As civic insurrection mounts against Tribune Publishing’s ownership and management of the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago conglomerate insists it is not interested in selling the paper.
“The Los Angeles Times is integral to the company’s business model,” a Tribune spokesman told the Business Journal.
Widespread calls to restore local ownership have reached fever pitch since the controversial firing last month of publisher Austin Beutner and his replacement with Tim Ryan from the Tribune-owned Baltimore Sun. That prompted a series of protest letters signed by about 100 civic leaders and speculation that L.A. billionaires such as Eli Broad, Patrick Soon-Shiong and David Geffen were interested in buying the turmoil-hit newspaper.
The under-fire Tribune is holding on to the Times, however, and pressing ahead with cost-cutting plans amid declining revenue. Buyout offers were presented to employees last week.
At least 50 editorial positions at the Times, or one-tenth of the newsroom, are expected to be axed. Tribune is dangling a carrot for older staffers to take the deal and there are fears that many years of experience and talent will walk straight out the door, further damaging declining circulation and advertising rates in the process.
Employees who have worked at the Times between one and 10 years are being offered one week of base pay for each year of service. Employees would also receive additional weeks of severance for each decade they have spent at Tribune Publishing. After Dec. 31, the company will no longer offer retiree medical benefits. However, anyone eligible for such coverage that accepts the buyout will receive those benefits for as long as the company still offers them.
“Losing veterans comes with a risk to the future quality of reporting at a newspaper and you can disenfranchise your readers as a result,” said Hamed Khorsand, an analyst at stock research firm BWS Financial Inc of Woodland Hills who last month released a scathing critique of Tribune.
Dismay from some readers also greeted the Times on Oct. 5 – the day the buyout offer was presented – when a one-third of the front page featured an ad for American Airlines Inc., leaving room for only three news stories. That layout decision caused a wave of criticism on social media regarding the conspicuous layout of the ad.
However, Tribune picked up some local support last week. Dana Point hedge fund Mount Flag Media Investment has acquired a 5 percent stake in the company and is seeking a seat on the board. Over the last six weeks, the fund has picked up more than 1.3 million Tribune shares through a series of purchases and stock transfers.
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