Employees Decry the State of Journalism at Tribune Publishing; Call on Shareholders to Reject Alden’s Nominees to Board of Directors

May 19, 2020 – Employees at Tribune Publishing are deeply concerned about the direction of the company, according to a survey of Tribune employees conducted by The NewsGuild-CWA last month. [PDF]

Alarmed by the expanding role of Alden Global Capital in Tribune’s affairs, the union is calling on shareholders to reject the hedge fund’s nominees to Tribune Board of Directors. 

Employees are also disheartened by Tribune’s refusal to conduct its own examination of its journalism a violation of the journalistic commitment to transparency.

In light of the company’s refusal, The NewsGuild-CWA sent an online survey to 550 Tribune employees from April 13-24, 2020, and used other primary source material to report on the state of journalism at Tribune Publishing. 

The report notes that in a recent Slack conversation with CEO Terry Jimenez, employees articulated their deep concern that Tribune has prioritized paying shareholder dividends while furloughing employees and thus cutting reporting capacity at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The results are disturbing for Tribune stakeholders:

  • 95% of the journalists reported that important news issues are no longer regularly covered at their publications. For example, Norfolk, VA, has the second largest concentration of military personnel in the U.S., yet the Virginian-Pilot no longer has a reporter dedicated to covering the military and the Baltimore Sun no longer has a dedicated health reporter in the midst of a global pandemic.
  • 76% said they believe the overall quality of journalism at Tribune papers has decreased as a result of cuts to staffing and news coverage.
  • 83% said they have seen negative changes at their papers since the purchase by Alden Global Capital of a 32% stake in the company.  

“The findings of this report suggest that Tribune Publishing executives have favored short-term profit over the long-term viability of their publications,” said NewsGuild President Jon Schleuss. “Cutting news beats is not a sustainable way to run a news organization. You can’t cut your main product and  expect to be around for the long term.

“The impact of Alden Global Capital is also disturbing,” Schleuss said. “Tribune Publishing employees know the track record of Alden and it is not a pretty one.”

Tribune Publishing appears to have given up on print, according to several employees surveyed, but it has not fully committed to digital either. According to the report, 62% of respondents believe the company is not serious about attracting new digital readers or new digital advertising, citing inadequate investment in digital infrastructure and strategy.

“Tribune Publishing is managing for the short term,” said Schleuss. “The company needs to re-invest in quality journalism.” 

At the same time, the report details the pride employees have for the work of their colleagues and for the recognition given to Tribune journalists Pulitzer Prizes, George Polk Awards and other honors by professional organizations, including Investigative Reporters & Editors, and the Society of Professional Journalists. Yet Tribune employees fear for their future and their readers’ future as well. 

Tribune Publishing will hold its annual meeting of shareholders on May 21, 2020. The NewsGuild-CWA hopes shareholders will read this report, consider it carefully and reject Alden’s candidates for the Board of Directors. 

“We hope Tribune management will listen to their employees, who know their readers and their communities: the news operations of the company are in trouble. They need to invest in the journalism sought by communities and ensure adequate staffing of your newspapers.”

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To arrange an interview with NewsGuild-CWA President Jon Schleuss, contact Sally Davidow, (202) 368-3324 or email sdavidow@cwa-union.org.

About The NewsGuild-CWA
The NewsGuild-CWA is the largest union of journalists and other communications professionals in North America, representing more than 24,000 workers in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. The Communications Workers of America (CWA) represents workers in telecommunications and information technology, the airline industry, news media, broadcast and cable television, health care, public service and education, law enforcement, manufacturing and other fields.