By: Joe Strupp
Newsroom staffers at several of the Tribune Company’s 11 daily papers expressed uncertainty today, reacting to the announcement of a chain-wide sale and what it might mean to their futures — with some praising the return of private ownership, but others noting the newspaper industry’s bleak future likely means tighter economic times.
“There are a lot of questions here,” said Bill Salganik, a 30-year reporter at The Sun of Baltimore and president of the local Newspaper Guild. “For shareholders, there is a question of whether this is the best deal.”
Salganik, who says he has owned Tribune stock for years, also noted the uncertainty of a private owner with no previous newspaper business experience. “We will have to see,” he said about Sam Zell. “If you are bought by McClatchy, you have a sense of what that means. If you are bought by Sam Zell, you have no idea what that means.”
Others offered similar uncertainty. Michael Tackett, Washington bureau chief for the Chicago Tribune, said anyone who buys the chain likely appreciates its positive work. “You can assume that the owners see real value here and you only maximize the value with quality,” he added. “It is both good business and good journalism to do good work and that is what we are going to do.”
Mary Schmich, a Tribune metro columnist, said the end of the ownership search eases some concerns. “We have been living with this low-grade anxiety for so long, there is probably some relief that this part of it is done and it is not as bad as it might have been,” she said.
At Newsday of Melville, N.Y., 20-year veteran Tim Phelps said just knowing who the new owners will be after so much speculation is a relief. “There has been so much uncertainty, it hasn’t been good for morale,” said Phelps, who runs the Newsday D.C. bureau. “They are saying the company is going to stay together, so that seems like a good thing.” As for the private ownership, he notes, “it certainly would be a welcome change if a private owner would have more commitment to good journalism than the stock market does.”
But many rank and file employees said they were completely unsure what the impact would be. “I have no clue,” admitted Karen Hunter, reader representative at The Hartford Courant. “I haven’t diagnosed it. We hope it turns out for the best.”
Lisa Chedekel of the Courant, a 14-year veteran, also offered uncertainty, especially with the new employee stock option plan. “We are sort of in the dark about what it will mean,” she told E&P. “We are focused on the changes to our 401K plan. We don’t know much about Mr. Zell. It is another time of uncertainty.”
Bill White, a columnist at The Morning Call in Allentown, Pa., agreed. “Perplexed is a pretty good word,” he said when asked about the mood. “We are not sure what it means for us. I don’t have a good sense of where it is going from here.”
But White, a 33-year Morning Call staffer, liked the idea of a private owner. “That eliminates once concern — the stock market,” he said. “But this guy will look at the bottom line, too. It is not the same as having a local owner.”
Tribune officials have informed employees that a companywide “town hall” meeting for workers will be held at 2 p.m. EDT, via Web and video links.