LAT foreign staffers concerned

Overseas correspondents are preparing a letter to editor John Carroll complaining about the survivor benefits being offered the widow of Mark Fineman, the veteran L.A. Times reporter who died of a heart attack in September while on assignment in Iraq. A draft prepared by Tyler Marshall in Hong Kong invokes an ethic dating from the Chandler family era (before Tribune ownership) that ensured correspondents' families would be taken care of should the worst happen.

We are writing because we fear this longstanding, but unwritten, agreement now seems to be in question. We note that in the last two years, the survivor's benefit for the family of a Times reporter has been reduced by one-third, from 18 months to one year of the employee's salary...

We point out that it is extremely difficult for foreign correspondents to purchase life insurance on the open market. If coverage is available, it is prohibitively expensive and usually excludes anything that happens in a war zone...

We believe the death of any correspondent in or around a war zone should be treated as it always has at the Times: as a special case in which the family's needs are assessed individually and met to the fullest extent possible. The depth of loyalty to the paper is displayed by Times correspondents each and every day. This loyalty is strong because it has always been reciprocated. The paper's proven commitment to "take care of its own" in time of crisis has also helped earn the Times a reputation of being a special place to work-a fact that has motivated its correspondents and helped it draw great talent, including Mark Fineman, to the paper.

When Athens bureau chief Joe Alex Morris was killed covering the Iranian revolution, the draft letter notes, the Times "engineered a special act of Congress to get his German-born wife citizenship," found her a job and helped the family resettle in Los Angeles.

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