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LAT reader ponders protest

Tribune papers still make money ... lots of it. Now that the company has gone private, it isn't likely we'll ever know how much or how little. We can only take the word of company officials for how desperate the situation really is. The same applies to customer responses to redesigns and page loss. (Mr. Abrams declared that a mere eight Orlandians canceled their subscriptions following the redesign. So be it.)

It's also true that recent rounds of layoffs and buyouts didn't stop the LA Times from hiring younger, never-to-vested personnel to fill the holes in coverage left by the forced retirements. Will any of the recently hired be axed in the next round, or just the few remaining overly benefited geezers? The Times being historically hostile to union protections, it's probably safe to believe that the last hired will be the last fired. Even unionized employees on other newspapers have been tossed to the scrap heap, so that hasn't proven to be a reliable alternative.

One wonders, though, in the absence of a union, what clout Tribune's "employee-owners" have in determining their own fates, especially considering that their's is the larger financial commitment/risk. Will those folks laid off after the arrival of Zell et al now be ineligible to reap the benefits of any uptick in the company's resurgence, as promised, or will they be stuck with losses accrued in the years since TRB started its descent from $53/share? Will their sacrifices ever be rewarded in kind?

As owners, do the surviving employees have a say in management decisions or a voice on the board? Guess not.

So, what's to do? Wring hands and write woe-is-us emails to colleagues ... ask someone clever to create a streaming video giving the finger to the bosses ... or, fight back?

If, as is feared, the next round won't include buyouts -- just layoffs and firings -- the company may not require signed non-disclosure agreements, since there would be nothing to disclose. Hence, what could prevent the doomed -- or impacted advertisers and subscribers -- from encouraging some kind of direct action to salvage what's left of the product?

The last thing management can afford in the next 12 months is a diminishment of the company's revenue streams. Any disruption clearly would put into jeopardy scheduled interest payments to unforgiving banks. Big-city liberals, at least, could be asked to consider un-subscribing for a short period of time to protest the loss of news hole, coverage and features. If the actors and writers in LA can count on fellow unionists not to cross picket lines, might not they also support newspaper rank-and-file crying out for help? If space in Calendar is reduced, might not studios re-consider the environment in which their movie ads appear?

As a subscriber to the LA Times, I'm certainly not looking forward to a decimated product. Previous trims in coverage and the size of the broadsheet have not gone unnoticed, so why should we tolerate less? And, what about the sizable number of subscribers who aren't keen on the Internet ... how will they react to being marginalized even further? So far, the LA Times' website has been more concerned with reporting awards nominations -- available on tens of thousands of sites, via AP, Reuters and streaming video -- than covering local news and consumer issues.

In Chicago, where 150 years worth of Tribune editorial boards have taken a perverse pride in endorsing only GOP candidates for state and national offices -- even when they knew better -- why would supporters of Mr. Obama hesitate to show their displeasure with such an anti-Democrat, anti-labor, anti-consumer institution? Taking such stands may not be fashionable in the laissez-fair post-Reagan economic world, but, heck, it beats grinning and bearing every new indignity, from absurdly high gasoline prices (and profits) to spending trillions of dollars on a war to which few people even pay attention.

Readers of website have been asked to consider the pros and cons of a sick-out or byline-strike for sometime next week. Do readers even notice bylines and credit lines, anymore? They've become so generic in the last few months, it's now difficult to tell if the writer works primarily for the Times, Tribune, Sun or Courant. Apart from those of columnists, bylines can be disguised in an instant.

If newspapers can be bent, folded and mutilated to fit one mogul's financial strategy, what would prevent him from doing the same to his company's Internet news profile when the going also gets tough there. Presumably, humans and information will be expendable, then, too.

Just wondering.

Gary Dretzka

Dretzka is a columnist for Movie City News and a former correspondent for the Chicago Tribune.

July 6, 2008 10:41 PM • Native Intelligence • Email the editor

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