MoveOn protests Tribune job cuts

Reductions by newspaper publishing unit criticized in downtown petition drive

December 17, 2005|By NICK MADIGAN | NICK MADIGAN,SUN REPORTER

Opponents of staff cuts at newspapers owned by the Tribune Co., including The Sun and the Los Angeles Times, fanned out yesterday in downtown Baltimore to press their case that the reductions will compromise the press' ability to serve as society's watchdog.

An activist from MoveOn Media Action, which has criticized cutbacks at eight Tribune newspapers, told The Sun that the nationwide campaign will continue until the Chicago company stops reducing staffs to save money.

This year, Tribune has cut about 800 positions at eight of its newspapers, including Newsday, The Hartford Courant and the Chicago Tribune. Meanwhile, it posted a $586 million operating profit in its publishing division this year through September, a $93 million increase, or 19 percent, over the comparable period last year. Tribune's holdings include 11 daily newspapers, 26 television stations and the Chicago Cubs baseball team.

The Sun has lost about 70 jobs this year through buyouts, 17 of them in the news department. Similar cuts have been undertaken by other newspaper publishers, although only Tribune has been targeted by MoveOn. The nonprofit group formed in 1998 to protest the impeachment of President Bill Clinton.

Editor and Publisher, an industry trade journal, has tracked about 2,000 job cuts this year at dozens of large and midsize newspapers this year, including at papers owned by Knight-Ridder Inc. and the New York Times Co.

"The fundamental question is, what obligation do media companies have to ensure quality journalism at the same time as they make a profit?" asked Adam Green, a MoveOn activist.

"We're making an example of the Tribune Co. that hopefully will serve as a lesson for the entire industry - don't cut quality journalism."

Green said the petition effort has so far garnered 58,587 signatures, including almost 4,000 in Baltimore. About 45,000 were handed to Dennis J. FitzSimons, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Tribune, at a conference with financial analysts in New York last week.

"The media is drifting away from its duty to be a strong watchdog for the public," Green said. "Who's there to advocate for journalists when their jobs are being cut?"

FitzSimons said in an e-mail message to employees last week that rapid changes in the industry had prompted the company to take steps "to reposition Tribune for future growth," including "redeploying resources."

Outside The Gallery at Harborplace, passers-by signed the petitions, passed around by about a half-dozen volunteers holding signs that said, "Let Reporters Do Their Jobs" and "Newspaper Cuts Hurt Journalism."

One of the signers, Sheila Litzky, said she reads three newspapers a day.

"There are certain pursuits in any democracy - whether it's journalism or education - that have to serve the public interest," said Litzky, a retired state health worker. "If they don't, the basis of a free press is denigrated, and the basis of an educated population is diminished."

nick.madigan@baltsun.com

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