Thursday, April 30, 2009

CNN Cameraman Seriously Injured While on Assignment


A CNN cameraman is in an Athens, Greece hospital right now after being injured on the job last weekend.

New York-based photojournalist Emmanuel Tambakakis was on the Greek Island of Ikaria last Friday when he slipped and fell 20 feet off a cliff as he was checking some satellite equipment. CNN chartered a plane and transported him to Athens where he arrived unconscious. Scans determined Tambakakis had a skull fracture and significant bleeding and pressure on his brain. About midnight Friday he underwent surgery.

By Saturday, Tambakakis was able to open his eyes and move his limbs on his own. As of today, Emma Tambakakis says her husband's condition continues to improve. "He is completely off all sedatives and his breathing, heart and kidneys are now working on their own," she writes on a forum for news photographers. CNN has put up the Tambakakis family in an apartment near the hospital.

CNN's Dr. Sanja Gupta, who has been on assignment in Mexico City this week reporting on swine flu, has been in contact with the doctors in Greece. A CNN spokesperson tells TVNewser, "The entire CNN family is hoping for a full and speedy recovery."

Tambakakis was on assignment for CNN's Anderson Cooper 360. The story that brought them to the island of Ikaria was about the longevity of the island's residents.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Baltimore Sun lays off 61 newsroom employees

By Associated Press

BALTIMORE — The Baltimore Sun has laid off 61 people in its newsroom, including veteran editors and managers, columnists, photographers and designers.

Maryland’s largest newspaper laid off managerial employees at the end of the day Tuesday, and notified union-represented employees Wednesday afternoon, said Renee Mutchnik, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore Sun Media Group.

Twenty-one managers and 40 staffers represented by the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild were laid off, Mutchnik and union leaders said. The union cuts included one employee who volunteered to be laid off.

The cuts represent about 27 percent of the newsroom staff at The Sun, which is owned by Chicago-based Tribune Co.

Among the managers who lost their jobs were one of the deputy managing editors, the opinion page editor, the op-ed editor and the copy desk chief. Many had decades of experience at The Sun.

Tribune is operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Real estate mogul Sam Zell took on a $13 billion debt load when he purchased the company in 2007. Union leaders and staffers said the debt was the motivation behind the cuts.

"Sam Zell took a gamble when he bought the Tribune Company," said John McIntyre, the laid-off copy desk chief. "He thought he could handle all that debt and could bring a fresh approach that would make the deal work, and it was a miscalculation."

Mutchnik said the cuts were part of a broad reshaping of The Sun’s newsroom that’s meant to eliminate distinctions between print and online content.

"We are repositioning our newsroom to be a 24-hour, local newsgathering media company. We will be more effectively gathering our content and distributing it across all our platforms," she said. "This is our plan for the future, for our success, not just for our survival."

She stressed that few reporters were laid off. "We are committed to having the same number of feet on the street as we had before," Mutchnik said.

But some in the newsroom said the cuts would irreparably damage the product.

"The newspaper is just imploding," said Chuck Weiss, a photo assignment editor who was laid off. "They’re getting rid of everybody who has institutional knowledge. The paper has been diminished over the years, and I think this time they really cut it to the bone."

The Sun has reduced its newsroom staff by about 60 percent in the past 10 years, according to the union, but most of the cuts were accomplished through buyouts and attrition.

Boston Globe Unions Locked In Tough Talks

By Christine McConville

Pressmen told to save $2M

Various Boston Globe labor unions are meeting with management this week, but compromises may be hard to come by.

“We’re working to reach an agreement, but it’s very difficult,” said Martin Callaghan, president of the Boston Newspaper Printing Pressman Union No. 3.

The Pressmen's union has been asked to trim $2.2 million, about 15 percent, from its budget. The request from management comes on the heels of a larger cost-saving agreement.

“We just ratified an agreement at the end of 2008 that saved the company $8.5 million,” Callaghan said yesterday.

The union eliminated 42 jobs through a voluntary buyout program and shrunk its ranks to 92 active members.

“We agreed to those cuts a few months back because management said, ‘You need to do this to save the paper,’ ” a member of the pressmen’s union said yesterday. “Now they are coming back and saying the same thing. It’s like the boy who cried wolf.”

Today, representatives of the Globe’s 250-member mailers union meets with management. The mailers have been told to trim $5 million from their budget. And tomorrow, leaders of the 210-member truck drivers union are expected to hold talks.

Meanwhile, the Times Co. reached a tentative pay-cut deal with a union at its namesake newspaper. The Newspaper Guild of New York agreed to a 5 percent wage cut through the end of the year to save $4.5 million, Reuters reported.

Nonunion employees at the paper and other Times Co. properties including the Globe had their pay cut earlier this month.

Union leaders mum on talks as dissension spreads at Boston Globe

Boston Globe Guild leaders - facing the looming deadline of a possible Friday shutdown - have clamped a cone of silence on negotiations with their New York Times [NYT] overlords, hoping to plug leaks even as feuding factions threaten to rip the union apart.

“We remain troubled by the public dissemination of what may or may not be accurate representations of confidential negotiations,” Boston Newspaper Guild president Dan Totten told the Herald in an e-mailed statement.

“It violates a level of trust that is needed for successful negotiations, and is detrimental to both the New York Times Company, and to all members of the Guild,” he said.

Totten’s statement comes amid ever-heightened tensions inside the Globe newsroom, where some employees have been questioning the guild’s bargaining tactics in do-or-die talks.

There’s also mounting frustration among reporters, who spend their days collecting information, that they aren’t receiving frequent updates on the labor bosses’ closed-door meetings.
“The union says we need to control leaks. It strikes some of us as Nixonian,” said Scott Allen, a member of the Globe’s Spotlight Team.

But, he added, “it’s important that Guild members focus on what’s important . . . We know we need to make concessions, but we also want to save the newspaper and save our jobs.”

A month ago, management at The New York Times Co., which owns The Globe, told representatives of the paper’s 13 labor unions that they needed to collectively trim $20 million from their budget by May 1. If they don’t, management has reportedly threatened to shutter the paper.

The bulk of the financial burden falls on the Guild, which represents some 732 union employees. Members include editors, advertising salespeople and maintenance workers. Some members have blue-collar sensibilities, lifetime job guarantees and an eye toward retirement. Others steered clear of more working-class union alliances, and aren’t thinking yet about pension payouts.

“We’ve got members who are young and old,” said Beth Daley, a Globe reporter who serves as a Guild delegate. “They all have different needs and wants.” She classified the internal debate as “healthy and normal,” but acknowledged that meeting members’ concerns is a significant challenge. “The union leadership is taking everyone’s concerns into consideration and trying to hammer out an agreement that is going to be painful,” she said. “And,” she added, “information is getting out that is getting people anxious and I know it is not coming from union leadership, who have pledged to keep union negotiation information confidential, as required.”

Late yesterday, Totten informed Guild members that results of a survey, which prioritized which concessions they could endure, would remain private.



David Simon, a former Sun reporter and the high-energy creator of the HBO series "The Wire," did not hold back in a comment on his Facebook page: "I (am) revulsed at what happened at the Baltimore Sun this week. ... It's almost unfathomable. The Baltimore newspaper's only plan is slow suicide, with Chicago leeching the last nickels and dimes even to the moment when they shutter the doors. Never has an industry so willingly butchered itself or shown its own product such contempt."

NYPD General order #14 says it: You can take pictures in public


After numerous complaints over the past several years that police officers and commanders have been arbitrarily telling photographers, both press and non-press that they can’t take photos of buildings, at incidents and events for very little reason, the NYPD has finally issued through Commissioner Ray Kelly a document entitled General Order #14.

In this document, patrol officers are told that taking photos in public is both legal and expected in a city where tourism is important. Officers are also told they have no legal right to demand to look at images on a digital camera, nor do they have the right to demand photos be deleted. Officers cannot seize equipment unless it is connected with criminality.

Back in February, a photographer from the Daily News was handcuffed and ordered by police to tell officers how to delete images after he covered a car accident in Greenpoint, Brooklyn .

Despite giving in to their demands, he was arrested anyway and charged with disorderly conduct for taking photos. Charges were later dropped. Information that we have not been able to confirm indicates that officers were disciplined for these actions.

Also, rail fans have been harassed on subways for taking photos when the law specifically says that they can.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Unions Look Ahead To Summer


Key prexy slots up for grabs at SAG, WGA West

This summer should see plenty of fireworks -- and not just on the Fourth of July -- as key prexy slots come up for grabs at Hollywood's major unions.

SAG's likely to generate most of the sparks. It will see an undoubtedly ferocious election campaign as the moderate coalition that came to power last fall aims to consolidate its gains in the wake of firing Doug Allen as national exec director in January. Current prexy Alan Rosenberg hasn't yet decided whether he'll seek a third term for the hardline Membership First faction.

Other candidates from that side who've been mentioned include Anne-Marie Johnson, Seymour Cassel and Scott Wilson. Former secretary James Cromwell has been mentioned as a likely candidate on the moderate end of the SAG spectrum.

SAG's election takes place in September, as do the WGA elections.

At the WGA West -- in which last year's strike will be the dominant issue -- Patric Verrone is termed out. Early contenders to replace him include VP David Weiss and board members John Bowman and Howard Michael Gould.

At the WGA East, Michael Winship hasn't yet indicated whether he'll seek a second term. Its election is set for Sept. 17.

The DGA, however, will probably provide its usual calm contrast to WGA and SAG, with a new prexy expected to be named at the biannual convention in July. Michael Apted's declared he won't seek a fourth term, and observers expect Steven Soderbergh or Taylor Hackford to be his likely successor.

AFTRA will vote up a new prexy at its convention in August in Chicago. Current prexy Roberta Reardon has indicated she'll seek a second term.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Grading the Networks

By Josef Adalian
TV Week

Ratings Don’t Tell the Whole Story in Broadcast Anymore

After the strike-induced tumult and turmoil of last season, broadcasters were praying things would somehow take a turn for the better during the 2008-09 campaign.

It didn’t happen.

With less than a month left to go before this season ends, four of the five major networks find themselves attracting fewer viewers than this time last year. It’s a particularly disappointing state of affairs because many observers thought it would be easy for the networks to improve over last season, when repeats and reality shows replaced original episodes of shows whose seasons were shortened by the writers’ work stoppage.

“Everybody should be up,” said one veteran network executive. “It’s scary that we’re not.”
And yet, while numbers don’t lie, in the increasingly complex world of network TV audience measurement, they no longer tell the whole story.

“There’s a continuing increase in DVR penetration, as well as the growth of Hulu and other streaming and download services,” said Preston Beckman, the Fox executive in charge of strategic planning. “This is not a year when ups and downs mean as much.”

Some observers question whether the networks will be able to demonstrate any year-to-year growth in the next few years, as viewers continue to flee to other means of watching shows—outlets that aren’t as easy to wring money out of as good old live network viewing.

“I wish everyone who watched ‘The Office’ and ‘30 Rock’ and ‘Heroes’ were watching on television, on their local NBC station and measured by Nielsen,” said Mitch Metcalf, head of scheduling at NBC. “But that’s just not the way it is anymore.”

So how do you tell how the networks are doing?

To render a verdict on the performances of the Big Five this season, TelevisionWeek decided to go beyond the Nielsen numbers to examine how broadcasters are holding up. The raw data remains a key component of any judgment, but it’s also important to consider whether a network launched a new hit, how their veteran series are holding up, the depth of their new-media efforts and the general level of chaos or calm in their executive suites.

Even by those standards, this wasn’t the best of seasons for several networks. The good news: The whole process starts again next month, when a new batch of programs will be unveiled.


Data dive: Fox will finish No. 1 in adults 18-49 (3.6/10) for the fifth consecutive season, something no network has done since ABC in the early 1990s. Fox’s overall average is down 16%, however, thanks to skewed comparisons: The network boasted football’s Super Bowl and Bowl Championship Series last season, events it couldn’t claim this year. Plus, “We were the network best prepared for the [writers] strike,” said Mr. Beckman. While other networks are benefiting from year-to-year comparisons, Mr. Beckman contends Fox doesn’t have a similar leg up. The network will end the season in second place among all viewers (9.7 million).

Freshman performance: Focusing its fall promotional firepower on “Fringe” paid off for Fox. The sci-fi-tinged drama from J.J. Abrams is one of the season’s few hits, currently ranking as the No. 1 new show in adults 18-49. Comedy “Do Not Disturb” disappeared quickly, however.

Spring tryout “Lie to Me” started strong but has faded since losing its post-”American Idol” perch. Still, there’s a good shot it will be back next season. A longer shot at returning: “Dollhouse,” which has posted predictably low ratings on Friday. But Fox executives are holding out a glimmer of hope for the show, noting its loyal core and its strong DVR numbers. The April 19 premiere of animated comedy “Sit Down, Shut Up” was less impressive, though it’s too soon to talk about that show’s future.

Long-term assets: Some big tentpoles took hits this season, with both “House” and the performance episode of “American Idol” off by double digits (though “Idol” remains the No. 1 show in TV, with its biggest-ever advantage over the No. 2 show, “Desperate Housewives”). Fox expected the decline for “House,” since the show changed timeslots this year: In the fall, it aired at 8 p.m. Tuesdays to help launch “Fringe.”

“We needed to get some new dramas going and ‘House’ helped us do that,” Mr. Beckman said. As for Fox’s other shows—almost all of which were down against last season—Mr. Beckman was unconcerned. “The ratings comparisons are a little hinky,” he said. “I look at other strategic goals.”

Prime example: Fox moved “Bones” to Thursday nights, potentially hurting its numbers. But the show has actually helped Fox compete effectively on the night for the first time in years; overall, “Bones” is actually up 6% versus last season.

TV 2.0: Fox parent News Corp. is a partner in Hulu, which exploded in popularity this year. Fox sparked lots of blog buzz by setting up an online memorial to a “House” character who killed himself, part of a regular effort to seed the Internet with viral promotional videos for its shows. The campaign for “Fringe” also relied heavily on new-media techniques.

Internal affairs: Kevin Reilly is still firmly in place as president of entertainment. But in the shock of the season, boss Peter Liguori was abruptly dismissed to make room for Fox film executive Peter Rice. Because Mr. Reilly is so firmly in control of development, however, the shakeup hasn’t resulted in any sort of chaos.

Self-evaluation: “In a way, our performance year-to-year was inevitably going to look worse,” Mr. Beckman said, noting the huge advantages the network had last year. “We demolished everyone last year in the ratings.”

Nonetheless, Fox once again improved its competitiveness in the fall quarter and has emerged with one, and possibly two, success stories to carry into next season. “It’s been a good year for us because we go into next season in a strong position,” Mr. Beckman said.

FOX Overall grade: A-.

Sure, “American Idol” still masks some trouble spots. But brick by brick, Fox is using the reality monster to build a diverse schedule that balances the risky (“Glee,” “24”) with shows that are conventional but well-done (“Bones”).


Data dive: The network might as well rebrand itself CBS Plus, since virtually all of its stats are in positive territory this year. It’s No. 1 in total viewers (11.8 million), up 13%, and No. 2 in adults 18-49 (3.2/8), up 7%. Among adults 25-54, CBS is tied with Fox for first, and it ranks first in adults 18-49 on Monday, Thursday and Friday nights. Among total viewers, CBS has the top-rated drama (“CSI”), comedy (“Two and a Half Men”) and newsmagazine (“60 Minutes”).

Freshman performance: “The Mentalist” is the most-watched new show of the season and “a genuine hit,” as one rival network executive put it. The rest of the network’s first-year class hasn’t been as distinguished, however. Romantic comedy “The Ex List” was gone within a month, while comedy “Worst Week” wasn’t a great fit on Mondays. Drama “Eleventh Hour” hasn’t embarrassed itself, but given CBS’ high bar for success these days, its odds for renewal aren’t good. Spring tryout “Harper’s Island” had plenty of pre-launch buzz and is skewing very young, but the limited-run series has continued to lose audience every week and ranks third in its 10 p.m. Thursday timeslot.

Long-term assets: While other networks bemoan the sorry state of sitcoms, CBS is laughing out loud. All of its returning comedies are up from last year, with “How I Met Your Mother” gaining a massive 25% in adults 18-49. “The Big Bang Theory” also blossomed into a hit in its sophomore year.

“Those shows ticked up to the next level in terms of ratings and buzz,” said Kelly Kahl, the CBS senior executive VP who oversees scheduling for CBS and The CW.

Overall, 23 CBS shows added viewers, far more than any other network. Crime dramas such as the “CSI” franchise and the red-hot “NCIS” continued to do well, although the former show’s numbers have been trending downward since William Petersen’s departure. Reality veterans “The Amazing Race” and “Survivor,” while in decline, remain important players.

TV 2.0: Before there was “Harper’s Island,” there was “Harper’s Globe,” the interactive Web series. CBS also continues to explore ways of expanding its Web site to promote its shows and drive revenue via episodic streaming. The network’s PR department has quickly adapted to the Twitter revolution, announcing a renewal of “Amazing Race” via the microblogging service. And while it’s a summer show, few series on TV boast an online audience as loyal or engaged as those who obsess over “Big Brother.”

Internal affairs: All is stable. Nina Tassler still runs the network, with bosses Nancy Tellem and Leslie Moonves still in charge overall.

Self-evaluation: “Everything’s working,” Mr. Kahl said. “Comedy is doing well. Dramas are doing well. Not everything is going to be on an upswing. But if you have more things going up than going down, you’re in pretty good shape.”

CBS Overall grade: A.

CBS Corp. may have its issues, but the CBS Television Network couldn’t be doing better. The only red flag: Success is expensive, with aging hits harder to support in a bad advertising market.


Data dive: Down 3% in adults 18-49 (2.9/8) and viewers (8.9 million). Boasts four top 10 shows in adults 18-49 (“Desperate Housewives,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Lost” and “Dancing With the Stars”). Particularly strong in women 18-49, with seven of the top 11 shows in that demographic, and among the upscale audiences coveted by advertisers. Specifically, ABC is the No. 2 network with young adult viewers making over $100,000 per year, averaging a 3.35 rating.

Freshman performance: ABC opted not to rush its creators after last year’s strike, which meant it was able to premiere just one new drama in the fall. That show, “Life on Mars,” garnered good reviews and a cult following, but it won’t be back.

Fall game show “Opportunity Knocks” didn’t ring any doorbells with viewers, while a crush of midseason newcomers hasn’t provided ABC with any instant hits, either. Still, buzz on “Castle,” “The Unusuals” and “Better Off Ted” has been solid, so the network might be patient and bring back one or two of those shows. “Cupid” and comedy “In the Motherhood” are virtually dead. Midseason reality show “True Beauty” performed well behind “The Bachelor.”

Long-term assets: Reality rocked for ABC this season, with “The Bachelor” rising from its rose-covered grave to emerge once again as a pop culture phenom. “Dancing With the Stars” also remains in step with audiences, actually adding viewers this spring compared with a year ago.
ABC’s long-running tentpoles—”Desperate Housewives,” “Lost” and “Grey’s Anatomy”—are showing some signs of age, but they remain remarkably vibrant, particularly given their serialized nature. In fact, “Housewives” is currently the No. 1 show in the 18-49 demo. On Sundays, “Brothers and Sisters” is holding on nicely.

Creatively, “Grey’s Anatomy” struggled through the early part of the season and lost viewers as a result. “‘Grey’s’ had a hiccup,” admits ABC scheduling head Jeff Bader. “But in the second half of the season, it came back strong.”

TV 2.0: The ABC media player continued to draw big numbers, though there’s talk the network might soon supplement that viewing by joining NBC and Fox in Hulu. The network had the stars and producers of its shows tweeting long before Oprah and Ashton made it hip, while the network’s PR department had stars filming themselves on set in order to give bloggers exclusive content. Innovations such as “Lost Untangled” and “” made ABC’s younger base want to check out the network’s Internet offerings.

Internal affairs: Steve McPherson expanded his power at the network by taking oversight of ABC Studios. An executive restructuring is in the works for the summer, but for now, all is calm.
Self-evaluation: “I think it was a pretty good season,” Mr. Bader said. “We didn’t have a normal fall launch … (but) our core series held up very well. We still have a lot of stable scripted series that do very well in upscale demographics.”

ABC Overall grade: B-.

Despite bad luck launching new shows, ABC still has plenty of shows advertisers want and an attractive blend of scripted and unscripted hits.


Data dive: While it will once again finish in fourth among all viewers (8 million), NBC is currently tied with ABC for third place among adults 18-49 (2.9 rating/8 share). It’s too soon to say whether the network will slip to fourth place when the season ends. NBC’s averages are boosted by strike comparisons and the fact that it had the Super Bowl this year.

Nonetheless, the network has cut the gap between it and first-place Fox from 1.4 ratings points last year to just seven-tenths of a point so far. NBC also can point to a younger audience composition (its median age has fallen from 48.1 to 47.2), and it’s neck-and-neck with ABC among upscale young adults.

Freshman performance: Nothing new worked for NBC between September and April, with high-profile shows such as “My Own Worst Enemy” and “Knight Rider” quickly failing (even if NBC left them on for several months). The network has its fingers crossed that it has turned the corner with this month’s premieres of “Southland” (although the police drama took a sharp 20% tumble in the ratings last week) and comedy “Parks and Recreation.”

“You can chalk those up in our column as a successful dual launch,” said Mitch Metcalf, head of scheduling for NBC. “‘Southland’ was able to take over from ‘ER’ and fit into the quality drama category, and ‘Parks’ fit nicely with our existing comedy lineup. It was a tough season for us in the fall, but we’re pleased with our new Thursday night.”

Long-term assets: “30 Rock” continued to build cultural buzz and ratings currency, jumping an impressive 23% versus last year in its new timeslot behind “The Office.” The show shed its “struggling” label once and for all. As for “The Office,” it’s the No. 2 comedy in adults 18-49, and No. 1 with viewers 18-34.

On the reality front, “The Biggest Loser” had its best cycle this spring since its premiere. Two-hour episodes on Tuesday have made the show a force, even opposite “American Idol.”

The news hasn’t been so good for NBC’s dramas. “Heroes” is down nearly 30% on Mondays, dragging down averages for lead-in “Chuck” and lead-out “Medium.” “Law & Order: SVU,” “Life” and “Friday Night Lights” also declined. Reality-wise, “The Apprentice” is down compared with last year, while “Deal or No Deal” burned out in the fall.

TV 2.0: In addition to its Hulu connections, NBC continues to make driving viewers to the Internet a priority via specialized content for shows such as “The Office,” “Heroes” and “30 Rock.” The network’s “Saturday Night Live” remained a viral force thanks to Tina Fey’s performance as Sarah Palin and SNL Digital Shorts such as “I’m on a Boat.”

Internal affairs: De facto NBC entertainment boss Teri Weinberg was forced out last winter, along with NBC studio chief Katherine Pope. Company veteran Angela Bromstad returned to replace both of them. She reports to NBC Entertainment Co-Chairmen Marc Graboff and Ben Silverman.

Self-evaluation: “The real lesson learned for us this season is, come up with nights that are really cohesive in terms of demos and genres,” Mr. Metcalf said. “You have to be hyper-aware of what your plan is on every night. You can’t take a scattershot approach.”

NBC Overall grade: C-.

Despite some glimmers of hope on Thursday, NBC didn’t get what it so desperately needs: a true breakout hit.


Data dive: Looking at the network’s core programming block of Monday-Thursday, The CW is up 8% in adults 18-34 (1/3/4) and ahead by 6% in women 18-34 (1.7/5), its target demographic. Among all adults 18-34, on every night it programs, The CW is averaging a 1.0/3, down 9%. The decision to dump wrestling has hurt the network’s overall numbers.

Freshman series: The network poured all its energies into launching the new “90210,” and the effort paid off with a huge debut. Since then the show has faded a bit, but it has improved the network’s Tuesday ratings by 47% in adults 18-34 and has already been renewed. Fellow fall newcomer “Privileged” didn’t fare as well, but it has fans at the network. Reality show “13: Fear Is Real” was dead on arrival, as was a Sunday night lineup leased by Media Rights Capital.

Long-term assets: “Gossip Girl” exploded in season two, gaining 32% in women 18-34. “One Tree Hill,” in its sixth season, managed a 15% uptick in the same demographic, while Thursday player “Supernatural” gained 8%. “Smallville” and “America’s Next Top Model” are hanging in there, but “Reaper” and “Everybody Hates Chris” were down notably in women 18-34.

Internal affairs: Dawn Ostroff still oversees the entertainment division, with input from co-owners CBS Corp. and Warner Bros.

Self-evaluation: “The real goal of the year for CW was launching franchises, and we did that with ‘90210,’” Mr. Kahl said. “We knew by getting rid of wrestling, it was going to be tough to see plus signs. But it didn’t fit the brand.”

CW Overall grade: B-.

The CW is surviving, which, given the odds against it, is impressive.

Know-Nothing Newt

by Tula Connell

Grandstanding is a favorite pastime of the former speaker of the House, Republican Newt Gingrich. Truth, however, has never played a big role in his self-trumpeting.

In a recent Politico column, Gingrich advances a laundry list of falsehoods about the Employee Free Choice Act. It’s the latest grab at public attention in his angling for a place in the 2012 elections.

First, he pushes the lie that the Employee Free Choice Act takes away the secret ballot process for workers deciding whether to form a union. The Employee Free Choice Act does not take away the secret ballot. It gives to workers the right to use an already legal process for deciding on unionization—a streamlined process called majority sign-up, or card check.

The bill adds choice for workers, who will decide which process to use. The Employee Free Choice Act is an amendment to existing federal labor law that makes no change whatsoever in the current election procedures.

So, Newt: How about reading the Employee Free Choice Act text and pointing out where it says the secret ballot is taken away? Hint: You won’t be able to find it because it doesn’t exist.

After this straw man argument, Gingrich purports to have found another insidious provision of the bill—binding arbitration. He’s referring to a portion of the Employee Free Choice Act that would guarantee that workers at the bargaining table are able to achieve a contract.

The Employee Free Choice Act provides a process for helping parties in a newly formed union bargain a contract through mediation and arbitration, if necessary, to resolve outstanding disputes. These tools are necessary because 44 percent of newly formed unions never reach a first contract.

Current law actually provides an incentive for companies that fail to reach a contract. Managers negotiating a first contract with employees drag out the process as long as they can, sometimes literally for years.

Newt should talk with employees like Johanna Moon, a 25-year veteran of Trump Plaza in Atlantic City. Despite joining the UAW two years ago, Moon and her colleagues still do not have a contract. The workers formed a union because, despite many years on the job, they were living paycheck to paycheck, and some had no health coverage. If the Employee Free Choice Act was law, these workers would have a contract. Clearly, they need one badly.

Newt then sheds crocodile tears for the workers who didn’t vote for a union, saying a contract would be foisted upon them under the Employee Free Choice Act. Guess what, Newt? Probably not many workers would reject better wages and affordable health care. Would you?

Gingrich also sounds the [false] alarm over companies going out of business with unionized workforces. Here’s a little history lesson for you, Newt: The 1950s, a decade in which the United States saw its greatest unionization rate, was also, not coincidentally, among the most prosperous decades of American history.

Gingrich uses a discredited study by corporate mouthpiece Anna Layne-Farrar to assert that greater unionization would worsen unemployment. Economist Lawrence Mishel calls this “crackpot economics.” Mishel says that using the study’s logic, the United States would have “negative unemployment” as a result of the decrease in union membership over the past 30 years. In fact, many other countries, including England, Switzerland, Denmark and Norway, have higher unionization and lower unemployment than the United States.

Here’s someone else Newt needs to talk with: Colorado small business owner Larry Martinez. He’s one of the hundreds of business owners across the country who knows the freedom to form unions and bargain isn’t just good for workers—it’s good for the whole economy. Says Martinez:

I believe this bill is a smart piece of legislation, which makes it easier for workers to have a voice at the workplace. I am not frightened in the least by the concept of sitting with employees and negotiating around wages and benefits. Employee buy-in for making my company more profitable is in my best interest and that of my employees.

Profits. That’s an all-American concept we can all support, one that companies with unionized workers see more of because of the high productivity of a unionized workforce.

Newt then plays up the supposed bogeyman of government intervention in the private sector. But guess what, Newt: Those secret ballots are gathered by and counted by the government. The government already is in the process.

As for those billions Gingrich cites as being spent by unions on behalf of the Employee Free Choice Act? It isn’t the union movement spending that kind of money. It’s Gingrich’s corporate buddies who have launched a mega-million-dollar campaign to fight workers’ freedom to form unions and bargain for a better life.

The bottom line is that Gingrich is spewing more red herring arguments that aren’t based in fact and that serve only one bottom line: His political ambitions.

American Federation of Labor - Congress of Industrial Organizations

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Saturday, April 25, 2009


Posted by Tim Fernholz

The president has announced two appointments to the five-member National Labor Relations Board.

He had previously announced that Wilma Liebman, formerly a regular member, would become the chair. Now, he is proposing to add Craig Becker and Mark Pearce to the board.

Becker is currently associate general counsel for both the SEIU and the AFL-CIO; Pearce is a longtime labor lawyer who co-founded his own firm to pursue union-side labor law. It's not the Employee Free Choice Act, but this is a nice gift to the unions all the same. Presuming, of course, the Senate confirms these nominees -- there's a reason that the five-member board currently only has two members...

Craig Becker, Nominee for Board Member, NLRB

Craig Becker currently serves as Associate General Counsel to both the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of Labor & Congress of Industrial Organizations. He graduated summa cum laude from Yale College in 1978 and received his J.D. in 1981 from Yale Law School where he was an Editor of the Yale Law Journal.

After law school he clerked for the Honorable Donald P. Lay, Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. For the past 27 years, he has practiced and taught labor law. He was a Professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law between 1989 and 1994 and has also taught at the University of Chicago and Georgetown Law Schools .

He has published numerous articles on labor and employment law in scholarly journals, including the Harvard Law Review and Chicago Law Review, and has argued labor and employment cases in virtually every federal court of appeals and before the United States Supreme Court.

Mark Pearce, Nominee for Board Member, NLRB

Mark Gaston Pearce has been a labor lawyer for his entire career. He is one of the founding partners of the Buffalo , New York law firm of Creighton, Pearce, Johnsen & Giroux where he practices union side labor and employment law before state and federal courts and agencies including the N.Y.S. Public Employment Relations Board, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the U.S. Department of Labor, and the National Labor Relations Board.

Pearce in 2008 was appointed by the NYS Governor to serve as a Board Member on the New York State Industrial Board of Appeals, an independent quasi-judicial agency responsible for review of certain rulings and compliance orders of the NYS Department of Labor in matters including wage and hour law.

Pearce has taught several courses in the labor studies program at Cornell University ’s School of Industrial Labor Relations Extension . He is a Fellow in the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers.

Prior to 2002, Pearce practiced union side labor law and employment law at Lipsitz, Green, Fahringer, Roll, Salisbury & Cambria LLP. From 1979 to 1994, he was an attorney and District Trial Specialist for the NLRB in Buffalo , NY . Pearce received his J.D. from State University of New York, and his B.A. from Cornell University .

Posted by Tim Fernholz


Maxwell Leaves American Rights at Work for Department of Labor
By Matthew Murray
Roll Call Staff

Mary Beth Maxwell, the executive director of American Rights at Work, is leaving the organized labor coalition for the U.S. Department of Labor, the group announced on Friday.

Maxwell will be a senior adviser under Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, a former Democratic lawmaker from California, focusing on “restoring labor standards, improving workplace safety, enhancing work and family balance, protecting retirement security, and helping protect middle- and working-class incomes,” according to a statement out Friday.

American Rights at Work will now be led by current deputy director Kimberly Freeman and former House Minority Whip David Bonior (D-Mich.), the group’s chairman. Bonior and the organization have been ardent supporters of “card check” legislation, a bill that would make it easier for employees to form unions but one that faces stiff opposition from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business leaders.

In a statement today, Bonior said that the card check bill “is as strong as ever” and suggested that Maxwell’s appointment will bolster their efforts in passing the controversial bill. The legislation faces uncertain prospects after Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) — who likely would cast the bill’s deciding vote — recently said in a floor speech that he does not support it.


Obama Pick Marks a Victory for Labor Unions

Labor unions scored a victory today when the President Barack Obama named
top labor advocate, Mary Beth Maxwell, to serve in a key position in the Labor Department.

One labor official said he found Maxwell’s appointment “really heartening” because it shows the administration is serious about improving the lives of the American middle class. “They are not just putting her in a closet. They are putting her in a job where she can get things done,” said Bill Samuel, director of government affairs for the AFL-CIO.

“The union movement looks forward to continuing to work with her” to help “restore workplace standards and safety rules and reform our nation’s broken and outdated labor laws,” AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said in a statement.

“I think the fact that the White House chose her for this post is a strong support for the bill” said Karin Johansson, a Democratic strategist.

Mary Beth Maxwell will join the administration as senior adviser after serving for years as the executive director of the labor coalition American Rights at Work. In the administration, Maxwell will work with the White House Task Force on Middle Class and Working Families, a group that is working to improve the lives and jobs of workers.

Chicago Tribune Fires Reporter Covering The Recession

By Meg MarcoLet's pause a moment to consider this sentence from Crain's Chicago Business.

"On the same day the Chicago Tribune cut 53 jobs from its newsroom, its parent Tribune Co. asked a Bankruptcy Court to approve of $13.3 million in bonuses and other incentive payments to 703 employees."

One of the newsroom jobs that was eliminated belonged to 20-year veteran reporter Lou Carlozo. Mr. Carlozo had been assigned to write a series called, "The Recession Diaries," for the Trib.

Mr. Carlozo wrote:

"I wanted to post a final blog Wednesday to readers explaining that I had lost my job, a victim of the very recession I covered. I posted this without management's approval. I then informed management. Management took it down."

Goodbye from Lou Carlozo

The recession has truly hit home.

This will be my last post as a Chicago Tribune staff writer, and the author of the Recession Diaries.

Today, just an hour ago, I received word that this will be my last week as a Chicago Tribune employee. So as you can see, no one is immune from the recession–not even someone who writes about it daily, diligently and with an eye towards serving those who have had their bank accounts drained, their retirement accounts dashed, their hearts broken, and their hopes placed under a dangling sword of despair.

I, for one, refuse to be bitter or ungrateful. While it will take me some time to process being unemployed after 20-odd years in the field I love, I recognize now how much I need to take the advice I gave to you with every ounce of my passion. That is: Account for those things no recession can take away from you. Your faith in God. Your family. Your friends. Your health. Your many blessings.

I am part of an industry-wide trend that will likely result in the death of print journalism within five years time. That is not what the higher-ups would like me to tell you, nor is it a result of anything wrong that they have done. On the contrary, I admire Sam Zell and all he has done to keep this company going. I have not always agreed with the new ownership's decisions or rationale, but my opinions come from an uniformed perspective. I write for deadline; I do not know the intricacies of finance and balancing the books. (Perhaps my early dispatches on the recession front have proved this.)

So where will I be? Looking for a job. Playing with my kids. Walking, talking and praying with my wife. And of course, praying for and hopefully hearing from you, my readers, who have made this year of 2009 one of the most rewarding ever.

I started in this business in 1989 as a long-haired kid without a clue about journalism, but a heart for the written word, public service and fighting for the little guy. My hair has long since vanished–oh, the vagaries of middle age!–but the idealist and optimist in me refuses to walk gently into that good night. Nor will I allow it to do so.

Also, a tip of the hat to the best boss a man could ask for, Lara Weber. It was her idea to start this blog, and without her inspiration, support, and most of all guidance and good cheer, I could not have achieved anything on the recession reporting front. She's a woman any journalist would be lucky to call boss, confidant and dear, dear friend. I will miss you, Lara.

Please stay in touch, and wish me luck.
In God's Peace, Lou

Meanwhile, Crain's says that the Tribune company considers paying the $13 million in bonus vital for the survival of the paper.

I am the news today, oh boy: A recession writer gets laid off

From Lou Carlozo

On Wednesday, the Chicago Tribune laid off 50-some editorial staff writers, including myself. This places me, a journalist of 20 years experience, in the uncomfortable position of being the news (in some small part) instead of covering it.

Yet beneath a statistic that can tell the story about as well as a toddler pooping his pants, other realities exist that must and will get explored. Like: The Chicago Tribune Company petitioning a bankruptcy court at the same time to award $13 million in bonuses to people very much unlike me and my displaced colleagues, folks who make their living and buy yacht club berths off the sweat of our collective labors.

There was the extremely disingenuous memo sent out by senior editorial staff, which talked about positioning the newsroom for the future. The lede, as they say, was buried–read paragraphs down and you’ll see that the Tribune is trying to deal with the worst economy since the Great Depression.


No news there.

The real news is that the Tribune now soldiers on without an art critic (as the Art Institute is weeks away from opening the biggest addition in its modern history).

It loses gifted people like Lilah Lohr, the best word editor in the entire features operation, and Pat Reardon, an unsurpassed veteran who combines institutional memory with the productivity of a hungry, 25-year-old rookie. Robert K. Elder may not be a senior veteran, but he was by byline count the most productive writer in all of features, a newsroom force.

Yet for me, the cruelest cut of all comes in losing my job while covering, at management’s request, the recession by telling my personal story of family finances. “The Recession Diaries” blog was a beat I did not want nor ask for, and it involved me telling very tough stories about my own family finances–stories that led me and my wife to squabble many times over which details to withhold, which to print, and which ones looked inappropriate in print after the fact.

I wanted to post a final blog Wednesday to readers explaining that I had lost my job, a victim of the very recession I covered. I posted this without management’s approval. I then informed management. Management took it down.

That’s not my loss, it is the reader’s loss. As many emails attest, I was becoming a friend, a confidant, a trusted voice to thousands of hurting people. And in one swipe yesterday, the Chicago Tribune took that away from them without any explanation. It explains in no small part why the Tribune is losing readers like a trauma victim loses blood and internal organs.

It’s also why I now feel at least partially vindicated to devote more attention to True/Slant, an enterprise that represents the exciting and bold future of what news and commentary can be. Sad as I am, I waste no time getting back to work, the work of my life that I love, and to serve a group of readers that help me participate in a bold experiment.

Let’s hope and pray that it works beyond our wildest dreams.

Tribune Co. Asks Bankruptcy Court To Extend Exclusivity Deadline and More News

From Tribune staff, news services

Tribune Co. has asked a U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware to extend its exclusive right to file a reorganization plan until Aug. 4 and to give the Chicago-based media giant until Oct. 5 to win approval for its plan from creditors.

This is the first request by the owner of the Chicago Tribune to extend exclusivity, which gives Chairman and Chief Executive Sam Zell's management team first dibs on drafting a plan to restructure operations. Once exclusivity expires, creditors are free to present competing plans.

The court is expected to approve Tribune Co.'s request at an April 24 hearing. Creditors didn't file an objection to Tribune Co.'s motion by the Friday afternoon deadline set by the court.

The company's exclusivity was set to expire April 6, but has been extended by law until the court acts on its motion to reset that deadline.

Tribune Co., which filed for bankruptcy protection Dec. 8, originally had until June 5 to win over creditors.

Connecticut Attorney General Questions Sam Zell

Richard Blumenthal, Attorney General of Connecticut, claims Tribune Company’s plan to merge the newsrooms of WTIC-TV, WTXX-TV and The Hartford Courant violates the FCC’s temporary waiver for the crossownership combination. The AG has written to Tribune CEO Sam Zell demanding answers to a series of questions.

Tribune says it is in full compliance with the law.“On its face, this arrangement appears to violate the Federal Communications Commission ban on a company owning a TV station and newspaper in the same market,” Blumenthal wrote. He conceded that Tribune has a temporary waiver from the FCC while it considers whether to change the rule. “I am concerned that allowing these entities to full merge into one news and information operation goes well beyond what the FCC intended when it granted Tribune a two-year limited waiver,” he wrote. Blumenthal’s letter can be downloaded as a pdf on this page.

Tribune on Friday sent this statement to RBR/TVBR:“Tribune’s decision to operate the Hartford Courant and its two television stations from one location in Hartford was designed to improve our ability to serve our readers, viewers and advertisers and the communities in which they live and work. Permitting WTIC and WTXX to draw on the rich newsgathering resources of the nation’s oldest newspaper makes them a better and more competitive news organization.

Giving the Courant more direct access to the television stations’ video journalism makes the newspaper more relevant to its readers, and improves the 24/7 coverage the Courant and the stations provide over the internet . The Courant and the stations will continue to decide independently what news to present and how to present it to their print, broadcast and internet audiences. These three business units have taken advantage of one another’s newsgathering resources for several years. This next step is in full compliance with the law, including the waivers granted by the FCC. We know our readers and viewers in Connecticut have many other choices to turn to for news, information and entertainment.

In an economic environment where newspapers and broadcasters must innovate and become more efficient to survive, measures such as this are essential to preserve the quality journalism that the Courant and our television stations are known for. We appreciate Attorney General Blumenthal’s concerns, but we believe they are misplaced.”

Tribune Co. Subpoenaed Over Employee Stock Plan

The Labor Department subpoenaed the Tribune Company over its employee stock plan, which was crucial to the purchase of the company by the billionaire Sam Zell.

The company disclosed the subpoena, issued in March, in a bankruptcy court filing and said it had handed over the documents. A Tribune spokesman was not available for comment.

The agency’s questions relate to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, a law intended to protect people in employee retirement plans. The stock plan was an important piece of Mr. Zell’s plan to acquire the company in an $8.2 billion deal that involved $13 billion in debt. He intended for the stock plan to become the largest owner of the company, which would let it avoid corporate taxes. That, in turn, was supposed to help a company turnaround.

Sam Zell on deal to take Tribune Co. private: 'I made a mistake'
By Phil Rosenthal Tribune reporter

Tribune Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Sam Zell told Bloomberg Television that his heavily leveraged 2007 privatization of the Chicago Tribune parent was "a mistake" in that he did not anticipate the steep decline in the newspaper business."

By definition, if you bought something and it's now worth a great deal less, you made a mistake, and I'm more than willing to say I made a mistake," Zell said Wednesday. "I was too optimistic in terms of the newspaper's ability to preserve its position."

Zell, who took Tribune Co. private in a leveraged $8.2 billion deal, reiterated that his goal is to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings begun in December to manage its $13 billion in debt with its assets intact. But the billionaire investor also said the company is looking at "all options." "It's very obvious that the newspaper model in its current form does not work, and the sooner we all acknowledge that the better," Zell said. "Whether it be home delivery, whether it be giving content away for free—these are critical issues.

"We are seriously looking at everything because in effect the future of the newspaper industry is at risk today," he said, when pressed on the possibility of cutting back on delivery and print in favor of a greater role for digital publication.

A Tribune Co. spokesman declined to comment.

Zell said a near-term merger of some sort is highly unlikely. "I don't think that there's a long list of people who want to buy newspaper companies today, and for sure it's not likely to be the case until we reach some kind of a new bottom as to what the newspaper's role is going to be in our society going forward," he said.

Asked how he hopes his management of Tribune Co. will be viewed in two years, Zell said, "I think they're going to recognize that by filing for bankruptcy in December and being the first one, we also were able to stop the bleeding and preserve a great company.

"Tribune Co. properties include the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, as well as Chicago magazine, WGN-Ch. 9, WPIX-Ch11, and WGN-AM

Chicago Tribune To Cut 90 More From Newsroom

The Chicago Tribune, with its parent company facing a federal investigation of its ownership structure, is planning what could be the deepest job cuts yet in its newsroom.

Employees said Monday they expect around 90 people to be laid off in coming weeks. They said internal announcements of the cutbacks in a staff of more than 400 people are expected around April 24.

It would be the biggest of a series of bites that Tribune owner Sam Zell has taken out of the editorial department at his company's flagship. Zell's 2007 buyout of the company left it with $13 billion in debt that has forced it into bankruptcy.

After Zell completed what he called the "deal from hell" in late 2007, the Chicago Tribune had more than 600 people on its news staff. If another 90 are subtracted, the staff will be about half the size it was before the real estate mogul took over.

Zell also has presided over cuts at other Tribune-owned papers, especially the Los Angeles Times and the Baltimore Sun, amid advertising declines felt across the media industry.

Chicago Tribune spokeswoman Kathleen Mersman would not confirm layoff figures. "We are in the midst of reorganizing the newsroom to position ourselves for success in the future," she said.

Word of new layoffs comes on the heels of a Tribune Co. disclosure that the Labor Department is investigating its employee stock ownership plan. Zell crafted the plan as a way to save on federal income taxes.

In a bankruptcy court filing, Tribune said the Labor Department on March 2 subpoenaed "an extensive range of documents." It also said the company complied with the subpoena on March 31. A Labor official would not discuss the matter. The federal agency reviews corporate pension funds for misappropriation. Tribune corporate spokesman Gary Weitman told the AP, "We view this as a routine inquiry."

NPR Cutbacks Include 13 Layoffs
By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer Friday, April 24, 2009

National Public Radio said yesterday it will lay off 13 employees and furlough all of its employees for five days over the next five months in the latest round of belt-tightening by the Washington-based organization.

The cuts are part of a series of measures that will help NPR close a projected $8 million budget gap during its current fiscal year, and $15 million over the next two years.

In addition to the furloughs, employees also will not be paid for three holidays (Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day) this year, and three more when its new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.

Like many news-media organizations, NPR has been grappling with reduced revenue; in December, as its fiscal crisis deepened, it laid off 64 employees, or 7 percent of the staff, and eliminated two daily radio programs, "Day to Day" and "News and Notes." It was NPR's first layoff in 25 years.

As part of its latest cutback, the nonprofit broadcaster will also eliminate contributions to employee retirement accounts through the end of the current fiscal year, and will cut the contributions by half next year. It will also eliminate merit raises next year.

The latest job cuts were in the information technology, legal services and communications departments and won't affect programming, NPR said.

NPR has been hammered by declining revenue from its four major sources of funding: corporate sponsors, fees from more than 800 public radio stations that carry its programs, donations from foundations and income from an internal endowment.

The reductions will put NPR on track to meet its budgets, but NPR spokeswoman Dana Davis Rehm could not say whether the worst was over. "I don't think anyone can predict what's going to happen," she said. "We think this is a very prudent and reasonable plan."

IRONY: 'Recession Diaries' Blogger Not Allowed To Blog About Being Laid Off

The Chicago Tribune gave Lou Carlozo a tough assignment: to cover his own finances as he and his family weathered the recession.

Carlozo lost his job yesterday, as did 52 others. And, he writes at True/Slant, he wasn't allowed to blog about being laid off.

"I wanted to post a final blog Wednesday to readers explaining that I had lost my job, a victim of the very recession I covered. I posted this without management's approval. I then informed management. Management took it down."

"The Recession Diaries" doesn't load any more; pulling up the URL brings up a blank page.

Carlozo writes: "That's not my loss, it is the reader's loss. As many emails attest, I was becoming a friend, a confidant, a trusted voice to thousands of hurting people. And in one swipe yesterday, the Chicago Tribune took that away from them without any explanation. It explains in no small part why the Tribune is losing readers like a trauma victim loses blood and internal organs."

It looks like Carlozo will be pouring more energy into True/Slant now. We wish him the best of luck.

UPDATE: He's posted the final 'Recession Diaries' entry, the one the Tribune wanted to suppress. Check it out.

Posted by Rachel Kaufman

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Tribune Wants To Pay $13 Million In Bonuses As Layoffs Continue

Excerpted from Bloomberg News, Chicago Sun Times,
Associated Press

Tribune Co., the newspaper company taken private by real-estate billionaire Sam Zell, asked a bankruptcy judge to approve $13.3 million in bonuses for 693 managers.

(This comes at a time when Tribune has been offering zero percent (0%) raises to union members in collective bargaining and having had a series of massive layoffs, has said to expect more staff cuts. BD)

Tribune Cuts News Staff By 53 in Restructuring

Meanwhile, newsroom employees at the media giant’s flagship had their own morale issues as managers conducted the biggest one-day purge since real estate entrepreneur Sam Zell took over the company.

The exit of 53 editorial employees is part of a paper-wide cost-cutting effort. Tribune Editor Gerould Kern said in a letter to staff that cuts are part of a newsroom reorganization that “will focus us more clearly on our core mission” going forward with a newsgathering team of around 430. This 11% staff layoff announcement was made at the same time as the company asked the court for permission to pay out $ 13 million in executive bonuses.

“With today’s actions, we are making the leap to a newsroom structure that we believe is sustainable barring further significant declines in advertising revenue,” Kern wrote.

These reductions are just the latest at the Chicago Tribune, which was said to have around 670 newsroom positions 3½ years ago. That’s about the time the newspaper industry’s revenue peaked according to statistics from the Newspaper Association of America.

Kern and Chicago Tribune Media Group President, Publisher and Chief Executive Tony Hunter said in an interview last week that the paper’s advertising revenue is off more than 20 percent so far in 2009 and they were operating on the assumption that would not change this year.

The top 10 executives of the Chicago-based publisher are excluded from the proposal, according to papers filed yesterday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Delaware.

The company also is seeking permission to pay $2.5 million to 70 employees fired last year before Tribune filed bankruptcy.

"These payments are vitally necessary to reward participants for their extraordinary contributions during an exceptionally difficult year," the company told U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kevin Carey in court papers.

The average bonus would be $18,273, which the company noted is down sharply from prior years. In its filing, it said 16 percent would get more than $30,000.

Relying on findings from compensation consultant Mercer (U.S.) Inc., Tribune said that even with the awards, the executives would be paid 41 percent less than their market competitors. Not addressing the disparity “would have a significant adverse impact on employee performance and morale,” it told the bankruptcy court.

Tribune, the owner of the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Cubs baseball team, filed for bankruptcy in December, blaming high debt load and a drop in advertising.

Under bankruptcy court rules, companies can request permission from a judge to reward mangers for reorganizing a company.

70 Percent Reduction

In a note to company employees, Tribune Chief Operating Officer Randy Michaels and Executive Vice President Gerald Spector said the bonuses will be as much as 70 percent less than in previous years.

Robert Paul, a lawyer representing the Washington Baltimore Newspaper Guild's members at the Tribune's Baltimore Sun, didn't immediately return a voice-mail message seeking comment yesterday. A call to the Graphic Communications Conference union offices wasn't immediately returned.

Tribune employs about 14,600 people, mostly at its eight newspapers and 23 television stations.

While the over all industry outlook continues to be bleak, according to the motion requesting approval for the 13 million in bonus payments, Tribune Co.'s publishing division generated $461 million in operating cash flow last year, a profit margin of 16.7 percent "during one of the worst years in newspaper advertising history."

Twenty-one of its 23 television stations gained market share in 2008, as did WGN-AM 720.

The company implemented strategic initiatives that are expected to generate about $425 million in incremental annualized cash flow.

The case is In re Tribune Co., 08-13141, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Delaware (Wilmington)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

SAG National Board Approves Tentative Deal


The actors' feature-primetime contract passed a major hurdle Sunday as it was OK'd by a sharply split SAG national board, 53.4% to 46.6%.

It won't be easy given the vehement opposition to the tentative two-year agreement from SAG prexy Alan Rosenberg and his allies. The deal is expected to secure approval by a majority of SAG voters, but a pitched PR battle is sure to ensue in the next few weeks as SAG hardliners try to rally as many no votes as possible to send a message to the guild's new executive regime -- and to set the tone for SAG's fall election of officers and board members.

"We are pleased that Screen Actors Guild members will soon be voting on a deal for television and motion pictures," said interim national exec director David White. "We're eager to get our members back to work and to focus now on the challenges ahead, particularly on initiating a comprehensive effort to thoughtfully plan for the future."

Rosenberg told Daily Variety that he'll strongly oppose ratification, particularly because it doesn't guarantee SAG jurisdiction and residuals on some new-media projects. "This contract is anathema to everything we stand for," he added.

Rosenberg's allies began blasting the deal at the conclusion of Sunday's daylong meeting. "Groundbreaking it isn't unless you're digging a grave," said board member Kent McCord.
Ned Vaughn, leader of the Unite for Strength faction, said the pact's necessary amid the slowdown for actors. "Our members need raises, and they need to get back to work," he added.
Ballots will be mailed out in early May with a required return at the end of the month. A minority report will be sent out along with the ballots.

The board's approval came two days after SAG execs and the congloms hammered out final details of the pact. SAG toppers announced the tentative deal Friday afternoon, 10 months after the previous pact expired. A key to Friday's tentative deal was the congloms' agreement to SAG's demand for an expiration date in June 2011. That date will keep SAG in sync with the WGA, DGA and AFTRA expirations, which allows solidarity in future negotiations. But SAG won't get any retroactive pay gains -- worth $67 million, according to the companies -- under the new deal.

The proposed SAG deal contains the same general new-media terms as the WGA, DGA and AFTRA pacts, meaning that all the drama from Rosenberg and his team for the past 10 months ends with a whimper, not with a bang.

Both sides agree that the contract battle has left SAG in a weaker position. Rosenberg has complained repeatedly that the lack of unity among board members wound up de-leveraging the guild, while the moderates contend that Doug Allen -- handpicked in 2006 by Rosenberg to be national exec director -- bungled the negotiations.

SAG's deal includes a 3.5% annual hike in minimums --- a 3% salary hike in the first year plus a 0.5% gain in pension and health contributions in the first year and a 3.5% salary increase in the second. And it spells out the pay structure for shows streamed on and made for the Internet. That's the same deal the companies offered on June 30 but was spurned by the hardliners who advocated holding out for sweeter terms.

Vaughn said the 2011 contract termination date -- rather than the 2012 date sought by the congloms -- was key in getting the new deal approved by the moderates on the board. "This deal will put SAG in position to bargain for better new-media terms in the 2011 round of negotiations, since we'll be in synch with the other unions," he added.

Should the deal be approved by members, it will extinguish what's been a nagging uncertainty for the business for the past year. Production on film and TV was thrown off-kilter by the writers work stoppage, then by studios' and nets' fears that a SAG strike might emerge. During the period of uncertainty in the fall, control of SAG's national board shifted to a moderate coalition, while the economic crisis helped create a big slowdown in local feature production. (First-quarter off-lot activity in Hollywood was at an all-time low.)

In the next few weeks, warring SAG factions -- the moderate Unite for Strength faction, which sprang up last year to combat Rosenberg and his Membership First movement -- will no doubt use the tentative agreement as a key point. SAG's ruling moderate coalition, which has a narrow majority on the 71-member board -- will almost certainly blast the MF group by accusing them of stalling tactics and for alienating AFTRA to the point that the sister union broke off from SAG and signed its own primetime deal last summer. Rosenberg vociferously opposed the AFTRA deal, which received a 62% endorsement.

Rosenberg said Sunday that the board has abandoned its earlier vote to oppose allowing non-union work for actors. And he pointed to a postcard poll in September in which 87% of members advocated holding out for a better deal.

"I'm glad that the members will finally get to vote on this, as I've advocated," he added.
Vaughn noted that the lack of a SAG deal led to AFTRA signing virtually all of the new pilots. "Not having a deal cost SAG members dearly," he added.

Membership First has also bitterly opposed the ouster of Allen in January, after he angered the moderates by continuing to seek a strike authorization amid accusations of incompetence at the bargaining table. Allen was replaced by White as interim national exec director and John McGuire as chief negotiator.

"These so-called moderates are giving away our future," said SAG member Scott Wilson, who's led a series of rallies against the deal in recent months. "This deal will destroy our pension and health plans, which will be the death knell for working actors making a living."

The ratification campaign will also mark a kickoff for the board election in September.
The final deal comes after two months of back-channel talks between SAG toppers and moguls such as Disney's Robert Iger and Warner Bros. Barry Meyer, with SAG's McGuire and AMPTP exec VP Carol Lombardini executing the specifics of the new pact.

The AMPTP said Sunday that the SAG pact is the eighth major labor agreement reached by AMPTP since the start of 2008. "Because both sides were willing to compromise we now have an agreement that will provide SAG members with meaningful wage boosts, pension increases, first-class health benefits, and a complete set of new media rights and residuals," the org added. "With this agreement in place, our entire industry can work together to overcome the enormous economic challenges before us."

In a separate action, leaders of SAG and AFTRA unanimously endorsed a three-year commercials pact on Saturday, triggering a ratification vote among the 150,000 members of both unions.

The commercials deal marked a return to joint negotiations by SAG and AFTRA, the latter of which split off angrily a year ago and negotiated a separate primetime deal. The unions and the ad industry reached the tentative agreement -- which represents a $36 million pay hike over three years, including $21 million more in pension and health contributions -- on April 1.

Ballots on the blurb pact will be mailed this week with a return date in mid-May. Easy passage is expected.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Actors And Producers Reach Tentative Contract

by James Parks

After nearly a year of negotiations, the Screen Actors (SAG) reached a tentative agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) on a new basic agreement covering television programs and motion pictures.

Details of the tentative deal will not be disclosed until after the SAG national board of directors reviews it this weekend. If the board approves, then the agreement must be ratified by the membership.

In February, the SAG national board overwhelmingly rejected what was then called the AMPTP’s last, best and final offer, but negotiations continued.

Great news! Now everyone get back to work!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

EFCA Needed To Rebuild Middle Class

By Mike Semm, President
IBEW local 1597
Grand Island, Nebraska

A rising tide won’t lift all boats if most boats have holes in them. That’s the verdict on the last three decades of debt-driven, “trickle down” economics.We know the economy has been broken since long before the latest financial tsunami.Just look at the numbers - worker productivity soared over the last twenty-five years, leading to record profits. And yet, wages have stayed flat. Working people are struggling to stay afloat as health care costs spiral out of control. Foreclosures are at an all time high. Millions of jobs are gone and millions more are at stake.

So where did all those profits go? You guessed it! The wealth that we created, our life savings and our pensions, were unfairly used to fund the fairy tale financial schemes that were concocted on Wall Street. As it turns out, you can’t really spin straw into gold.Leading economists agree that we’re living in the worst economic crisis - and the greatest economic inequality - since the Great Depression.

Last year, the average CEO made in one workday what the average worker made in a year.

Stagnant wages and tightening family budgets have severely restricted the average worker’s buying power. Small businesses across the country are hurting because workers can’t afford to buy the products that they’re producing.

Already, the new administration has moved quickly to stem the crisis, extending health care to millions of uninsured children and funding programs to keep families in their homes. The president has a plan to rein in corporate excess with new regulations.

But, as President Obama has said, we won’t be able to rebuild the middle class if working people don’t have the freedom to form and join unions. Every year, tens of thousands of workers are harassed, intimidated and fired for supporting the union. Even when workers do form a union, they won’t receive a collective bargaining contract almost half the time.

A new Gallup poll shows that a solid majority of Americans support legislation that would make it easier for workers to form unions and negotiate for better health care, wages and job security.

Millions of Americans want to be able to form and join unions, but they shouldn’t have to risk their livelihoods in the process.

That’s why Congress recently introduced the Employee Free Choice Act - a common sense piece of legislation that will let workers decide how they want to form a union.

With the Employee Free Choice Act, workers would be able to choose between the two current methods of forming a union - either with an election or by gathering a majority of signed authorization cards. The only difference is that today, the boss gets to make that choice for you.

Instead of going through a typically long and costly ordeal, the Employee Free Choice Act will create a level playing field for workers and management to come to the table and negotiate a fair contract. To be sure, some corporations would rather keep things the way they are. A coalition of powerful corporate interests - including several bailout recipients - has amassed millions of dollars to try to defeat this critical legislation through several front groups. But as poll after poll has shown, their efforts have floundered. After all, why would anyone listen to the same schemers who got us into this mess?

Meanwhile, workers and managers at hundreds of successful companies like AT&T and Kaiser have already benefited from the less-divisive majority sign-up process when workers expressed their desire to unionize. Unions and businesses have worked together to set up employee training programs, reduce turnover and improve product quality. Recent studies from the Economic Policy Institute show that these cooperative relationships help local communities to prosper, which in turn helps to stimulate demand for local businesses.

That’s how America can succeed in the global economy. We won’t be the best by trying to be cheaper than China. We cannot continue racing to the bottom any longer, because there isn’t much further to go.

True wealth comes not from credit cards and speculation, but hard work. That’s what the American Dream has always been about - and we have a duty to make that dream a reality once more. The Employee Free Choice Act is the key to rebuilding our nation’s middle class and making our economy work for all of us.

Friday, April 17, 2009

URGENT: call Sen. Gillibrand and Sen. Schumer before tomorrow

Please pass this information to all your members. The Employee Free Choice Act is vital to working class Americans.

Your senators, Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer, are home this week. And all over New York, our opponents are twisting arms, running ads, making threats and doing everything they can to defeat the Employee Free Choice Act.

We're fighting back. American Rights at Work supporters donated over $25,000, making it possible for us to expand our "Greed" ad buy. And in response to Senator Specter's flip-flop on the Employee Free Choice Act, 300 workers delivered over 15,000 letters to his Pittsburgh office.*

But to win, we need to keep the pressure on critical senators like yours. Can you make sure Sens. Gillibrand and Schumer hear from YOU before Congress heads back to Washington this weekend?

Please call your senators today, then forward this to all your friends in New York!

Call Sen. Gillibrand at (202) 224-4451

Call Sen. Schumer (202) 224-6542

Tell the staff member answering the phone where you're calling from, and that you want to urge Sen. Gillibrand to work hard to pass the Employee Free Choice Act.

You can add:

The Employee Free Choice Act is a critical piece of our economic recovery.

CEOs and top executives are still getting huge bonuses, while the recession has hit middle-class families the hardest.

By making it easier for workers to form unions, the Employee Free Choice Act will level the playing field and help ensure that the economy works for everyone again.

If you have been a voter, donor, or volunteer for your senator, mention the impact his or her vote on the Employee Free Choice Act will have on your future support.

After you calls, click here to let us know you called and how it went. Don't forget this important step that helps us track how many supporters are reaching Congress.

This is a pivotal moment. We have an unprecedented opportunity to make real, lasting change for working families. But with shameless, ruthless, anti-union groups spending millions to keep the deck stacked against workers, we need every single voice to rise above the lies.

A phone call is the best way to make sure your voice is heard. Thank you!


Liz Cattaneo
American Rights at Work

Sam Zell on Tribune Co. acquisition: 'I made a mistake, I was too optimistic'


Tribune Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Sam Zell told Bloomberg Television today that his heavily leveraged 2007 acquisition of the Chicago Tribune parent was "a mistake" in that he did not anticipate the steep decline in the newspaper business.

"By definition, if you bought something and it's now worth a great deal less, you made a mistake and I'm more than willing to say I made a mistake," Zell said. "I was too optimistic in terms of the newspaper's ability to preserve its position."

Zell, who took Tribune Co. private in a leveraged $8.2 billion deal, reiterated that his goal is to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings begun in December to manage its $13 billion in debt with its assets intact. But the billionaire investor also said the company is looking at "all options."

"It's very obvious that the newspaper model in its current form does not work and the sooner we all acknowledge that the better," Zell said. "Whether it be home delivery, whether it be giving content away for free -- these are critical issues.

"We are seriously looking at everything because in effect the future of the newspaper industry is at risk today," he said, when pressed on the possibility of cutting back on delivery and print in favor of a greater role for digital publication.

A Tribune Co. spokesman declined comment.

Zell said a near-term merger of some sort is highly unlikely. “I don't think that there’s a long list of people who want to buy newspaper companies today, and for sure it's not likely to be the case until we reach some kind of a new bottom as to what the newspaper's role is going to be in our society going forward," he said.

Asked how he hopes his management of Tribune Co. will be viewed in two years, Zell said, "I think they're going to recognize that by filing for bankruptcy in December and being the first one, we also were able to stop the bleeding and preserve a great company."