Sept. 24, 2020 – NewsGuild-CWA members at Tribune publications across the country were “aghast at the blatant insensitivity” of a management decision to email employees promising bonuses of $5,000 to $10,000.
Why? Because the employees weren’t about to get bonuses; the email was a stunt to test their susceptibility to phishing scams. Instead of money, the employees were notified they would have to take training on avoiding suspicious links.
Workers were not amused. “After slashing our staff, closing newsrooms, furloughing reporters and cutting pay during a pandemic, @tribpub thought a neat lil way to test our susceptibility to phishing was to send a spoof email announcing large bonuses. Fire everyone involved,” tweeted Justin Fenton, a crime reporter at the Baltimore Sun.
“This was a despicable act of cruelty,” said NewsGuild President Jon Schleuss. “Tribune’s journalists have worked through a pandemic, faced furloughs and endured pay cuts while shareholders were rewarded with dividends. Taunting employees with fake promises of bonuses was disgraceful.”
In a letter to CEO Terry Jimenez, NewsGuild units called the stunt “utterly heartless.”
“Tribune Publishing employees are reeling right now,” they wrote. “An ever-increasing number of us have lost our newsrooms and are now required by the company to carve out space in our homes or apartments to work while the company refuses reimbursement to make us whole. And some are still trying to climb out of the financial hole that the summer furloughs or permanent pay cuts created.”
Among the signers were NewsGuild units at The Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune, Hartford Courant, Orlando Sentinel, Virginian Pilot, Morning Call in Allentown, Penn., Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md., and the Tribune Content Agency.
Condemnation was swift. Vice’s Laura Wagner wrote that the “morons” running Tribune Publishing “have reached new levels of cartoonish villainy. The Washington Post’s Jeremy Barr also covered the story.
Julie Reynolds of DFMworkers.org pointed out that “budget-slashing hedge fund Alden Global Capital, which owns a third of Tribune’s stock, began exerting greater control over Tribune’s board late last year and has noted in internal company documents that is it is gunning to acquire a larger stake as soon as January.