Tuesday, December 27, 2005
MoveOn unit protests staffing cuts at Tribune Co.
Group Says Tribune's Cuts Hurt the Public
Published: December 26, 2005
By KATHARINE Q. SEELYE
The New York Times
Public demonstrations against a newspaper's editorial views are not
uncommon. But it is highly unusual for anyone to protest a newspaper's
internal business decisions.
Nonetheless, that is what is happening these days to the Tribune Company,
the Chicago-based owner of several of the country's major daily
newspapers, including The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, Newsday,
The Baltimore Sun, The Hartford Courant, The Orlando Sentinel in Florida
and The Morning Call in Allentown, Pa.
The company has cut its work force by 4 percent, or 900 jobs, accounting
for nearly half the estimated 2,000 jobs lost in the entire industry this
These cuts have caught the attention of MoveOn Media Action, an offshoot
of MoveOn.org, the liberal activist group formed to oppose President Bill
Clinton's impeachment. The group, whose parent organization has worked
against President Bush (whose poll numbers have fallen with the reporting
of difficulties in Iraq and other problems), says the cuts at the Tribune
papers undermine important watchdog journalism.
Its campaign has included public demonstrations as well as petition drives
in Tribune cities to gather signatures protesting the job cuts.
MoveOn attended a newspaper investor conference in New York earlier this
month and gave petitions, with 45,000 signatures, to an aide to Dennis J.
FitzSimons, chairman and chief executive of the Tribune Company. But they
were unable to engage Mr. FitzSimons in a discussion.
So they sent him an e-mail message.
Now Mr. FitzSimons has sent a message back.
He was far less specific about the company's financial situation than he
was at the investor conference. But he disputed the group's assertion that
the cuts had hurt the Tribune papers.
"Outstanding journalism isn't just about staffing levels," he wrote,
saying it was about having a talented staff.
"Tribune's commitment to quality journalism and to serving the readers and
advertisers of its local communities hasn't changed one bit," he added.
"But the media environment is changing and we have to change with it."
"Tribune's edge is its unique ability to cover its local communities like
no one else can," he wrote. "In order to keep that edge, we have to remain
The Tribune Company is in the same boat as many newspaper companies:
profits are relatively high but costs are up and the stock price is down.
The industry had an average profit margin last year of 20 percent, double
the average of the Fortune 500. But investors are pessimistic because of
sluggish advertising revenues, stagnant circulation, rising costs -
especially for newsprint and employee benefits - and the migration of
readers and advertisers to the Internet.
Still, the protesters said the Tribune Company deserved to be singled out.
"Nobody in the newspaper industry has actively undermined quality
journalism more than the Tribune Company," said Adam Green, a spokesman
for MoveOn Media Action. He said the campaign against Tribune would
continue and would "serve as a lesson for the entire industry - the right
way to gain readers is to invest in strong watchdog journalism, not to
neuter the watchdog by stretching newspaper staff too thin."
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