their deal with the DGA, but that was never our agreement. Every proposal we made during negotiations made clear our position that library product was covered, and the AMPTP never objected to that position. The guild will not allow this to stand.”

As for online streaming, the guild said its tracking has shown episodes staying on Web sites longer than the residual-free 17-day window.

“This triggers the payment of a residual, but so far we’ve seen nothing,” said David Young, executive director of the WGA West. “Given the reports by the conglomerates of the growth of the number of shows being streamed and increases in new-media revenues, this is an unacceptable situation.”

“In light of the fact that writers are not being paid for new-media re-use, it’s unconscionable that the AMPTP proclaims on its Web site, ‘By working under an expired contract, SAG members are not receiving the new-media residuals that other guild members are already collecting,’” WGAW President Patric M. Verrone said.

“The companies know what is being streamed, and they regularly announce how successful they are in generating online advertising revenue, so there’s no reason for them not to honor the agreement they made with us,” Mr. Verrone added.

The AMPTP could not be immediately reached for comment.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tribune Perilously Close To Loan Covenant Violations''

Tribune, the newspaper publisher and broadcasting company owned by Sam Zell and loaded with $11.8 billion in debt, is selling assets to help meet its obligations and avoid breaching loan covenants as advertising sales plummet. Novosel said his initial estimate that the Cubs would bring in about $1 billion was already eclipsed by the credit crisis. The lack of available funding may eliminate buyers for other assets as well, he wrote.

The Chicago-based company, which billionaire Zell took private last December, is ``perilously close to covenant violations'' as cash flow dwindles, said Novosel, who recommends selling the 2015 bonds.

Tribune's 5.25 percent notes due in 2015 traded yesterday at 9.875 cents on the dollar to yield 65.8 percent, according to Trace, the bond-trading service of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.

As far as the Cubs are concerned, Zell asked for a new set of bids by Nov. 27. The last time through that process, the bidders were reportedly topped by Mark Cuban's $1.3 billion. But because of liquidity in the economy, that deadline has been scratched, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.

Cuban, the owner of the National Basketball Association's Dallas Mavericks, declined to discuss whether he's still part of the process when asked by via e-mail.

Zell recently said he'd consider keeping 50 percent of the team if that would make it easier for potential buyers to get credit. But his own debt issues running the Tribune Co.'s newspaper empire make that potentially problematic.

Monday, November 17, 2008



By PETER LAURIA, New York Post

Ripples from the economic crisis have spread to television in the form of curtailed spending on new projects.

Already tight-fisted from the migration of viewers and advertising dollars to other mediums, broadcast networks are now cutting development costs in the face of perhaps the most challenging economic environment the TV industry has ever experienced.

That's resulted in fewer pilots being bought and network executives taking fewer risks at a time when television can't afford to remain stagnant.

"It's the toughest development season I've ever seen," said ICM President Chris Silbermann, referring to the June-to-November period during which networks typically buy scripts for the coming year. "Networks are being really cautious and money is really tight, so it's very difficult to get something done."

Added a producer who asked not to be named at the risk of losing the development deals he has pending at a few networks, "There's definitely a heightened scrutiny as to development at the networks that is a direct result of the economy."

The slowdown in deal flow stands in stark contrast to as recently as nine months ago, when the writers' strike ended and networks were greenlighting everything they could find to fill gaping scheduling holes due to the work stoppage.

Despite the current grim mood, though, Silbermann said his shop has sold roughly 100 pilot scripts to broadcast and cable TV networks this year.

While network executives concede that deal volume is down, they say it is more a function of adjusting to new business models than anything else.

"We're sharpening our strategy to fit a new marketplace," said Fox Entertainment President Kevin Reilly. (Fox, like The Post, is owned by News Corp.)

Reilly said moving Fox to a year-round programming schedule has allowed the network to spread out costs and focus development on fewer shows that have a better chance of succeeding.

By contrast, CBS boss Les Moonves said the overall development process at his network hasn't changed much, it's just that they are being smarter about where they are placing bets.

"We're not going to do dumb deals, and we're not going to get into bidding wars," Moonves said.

CBS typically buys 20 pilots per year, but might buy fewer this year because there aren't many slots to fill its schedule.

While cutting back on development saves money, the problem is that it also makes it harder to make money.

It's more economical, for instance, for a network to renew a show that might otherwise be canceled than spend money on a new one. But that strategy misses the potential for a new show to become a hit in favor of playing it safe with a middling old one.

"If you want the premium ad dollars, you've got to spend money and take risks," said a second producer who also asked to remain anonymous so as to not jeopardize some projects he has in network development.

E-mail the author:

Newspapers Jettisoning Top Talent to Cut Costs

By DAVID CARR, The Media Equation

In March 2007, Circuit City came up with a plan to confront softening sales and competition from online and offline retailers: fire the most talented, experienced employees.

Of course, those workers were the retail chain’s single most important point of difference from the legion of Internet retailers and general merchandisers, but in a single stroke, Philip J. Schoonover, the chief executive of Circuit City, wiped out that future.

As a pal of mine used to say when I described a particularly boneheaded course of action I had pursued, “How’d that work out for you, buddy?”

For Circuit City, not so great. The “wage management initiative” erased morale, both for employees and the folks who shopped there. Sales sank after the one-time gain from the layoffs. And last week, the company sought bankruptcy protection.

Mr. Schoonover joined his former employees in the discard box in September, a nice bit of symmetry until you factor in his $1.8 million in severance, $50,000 in outplacement services and a two-year cushion on health benefits. (The clerks axed in Wichita and Tucson got a bit less.)

In the digital age, we’re told, the critical difference between success and failure is human capital — those heartbeats and fast hands that can make a good business great. So are newspapers reacting to their downturn as Circuit City did?

Every day, Romenesko, a journalism blog at the Poynter Institute, is rife with news of layoffs at newspapers, most of the time featuring some important, trusted names. It is not the young fresh faces that are getting whacked — they come cheap — but the most experienced, proven people in the room, the equivalent of the sales clerk who could walk you through a thicket of widescreen television choices to the one that actually works for you.

Using clerks as an analogue may not be the most flattering comparison, but I have always thought of journalism as more craft than profession and tell students that it is the accumulation of experience and technique that makes a journalist valuable, not some ineffable beckoning of the muse.

Right now, the consumer has all manner of text to choose from on platforms that range from a cellphone to broadsheet. The critical point of difference journalism offers is that it can reduce the signal-to-noise ratio and provide trusted, branded information. That will be a business into the future, perhaps less paper-bound and smaller, but a very real business.

Newspapers, which began the race with a huge lead in terms of human assets, may end up just another part of the underinformed commodity of clutter.

“Circulation declines were deeper in the last period, and I have to say that I think it has to do with the quality problems from cuts,” said Ken Doctor, a media analyst at Outsell Inc., a market analysis firm. “It is not just the cutting, but the cutting of more-experienced staff, a kind of slow-motion suicide. Circuit City cut its own throat by not realizing what their competitive advantage is, and newspapers are doing the same thing.”

Last week, Media General, a company that owns newspapers, television stations and Web sites in the Southeast, eliminated 80 positions in Florida, including a prominent columnist and the editorial page editor at The Tampa Tribune. “The Book of Ruth,” a long-running wiseacre feature by the longtime columnist Dan Ruth, will be missed, now and then. He and the editorial page editor, Rosemary Goudreau, follow a political columnist, Joe Brown, the movie critic Bob Ross and the classical music critic Kurt Loft to the exit.

Readers, especially the ones cranky and serious enough to still be buying newspapers, have not missed the trend.

“Fire your best employees and watch your business go out of business, just like Circuit City is finding out right now. Who wants to read old news when one can find quality articles outside of the TampaTribe. Bye Bye TampaTrib, you have fired one too many of your excellent personnel and now I am firing you!” said a reader, Bob, in a comment posted to The Feed blog at, a media blog by Eric Deggans, a media and television reporter at The St. Petersburg Times.

Yes, the revenue picture is grim and growing grimmer. The biggest outlay besides putting the printed artifact on the street is salaries. And journalists tend to get a lot more indignant when the sheet cake and goodbye speeches are being served up on behalf of people who have the same job as they have.

But there is a business argument to be made here. Having missed the implications of the Web and allowed both their content and their audience to be scraped away by aggregators and ad networks, newspapers are now working furiously to maintain audience, build new ad models and renovate presentation. But they won’t stay relevant to readers with generic content ginned up by newbies with no background in the communities they serve.

“Newspapers are aimed at the movers and shakers in a community — the car dealers, the retailers, the restaurant owners,” said Alan D. Mutter, a technology and media consultant who blogs at Reflections of a Newsosaur(

“When they get together and realize that they are looking at the paper, that it is less compelling than it used to be, it creates a vicious cycle of weaker readership and weaker advertising.”

Last week, Sam Zell, a one-man newspaper wrecking crew running the Tribune Company, was interviewed at the FourSquare conference, the annual conclave of media moguls put on by Steve Rattner. I was not there, but I spoke to two people — neither of them journalists — who listened and were appalled by his disregard for his newspapers, including The Chicago Tribune and The Los Angeles Times.

Based on my conversation with those attendees, Mr. Zell, who, through a spokesman, declined to comment, suggested that newsrooms were just so much overhead and that what was ailing the industry was overweening journalistic ambition. I’ve read Mr. Zell’s products since he took over. I’ve seen his handiwork, including laying off Lynell George at The Los Angeles Times and Jeffrey Meitrodt at The Chicago Tribune, just two of the many veterans I happen to know he has sacrificed on the altar of debt service.

Newspapers confront tall, menacing seas in the coming year, but it is a sure bet that the ones that dump the ablest hands on deck will be among the first to sink below the waves.


Friday, November 14, 2008

Fox and NBC Stations to Pool Video News Gathering

Published: November 13, 2008

In a move intended to save money in the economically pressed business of local television news, two stations in Philadelphia owned by NBC and Fox are combining some of their video operations with a plan to provide the service to all the stations owned by each company.

Executives from NBC and Fox compared the arrangement, announced Thursday, to the pool coverage that news outlets use to report on certain events, or to what wire services provide to newspapers.

“It’s really taking pool coverage and expanding it to day-to-day news coverage,” said Jack Abernethy, the chief executive of Fox Television Stations. He said stations could save significantly in such an arrangement, adding that individual stations would not have to each send out “a truck that costs $250,000 or a crew with lights and tripods that cost $40,000 to $50,000.”

Local television stations have experienced sharp decreases in their profit margins as the Internet has cut into their reach with local viewers and many reliable local advertisers, like auto dealers, have been in a severe downturn.

“It’s a tough operating environment,” said John Wallace, the president of NBC Local Media, “This is about cost savings, but it’s also about being smart about local television news.”

The stations involved, NBC’s WCAU and Fox’s WTXF, entered into a pilot arrangement last summer. The idea, Mr. Wallace said, was to create what he called “an independent news gathering group” that would provide video footage to the stations over which they would have editorial control.

The stations will write their own news copy to accompany the pool footage and edit it as they choose, Mr. Wallace said. He added, “It will free up the stations to do more enterprise reporting.”

But it will also enable the stations to cut some staff and curtail other costs. For example, the news service will have its own helicopter, meaning stations will not necessarily have one of their own. “The capital savings will be significant,” Mr. Abernethy said.

The plan is for the service to begin operations in Philadelphia by January and then to expand it to other cities where both companies have stations, like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas and Washington.

Mr. Abernethy said the idea has already attracted interest from competing stations. “We expect to have a template that we could roll out nationally,” Mr. Abernethy said. “Take what we learn in Philadelphia and begin a business around the country.”

Mr. Wallace added, “We see no downside on this.”

Al Primo, a news director in the early days of Eyewitness News at WABC in New York and who now consults on local television issues, said, “I think this is inevitable. It’s a sea change.”

He said that such pool coverage would probably mean a reduction in certain kinds of additional reporting on events that might have the same visuals, like a mayor’s news conference. A station would not be able to add to the pool coverage of the mayor’s comments by interviewing an aide at the scene without also sending a separate truck and crew, which would undermine the cost-savings strategy.

“It’s not ideal,” Mr. Primo said, “but it’s the new reality.”

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Share Your Vision

Hi All,

President-Elect Obama is hard at work getting this country back on track, but he’s counting on input from all of us.

I just wrote in to share my vision for where President-Elect Obama should lead the country, and I thought you might want to do the same:

This is what I wrote:

I'd like to see a country where people can easily join a union and engage in collective bargaining without fear.

I'd like to see the members of the House and Senate have Social Security as their retirement plan.

I'd like to see a cap on executive compensation, bonuses, and severance packages.

I'd like to see a mortgage bailout plan where all mortgages are turned into 40 year, 5% interest notes, with back payments for folks who have fallen behind put on the end, and a six month payment deferral if the mortgage holder is unemployed.

I'd like to see credit card interest rates tied to passbook savings interest with the maximum credit card rate no more than three times the passbook savings payout. So to charge 15% in credit card interest a bank would have to pay 5% to depositors. The maximum credit card rate, including all fees and late charges, should never be greater than 20%.

I'd like to see a law passed that requires all businesses to pay the difference between a person's military pay and their regular salary when they are called up to serve in any branch of the military, with federal funds made available for helping small business and the self employed.

I'd like to help in any way I can. Contact me at or 914-944-9626 if there is anyway I can help.


Bob Daraio

Will Labor Have a Seat at the Table?

An Obama Litmus Test

“Nothing appears more surprising to those who consider human affairs with a philosophical eye, than the ease with which the many are governed by the few.”

—David Hume

With Barack Obama and company poised to take over the White House, organized labor and business groups are paying close attention to the status of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). If enacted, the EFCA would allow workers to join a union simply by signing cards. In other words, if a majority of the employees check “yes,” the workplace automatically becomes a union shop.

As proposed, the EFCA provides employees with a dramatically simpler alternative (referred to as “card-check”) to the traditional method of union certification, a method which—with its many rules, regulations, exceptions, challenges, and other legal maneuvers—has given management an enormous “home field” advantage.

Not only do unions currently have to petition the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board), and go through all the bureaucratic rigmarole, they have to withstand formidable propaganda and disinformation campaigns waged by management, not to mention stalling tactics that can last for months or longer. Some union certification votes have been delayed, literally, for years. So much for workers having a “free choice.”

Understandably, organized labor is thrilled with the EFCA; and equally understandably, Corporate America (led by the Chamber of Commerce, which is lobbying against the measure as furiously as if it were an al-Qaeda initiative) is unnerved by it. Human Resource managers are having recurring nightmares, where they wake up screaming, envisioning 50% of America’s workers wearing union insignia and marching in Labor Day parades.

There has also been some grumbling from libertarian hold-outs who, while strongly in favor of injecting some balance into the raging capitalist juggernaut loose upon the land, balk at abandoning the secret ballot. Although the EFCA would still require a clear majority, there are fears that, without access to secret balloting, employees will be subject to intimidation or bullying.

Labor’s counter-argument: There’s scant evidence that the card-check method (which is already used voluntarily by many companies, including Eisner’s Disneyland) results in intimidation. Indeed, union votes can go either way through card-check. American workers aren’t as shy about stating their opinion as some people would like to think.

In March of 2007, by a vote of 241 to 185, the House of Representatives passed the EFCA. However, because a subsequent vote for cloture—which would have limited debate and moved the measure quickly to a vote—failed in the Senate (cloture requires 60 votes), the EFCA was left to languish. In any event, President Bush, to no one’s surprise, had already promised to veto the legislation, should it pass both houses.

Recently, there has been conjecture over the prospects of the EFCA becoming law. While everyone agrees that President Obama would undoubtedly sign the measure into law if it reached his desk, many have expressed serious doubts as to whether the bill would get that far, despite significant Democratic gains in both the House and Senate.

What’s the basis for these doubts? Simply put, not enough moderate Democrats want this thing to pass. Yes, it was these very Democrats who gave the EFCA their blessings, and yes, it was they who voted for the bill the first time around. But that was when the EFCA had a slim chance of passing and—had it passed—was guaranteed to be killed by a presidential veto.

In truth, a piece of legislation this transparently “pro-labor” is dangerous. A yes-vote could seriously damage these moderates with their constituents back home. Despite all their tough rhetoric and saber-rattling, moderate Democrats are scared shitless of something this big. They’re going to require some coaxing.

The coming months will reveal much about the Obama administration. Depending on how hard White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel pushes to get the EFCA placed on the fast-track—and, once there, how hard he pushes to get it passed—we will be able to gauge the sincerity of the administration’s labor commitment.

If Emanuel, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate leader Harry Reid treat the EFCA as an all-out legislative priority, and do everything in their power to get this landmark bill signed into law, it will mean that organized labor is finally going to have a seat at the table.

Conversely, if the EFCA is buried, or presented without fanfare, or is watered-down to the point of being unrecognizable, it will mean that, once again, the Democratic Party has betrayed organized labor.

It will mean that, once again, the Democrats have accepted labor’s sizeable political donations but failed to deliver on their promises. It will mean they’re traitors. In any event, we’re going to find out soon enough exactly where they stand.

David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright and writer, was a former labor union rep. He can be reached at

Monday, November 10, 2008

Tribune Posts $124 Million Third Quarter Loss, Job Cuts At WPIX

The Tribune Company announced Monday that it had a $124 million loss compared with net income of $84 million in the third quarter of 2007.

Operating revenue for the third quarter decreased 10 percent, to $1 billion. Advertising revenue decreased 19 percent ($111 million), to $584 million, for the quarter. As part of that, interactive revenues dropped 7 percent ($4 million) "due to a decline in classified advertising, partially offset by increases in retail and national advertising."

Retail advertising revenue dipped 10 percent, to $240 million as home furnishings, department stores and other retail segments pull back spending amid weak consumer spending.

Broadcasting and entertainment's third quarter operating revenues decreased 6 percent to $383 million, down from $406 million in 2007. Cash operating expenses increased 8 percent, or $21 million, to $296 million. Operating cash flow was $87 million, down 33 percent from $130 million in 2007.

Television's third quarter operating revenues decreased 8 percent to $264 million in 2008. Television cash operating expenses were up 5 percent, or $10 million, from last year. Television operating cash flow was $64 million, down 34 percent from $98 million in 2007.

The decrease in television revenues in the third quarter of 2008 was due to lower cable copyright royalties and soft advertising demand, partially offset by station revenue share gains in most markets. The third quarter of 2007 included an additional $18 million of cable copyright royalties at Chicago and WGN Cable.

Television cash operating expenses were up $10 million primarily due to severance costs of $3 million as well as increases in broadcast rights expense and news expansion.

Radio/entertainment revenues were up $1 million and operating cash flow decreased $10million primarily due to higher player compensation at the Chicago Cubs and two fewer home games in 2008.

Tribune reported a non-operating pre-tax $79 million gain on the third quarter sale of its 10 percent interest in CareerBuilder to Gannett (NYSE: GCI) for $135 million.

During the quarter, Tribune repaid $888 million of debt using proceeds from the sale of receivables, Newsday and a 10% stake in CareerBuilder. Third-quarter operating costs rose 6.2%, including the $45 million in severance costs, a $25-million software write-off and $14 million in compensation costs related to an incentive plan and the company's stock ownership plan.

Tribune said its debt load increased to $11.8 billion at the end of the third quarter, up from $9.4 billion a year earlier.

The company hopes to sell the Chicago Cubs baseball team by year-end to avoid violating loan covenants. It also plans to sell other sports properties to help pay down its debt.

The company also has been considering selling its Tribune Tower headquarters building in Chicago and the headquarters of the Los Angeles Times, formerly known as Times Mirror Square.

Tribune CEO Sam Zell's entry in the understatement of the week contest:

"We are operating in an exceptionally difficult financial and economic environment.
"The newspaper industry continues to see extraordinary declines in ad revenues, and Tribune is no exception. But, we continue to aggressively pursue our operating strategy, and to tightly manage the factors that are within our control. Internally, we have established momentum on developing new initiatives and our culture now reflects that focus and mindset."

But Zell isn't understating anything when he talks of how aggressively Tribune is moving, as evidenced by the $45 million charge for severance and termination benefits. Nearly all of that went to reducing publishing headcount; overall, the company cut the equivalent of 1,300 full-time positions.

The company's staff reductions are supposed to help offset revenue losses and loan interest of $ 231.8 million dollars per quarter on their 11.8 billion dollar debt. Interest expense has surged 33 percent, to $231.8 million from $175 million a year ago.

This is much like moving the deck chairs around on the Titanic.

At WPIX, Tribune's flagship New York television station, IBEW represented engineers have already lost 2 screening shifts, 21 air control shifts, and 5 post production/floater shifts. An additional 10 shifts were lost due to a retired editor and an open studio relief job not being filled. 5 additional shifts were lost when a Deco operator job was eliminated. This total of 43 lost shifts represents a loss of 8.75 full time IBEW represented positions.

While this IBEW engineer head count reduction was made by eliminating shifts held by freelancers, it is expected that futher cuts could result in a layoff of full time staff IBEW engineers.

TRIBUNE is America's largest employee-owned media company, operating businesses in publishing, interactive and broadcasting.

In publishing, Tribune's leading daily newspapers include the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, Sun-Sentinel (South Florida), Orlando Sentinel, Hartford Courant, Morning Call and Daily Press.

The Company's broadcasting group operates 23 television stations, WGN America on national cable, Chicago's WGN-AM and the Chicago Cubs baseball team.

SOURCES: Tribune Company press release, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal

Watch the video—then sign our petition.

Let's face it. Something's wrong when CEOs rake in hundreds of times what their employees earn, and when workers get the boot just for talking about unions.

It could almost be a bad joke if it weren't such a serious problem. That's why the award-winning producers at Brave New Films joined up with American Rights at Work to make this video. We hope you take a minute to sign our petition after you watch.

Check out the video and take one minute to sign our petition for workers' rights.

In solidarity,

Working Families e-Activist Network

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama Wins: Why All Americans Have a Reason to Celebrate

By Arianna Huffington

Even if your candidate didn't win tonight, you have reason to celebrate. We all do.

Ten months ago, when Obama won in Iowa, we had a glimpse of what was possible and what became real tonight. What I wrote then about one state is now true for the whole country:

Barack Obama's impressive victory says a lot about America, and also about the current mindset of the American voter.

Because tonight voters decided that they didn't want to look back. They wanted to step into the future -- as if a country exhausted by the last seven-plus years wanted to recapture its youth.

And they turned out in unprecedented numbers today to make sure that no amount of scrubbed rolls, malfunctioning machines, endless lines, or polling places running out of ballots would block the way.

The history of America is studded with great breakthroughs -- propelled by leaders such as Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, and Martin Luther King -- followed by decades of consolidation and occasional regression.

The Bush years have clearly been a period of regression. The repudiation of those years is now almost universal. Even conservatives are admitting it; over the course of today, I've received numerous emails from conservatives ending with some variation on "Go Obama!"

In America's journey toward a more just and truly democratic society, tonight is another milestone. And not just because the son of a Kenyan father and a mother from Kansas is now President-Elect. But also because tonight's outcome is a declaration that we are once again a nation more driven by hope and promise than a nation driven by fear.

Bush's re-election in 2004 was a monument to the power of fear. And McCain, his staff stocked with Karl Rove disciples, followed the Bush blueprint and played the fear card again and again.

Be afraid of Obama, the GOP warned us. Be afraid of something new, something different. He would meet with our enemies. His middle name is Hussein. He "pals around with terrorists," consorts with the radicals at Acorn (which is "destroying the fabric of democracy"), and doesn't see America "like you and I see America." A vote for Obama would be "dangerous" and "too risky for America."

The people of America listened, but chose to take the risk. So even if you voted for John McCain; even if you love Sarah Palin, who is still in search of the "pro-American areas of this great nation"; even if are Joe the Plumber - or, hell, even if you are Michele Bachmann - tonight is a night to be proud of America.

Obama's victory holds up a mirror, reflecting the country we are. And it turns out to be the kind of country we've always imagined ourselves being -- even if in the last seven-plus years we fell horribly short: a young country, an optimistic country, a forward-looking country, a country not afraid to take risks or to dream big.

Of course, it will take more than big dreams to help America dig out from the many crises we face. From the global economic crisis to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the day of reckoning is upon us.

But these challenging times also will provide the new president with the opportunity to really transform America. As Gary Hart points out, "Great presidents do not emerge from quiet times; they arise in times of chaos and crisis."

This is an idea that has animated Obama's candidacy from the beginning. As he put it on the stump many times last week:

We began this journey in the depths of winter nearly two years ago, on the steps of the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois. Back then, we didn't have much money or many endorsements. We weren't given much of a chance by the polls or the pundits, and we knew how steep our climb would be. But I also knew this. I knew that the size of our challenges had outgrown the smallness of our politics.

Since that time, the size of our challenges has grown even bigger -- and the smallness of our politics has even downsized McCain from a noble hero to a hack fearmonger.

But over the course of this long and arduous campaign, Obama has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to inspire us to tap into the better angels of our nature -- to stir the American people to expect more of themselves than they otherwise would.

It's a theme Michelle Obama touched on many times on the campaign trail. "Barack Obama will require that you work," she said at a rally on the eve of Super Tuesday. "He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism; that you put down your divisions; that you come out of your isolation; that you move out of your comfort zones; that you push yourself to be better; and that you engage."

This call echoed something that historian and presidential biographer David McCullough had once said about JFK. "The great thing about Kennedy," he told me, "is that he didn't say I'm going to make it easier for you. He said it's going to be harder. And he wasn't pandering to the less noble side of human nature. He was calling on us to give our best."

And when Bobby Kennedy was agonizing over whether or not to run in 1968, he told one of his advisors: "People are selfish. But they can also be compassionate and generous, and they care about the country. But not when they feel threatened. That's why this is such a crucial time. We can go in either direction. But if we don't make a choice soon, it will be too late to turn things around. I think people are willing to make the right choice. But they need leadership. They're hungry for leadership." Forty years later, we are starving for it. Real leadership. Leadership geared to transforming the country.

Tonight is a night to celebrate the victory of a candidate who seized his moment in history and reminded America of its youth and the optimism it longs to recapture. Let's savor it.

The dark years of the Bush regression are almost done. It's time for another American breakthrough.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Tribune D.C. Staffers Bracing For Cuts, Consolidation

By Joe Strupp

NEW YORK With word spreading that the Tribune Washington, D.C., bureau is headed for some major cutbacks and consolidation, staffers there are concerned but not surprised that such changes are in the works.

Although Tribune offered no official word about the pending cutbacks, which are expected to hit the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times D.C. outlets the hardest, those in the bureau are bracing for the worst.

"I am concerned about the big picture and, close to home, what is happening to the Washington bureau," said Frank James, who has been in the Chicago Tribune D.C. office since 1995 and at the Tribune since 1989. "It is something we feared could happen and it is coming to pass in the place we work. Some of us will be out of a job and some of us will be losing colleagues."

James, one of the leaders of the popular Tribune D.C. blog, "The Swamp," commented after a memo from a Times staffer detailing discussions with Times D.C. Bureau Chief Doyle McManus spread across the Web. It predicted layoffs and consolidation. McManus responded online, acknowledging changes were likely, but claiming it was not as dire as some believe.

"I don’t know who is staying; who is going," added James. "I understand what is happening, I don't think it is a surprise."

McManus has been unreachable for comment Monday.

Word of the cuts first surfaced in February when Sam Zell, Tribune Co. chief, visited the bureau and made clear he thought it was too large. Reports of pending cuts have come out in the past week, but no confirmed specifics.

"People understand that the bureau is facing a lot of challenges and this is a response to that," said Naftali Bendavid, an 11-year bureau veteran who has served as acting bureau chief since Michael Tackett left in August to join Bloomberg. "I think this will remain a very strong bureau with a lot of good people."

But Bendavid will not be one of them, having taken a post covering congress for The Wall Street Journal. He leaves Friday and does not know who will take his place or how many of the Chicago Tribune's 15 D.C. staffers will remain.

"It is a change," Bendavid admitted. "It has been changing for some time now. We have been coordinating with the Times for some time. There is no denying there will be a change."

Clarence Page, a syndicated Tribune columnist who works out of the D.C. bureau, lamented the pending cuts, noting "…this place is like the Titanic."

At the bureau since 1991 and a Tribune staffer since 1969, Page said his colleagues are only working harder in the face of such cuts. "None of us feels good," he says. "People are just trying to do their jobs."

Asked how a smaller bureau would affect overall coverage, Page said, "the fewer people you have reporting and digging, the less you are going to learn. You know the folks on Capitol Hill and in the corridors of power are jumping for joy when another bureau is closed or cut back."

Staffers indicate the Times and the Tribune will suffer the worst cuts, with most other Tribune papers in the bureau remaining with the one or two people they now have. "It is an extremely difficult time for all of us," said Maura Reynolds, a six-year Times bureau veteran. "We are all nervous and worried about the state of the industry. It is not easy."

A Times D.C. staffer who requested anonymity added: "the bottom line is that the L.A. Times is going to cease to exist in Washington."

While the D.C. correspondents from the Hartford Courant, Orlando Sentinel and other Tribune papers will likely be less-affected, some of them are concerned about the overall impact on Washington reporting.

"It is tragic and it is terrible to see what's happening here," said Mark Matthews, the lone D.C. reporter for the Sentinel. "We have one of the most momentous elections we have seen and we will have coverage, but then it will change. They are wringing all of the work out of these reporters, then letting them go."

Jesse Hamilton, the only Courant reporter in D.C., is not worried about his position being cut. He adds that it is not a surprise these reductions would occur. "There is nothing sudden about this. We have seen it coming down the line for months."

Joe Strupp ( is a senior editor at E&P.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

WNBC's staff in turmoil as ax falls along with the ratings

Sunday, November 2nd 2008, 12:38 AM

News Channel 4 anchors Chuck Scarborough and Sue Simmons.
Rita, a loyal WNBC/Channel 4 viewer, is fed up.

She's tired of seeing familiar faces disappear, one by one.

"It's almost like you watch the news waiting for the ax to fall on the next person," she said. "I wonder if they're going to be there next week."

She was upset when anchor Rob Morrison left. She was angry learning that Carol Anne Riddell and Carolyn Gusoff would be scaled back on weekends.

And she's not alone. A lot of viewers - and staffers inside Channel 4 - wonder who will be there in the coming months.

Anchor changes are normal, but some of the other stuff going on at the station is not. Channel 4, once the most dominant station in town, is either in a state of total turmoil or in the middle of a smart transition to insure its survival in the digital age.

The answer, of course, is probably somewhere in between.

"The mood is terrible," said one staffer, who, like the others, spoke on condition of anonymity. "They keep telling us the TV business is dead."

Another insider says the mood inside is "surreal."

The troubles at Channel 4 have been ongoing, but hit a crisis point over the last year. News ratings have fallen, impacted by bad programming moves and internal changes, taking employee morale down with them.

In the last few months, a new management team has launched a complete makeover of the behind-the-scenes operation, which, they say, is better positioning Channel 4 to provide content to multiple platforms.

"TV news is alive and well - and it is changing," said Tom O'Brien, general manager of Channel 4. "Anybody who is fighting the change is fighting a losing battle."

O'Brien points to the new ways viewers consume information as the reason for the transformation. He also notes the station is putting $15 million into a new newsroom to feed the places people get news.

Rather than just focus on what goes on scheduled Channel 4 newscasts, the station is also launching a cable channel, dubbed the NY Channel, and has a new Web site targeting a different crowd, but that also plays down the WNBC brand.

What troubles insiders is the way the changes have been handled - "ruthless" is a word often used to describe the way some have been treated by management.

Off-camera staffers were asked to apply for newly created positions, leading some seasoned news executives to leave or be cut. That move, some say, has weakened the newsroom.

Those who remain with the station worry they'll be asked to do more with less. They worry they won't be able to compete on big stories.

"Change is difficult," O'Brien said. "But change is necessary, and audiences are telling us that. And, again, in the end, the objective of the change is to provide more opportunities to reach our audience."

Some staffers say they see an upside in the process. Some dead wood has been eliminated, and a 24-hour cable channel may provide an opportunity to air more stories.

"I think people understand that we have to embrace new technology," said an insider, "but it's a question of physics: How can you put on five newscasts a day, fill up a Web site and run a 24-hour news channel with far fewer employees?"

While all of this is going on, rival WABC/Channel 7, now the top-rated New York station, continues to send reporters on the road.

"The important part is being on the scene, wherever it is," said the source. "It shows the viewers you are committed to covering the news, not just picking up some network report."

That's the stuff that impacts viewers like Rita, who said she flips over to WCBS/Channel 2 or New York 1 News in the morning. She still watches Channel 4 in the evening, but threatens to go elsewhere if the changes don't stop.

"If they got rid of Chuck Scarborough and Sue Simmons," she said, "I probably wouldn't watch anymore."

Ch. 11 drops CW tag and goes back to WPIX



Tuesday, October 28th 2008, 4:00 AM

WPIX/Ch. 11 is changing its image - again.

After years of being the WB11 and now the CW11, the station will revert to being called WPIX/Ch. 11.

"We really think that the station has a very rich history," said station president and general manager Betty Ellen Berlamino.

Management started to think about the move during the recent celebration of Ch. 11's 60th anniversary, said Berlamino.

"The words WPIX and PIX just have a very positive meaning and a very good place in people's hearts here in New York.

"WPIX is part of New York, WPIX is New York," Berlamino added. "Along the way we may have kind of forgotten that."

The station began teasing a new logo over the weekend and will continue to do so until the transition is complete by year's end.

So, in December get ready to say so long to the "CW11 Morning News" and the "CW11 News at Ten" and hello to "PIX Morning News" and "PIX News at Ten."

The promos that began over the weekend are the first phase, Berlamino said. The goal now, she said, is to reintroduce the look to viewers.

In a memo to staffers, Berlamino likened bringing back WPIX to reintroducing an old friend.

The move is significant in that it downplays the CW name, and goes back to a logo and station brand that was in place for decades until 1995, when The WB launched.

The CW debuted in 2005, after a merger of The WB and UPN, both struggling networks. The CW has had a slow start, but has generated good buzz and ratings this year with "Gossip Girl" and "90210."

Berlamino said the shift in no way signals a move away from The CW, which is owned by CBS and Warner Bros.

"We are not abandoning our network affiliation by any stretch of the imagination," Berlamino said. "We're very happy with The CW and enjoying year-to-year ratings growth.

"WPIX has a strong history, and a very highly rated history, and there's no issue with the network," she added. "We are one of their strongest affiliates."