Tribune getting cheaper

In the heyday of soaring circulation and ambition in the 1980s, the L.A. Times basked in the warmth of being the flagship publication of a growing media empire. Times Mirror patriarch Otis Chandler had clout in town, reporters flew first class, execs and top editors ate lunch in a private dining room surrounded by Picassos and there was a medical staff of nurses and a doctor in the house.

No more. Not only is that all a memory, but so are the free ibuprofens and antacids that took over for the medical department. As of February, vending machines will sell individual doses for 25 cents. Turns out that the free stash of pills was being plundered by employees.

Still, if Times staffers get hurt or sick, they are better off if it happens on the job. Employees were just informed that, in a change to their retirement plans, anyone who retires from now on won't get paid medical coverage. It's a sign of creeping cheapness under the Tribune's ownership. The premises are run so tightly that only one entrance remains open (to save the cost of contract security guards) and the cafeteria recently began closing before editors and reporters are off the first evening deadline. Not even coffee, let alone dinner.

For some staffers who e-mailed L.A. Observed, the cruelest blow suddenly appeared in the bathrooms: motion-activated dispensers that dole out paper towels one at a time. One staffer swears (OK, half in jest) they dispense a little more slowly after the first towel is delivered.

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