To cut costs, Tribune Publishing offered voluntary buyout packages to employees with eight or more years of service on Monday, reports the Chicago Tribune. The buyouts are available to qualifying employees at all of Tribune Publishings nine newspapers: Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, South Florida SunSentinel, Hartford Courant, The Virginian-Pilot, the New York Daily News, Orlando Sentinel, Daily Press and The (Allentown, Pennsylvania) Morning Call.
Though terms of the severance packages were not disclosed, the Chicago Tribune reported that participation in the buyouts will help the company make company-wide cuts. At the end of 2019, Tribune Publishing had approximately 4,100 full-time employees.
This news comes just two months after hedge fund Alden Global Capital expanded their ownership in the company to 32%. At that time, Tribune Publishing expanded its board of directors to eight members. The two new positions were filled by representatives of Alden. Industry expert Ken Doctor reported that part of that deal included an agreement by Alden that they would not increase their stake beyond 32% until June 30 or after. Alden is the owner of MediaNews Group (Digital First Media) which is known for its layoffs and cost-cutting measures including staff reductions at the Denver Post, San Jose Mercury News and the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Media Posts Publishers Daily reports that, in an email to employees, Tim Knight, CEO and president of Tribune Publishing said, Although our digital successes provide good momentum, we continue to face industry-wide revenue challenges. A significant amount of our revenue continues to come from our print titles and our commercial manufacturing and distribution business. Since we remain committed to extending the life of those products and services and to serving our home delivery subscribers, we need to anticipate continued print revenue declines by reducing our expenses.
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Newsroom employees at the Chicago Tribune are represented by the Chicago Tribune Guild. On December 11, 2019, the Guild published a Petition to Tribune Publishings Board of Directors asking them to reaffirm their commitment to journalism. The concern was driven by the expansion of the board and Aldens growing interest in the company Here is an excerpt:
…We ask this in light of the board's expansion to include representatives of a hedge fund with a troubling record of diminishing newspapers abilities to cover their communities. Alden Global Capital has been described as a destroyer of newspapers, with a well-documented history of extracting short-term profits from already-lean operations by cutting newsroom jobs and denying fair wages and benefits.
To follow Alden's path would not only undermine employee morale and foment labor conflict but would violate your fiduciary responsibility to shareholders and your duty to maximize the company's value, to both its customers and to its shareholders, over the long term.
The petition was signed by 11-pages worth of employee names. On Monday, the Chicago Tribune Guild tweeted this series of statements.
Doctor has been predicting the consolidation of newspapers for some time, outlining his predictions for 2020 as recently as December 2019. As usual, he was spot on. Weve already seen that with the merger of GateHouse and Gannett. The industry could further contract as mega-media companies are formed. If Alden acquires Tribune Publishing after June 30, 2020, we can expect to see further layoffs, service changes and cost cutting measures, just as weve seen at the other newspapers Alden owns.
Corporate takeovers and mergers happen all the time, but journalism is important to democracy, and newspaper monopolies are detrimental to our nations long-term future. Yes, that sounds very doom and gloom, but it is a dire situation when hedge funds buy out newspapers and other media organizations, focusing on making a profit and not focusing on the organizations original mission to serve the public good. Journalism is a necessary check-and-balance to government and the fewer journalists and “pure” journalism organizations we have, the harder those checks and balances will be to come by.