Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Cutting Off Limbs to Save the Corpse

Special Post from the Grave
I didn't see this being covered anywhere else, so I decided I should probably post it.

I'm still at school, so I must confess to not really being in the know. Despite my distance, I received an e-mail describing the new wave of mayhem at the Orlando Sentinel and it's much worse, much sooner then I would've ever predicted. I know the Orlando Sentinel is taking hard blows and the past year has been abysmal, but the developments below are basically a recipe for terminating the newspaper in its entirety.

From inside Sentinel walls:
Big meeting yesterday. There’ll be 36 positions eliminated from the newsroom alone. The Sentinel is now a ‘NEWS GATHERING ORGANIZATION’ with a newspaper arm. The paper part being the lesser entity. Everything we do from now on will be geared to the web site. In addition they plan to up the subscription rate????
As for the edit page, we will only be doing ONE EDITORIAL A DAY!

Monday, January 12, 2009

For Old Time's Sake

I just received some information about new developments at the Sentinel and I thought I would pass them along.

From: Hall, Charlotte H
Sent: Monday, January 12, 2009 10:25 AM
Subject: Florida Today Sharing
Importance: High

To All:
Today we begin a test of a content-sharing partnership with Florida Today. Routine news stories and advances of events posted on our Web sites can be picked up by the other paper for publication in the next print cycle. Stories and photos will be attributed to the originating paper, and bylines will be used. Exempted from the sharing arrangement are columns, investigative stories and major enterprise stories.
Florida Today content will not appear on and vice versa, but the Web editors from the papers will pursue an aggregation strategy, including RSS feeds for some content.
During the test, the managing editors and team leaders will also explore the possibility of pooled coverage or team coverage of events on a case by case basis.
The test will run three months, and the arrangement could be made permanent or expanded at the end of that period. Mark Russell and Roger Simmons are the point people in our newsroom. If you have questions, you can direct them to Russ, Roger or me.

Friday, October 17, 2008

October it's kind of like August except with dead leaves

If you are actually reading this after two months have passed without a single post, I provide you with answers to your FAQ (frequently asked questions):

1) Why haven't there been any updates?
In August, I started my sophomore year at college and have been pretty wrapped up in that since. 

But, I also began to feel that my posts were becoming rather redundant. The blog was definitely started to speak out about changes and cover ups going on at the Orlando Sentinel (as well as its parent company, the Tribune) but I'm not so sure it was effective in that purpose. After a while the comment section turned from analyzing the situation and suggesting actions to be taken to just badmouthing people. And like I've said from day one, this blog is not about bashing the Sentinel or its employees, it is about speaking out about and fight back against the crisis affecting the paper and its employees. I feel like we got pretty far from that idea.

It seems that everyone (including me) has offered way more criticisms than solutions. Sam Zell maybe not care about you and your boss might be mean to you, but I don't think anybody (sane) is hoping for the collapse of this or any other Tribune paper. 

So, to return to the original purpose of the blog, I am not posting anything unless it is: a) some sort of plausible plan or suggestion for dealing with the crisis at the Sentinel (and within the Tribune); b) a personal account of your experiences with Sentinel management during this rough time; c) news about some sort of dire issue concerning Sentinel/Tribune employees.
*And honestly, I will still probably take a bit to post it because there is much to tend to at school.

2) There must be something newsworthy going on at the Sentinel/Tribune, why haven't you posted any of it?
If this newsworthy item fit into one of the categories above I was probably not aware of it. I am no longer in Orlando, so my sole source of information on the Sentinel is what you pass on to me.

When this blog started I asked for volunteers for co-posters- that offer still stands.

3) Is____ blog gone?
At least 80% of the time I am asked this I do not know or do not know well the author of this other blog. Therefore, you should probably e-mail that blog and find out from the most accurate source.

4) Why do I keep coming to this blog, no
 updates since mid-August?
Magic? Subconscious yearning to see the dramatic layout? I have no idea.

Things you didn't ask me or already have the answers to: 
  • The Columbia Journalism Review will have a story concerning labor reactions towards the crisis in the newspaper in their upcoming (Nov/Dec ) issue.
  • The Eagles of "Hotel California" fame played at Sam Zell's sweet 67th b-day party.

  • The Tell Zell blog has been on hiatus and people are convinced an extraordinary rendition is underway.
  •  On November 6, 2008, the Orlando Area FPRA (Florida Public Relations Association) is holding an event called "Crossing the Great Divide", and it is specifically for former journalists.  Tips for making a transition to public relations as a career will be shared and discussed at the event. "Crossing the Great Divide" is to be held on Nov. 6 at the Citrus Restaurant (821 N. Orange Ave) in the bar area from 6pm-8pm. 
          For more information contact:
          Jamie Floer, APR: 407-244-3685 

The mysterious magical world of retirement plans

* Too important not to post.

A Tribune retirement plan investigation (as shared with me by former Sentinel employee, Larry Guest):
The Tribune's Hewitt Retirement Center has admitted that Zell is raiding our pension fund, but gave up that info only after I hounded them for three months and filed a complaint with the U.S. Dept of Labor because Hewitt tried to stonewall my request for information.

The notice via "secure mail" in my Hewitt retirement account reads as follows:
"Currently the pension plan is overfunded. The Severence (sic) plan is being paid out from the pension plan because it is overfunded."
When I first heard rumors in early August that Zell was raiding the pension fund, I contacted Tribune human resources and was shuffled off to Hewitt (which handles pension payments). I wanted to know if the rumors were true and also if the pension fund is insured by PBGC, the federal corporation that guarentees most large corporate pension funds. Each call produced different answers. At first, yes Zell is taking money from the pension fund because it is overfunded. Then, no he's not. No one could tell me for sure if it is insured by PBGC, but they had "been told" it was. I asked for documentation and one Hewitt rep said that was not possible within their policy, but I might call PBGC.

I called PBGC and the rep I reached could not find evidence that any Tribune Company pension was insured by them. They suggested I call the Labor Dept, which I did and was told Tribune/Hewitt was required by law to answer my questions and send me a copy of the Summary Plan Description within 30 days. The Plan would confirm whether the fund is insured through PBGC. The Labor Dept rep advised me to put my inquiry and request for the Summary Plan Description in a certified to Hewitt. I did that on August 7.

By mid-September, I had received only an unsigned form letter acknowledging receipt of my certified letter but "because the information is confidential" the request could not be processed through the mail. For a week, I called almost daily and was given the runaround by reps who would not give their last name and said they couldn't talk to me unless I gave them my Hewitt password. I explained I didn't know I had a Hewitt password and the lady said she would have to assign me a password which I would receive in the mail "within 30 days." (There was no mention of a decoder ring.) After I used strong language, I was told an executive named "Andy" (no last name, of course) was working on sending me the Plan. I finally had the extreme good fortune to speak to Andy No Last Name on one occasion in September and he said the Plan would be sent to me in a few days. Ten days later, 9/16, Stacy No Last Name informed me that Andy No Last Name was on the case and would send me a copy of the Plan within 5 days.

TWENTY-TWO days later, I called and was told Andy was not available. I asked to leave a message with him and the lady rep said she couldn't do that because Hewitt didn't have voice mail. I asked if Hewitt was technologically advanced enough that she would write it on a piece of paper with lipstick or an old bullet and put it on Andy's desk. After a pregnant pause, she said she could. I told her to tell Andy No Last Name if I hadn't heard from him by noon the next day, I would be filing a complaint with the Labor Department.

At noon the next day, Oct 9, I called the Labor Department and was helped by a friendly lady who gave me both her first and last name and asked me to fax a copy of my Aug 7 certified letter, the receipt signature card and any other correspondence or phone notes to her, along with contact numbers to reach Tribune Company and Hewitt Retirement Center.

Funny thing happened the next day, Oct 10. I got a message from Hewitt that the Summary Plan Description was being put in the mail to me, though I haven't received it as of this writing on Oct. 13.

PS -- Because the first rep I reached at the Labor Department said PBGC phone reps were notorious about not knowing who is or isn't insured by them, I called PBGC again and reached an executive named Mike McMahan. He was able to confirm that, indeed, the Tribune pension plan is covered. So if Zell drains all the money from our pension fund, at least there is hope that PBGC will take over and keep us retirees out of the soup lines. If and when I receive this grand and glorious secret Plan from the Hewitt No Last Names, I will pass along any pertinent revelations.

Mr. Larry Guest has been retired from the Orlando Sentinel since July, 2000.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Who's repping for you?

The question above is one that all current Orlando Sentinel staffers already know the answer to and that answer is: no one. During the recent cutbacks the people who compose Orlando's only daily paper have been trying to dodge bullets left and right. Nobody has made any negotiations on their behalf, suggesting that maybe cutting out this or that will be severely detrimental to the staff. 

For the former Sentinels this is a problem of the past, but the people still there are reeling with the feeling that their days are numbered and there's nothing they can do about it. I imagine this feeling does not help workplace morale. But more importantly, when the interests of the current Sentinel staffers are disregarded there exists no chance that they may salvage components of the paper that readers appreciate. So, staffers without representation among company decision makers is a problem for both the reader and the worker.

But, how does this problem become resolved? The first step is showing that there is a large demand for representation. The petition over at Tell Zell is a good start, but it doesn't really work for Sentinel staffers fearing the repercussions of adding their signatures. There is an anonymous option, but I've heard there have been threats from management to start tracking what sites employees are visiting. Even those who are no longer Sentinel staffers sometimes cannot contribute to petitions because of problems it might cause for their future or current employers. All these factors make it a little difficult for a large demand to be shown by petition.

So, this idea was suggested to me by a Sentinel staffer: make a poll with no strings attached (no names, no IDs, no IP's)... asking people if Sentinel staffers deserve a say in how their paper is run. Hopefully, a such a poll would be able to show about how many people would love to (but aren't able to) cosign on the Tell Zell petition. 

That poll is now open to the right of this post. Add your vote, if you cannot add your name.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Hello again: A montage

I've been a little missing in action lately, so I've decided to provide an assorted bag of Sentinel/ Tribune related articles. Here goes:

1. An insightful post was laid down yesterday by my fellow blogger, Maria Padilla, on the subject of the Tribune's massive financial loss in the second quarter of their fiscal year. If you haven't already heard about it already the Tribune (Sentinel mothership) lost 4.53 billion dollars. Interestingly, most of the lost stemmed from a giant accounting charge.
2. This is from July (so, you may have come across it before) but the interviews contains what are most likely the only answers we'll receive from Bonita Burton on the re-design. It's not the answers to all our burning questions but the highlights (things that amused me) include:
-The alleging that there are provocative things in the Sentinel.
-The alleging  that most people don't notice editorials.
-The alleging that the redesign deposited juicy content in the paper.

3. A petition has been started to ask Sam Zell to award seats on the board of Directors to Tribune workers and Tribune readers. If this sounds good to you, if you'd like to put some heat on Zell or if it has always been your life dream to be appointed to board... sign it here.

4. The People Power Hour, a local radio show that "isn't afraid to hold those in power to task", is doing a show on the "new and improved" Orlando Sentinel. The show will be this Saturday on WAMT 1190 AM at 11 AM. And I encourage anybody who has a few choice words (beware of the FCC) about the redesign or the reductions of the Orlando Sentinel to call in and be heard at 407-273-1190 or 888-300-3776.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Got water?

 It's definitely bad when your local weekly newspaper is able to do 7 page story about your paper's problems but it's worse when you're sending memo like this out :

From: Marcum, Kim
Sent: Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Subject: Water update

Next week, you'll need to BYOB -- of water, that is. Beginning next week, the bottled water service will be discontinued at the Kissimmee and Orange City bureaus.Just so you know.....


Yikes! Or to quote one staffer: "Unbelievable!" What's next BYOB copier paper, one square of toilet paper per person, share your pens. Does anybody have a tourniquet? 

Seriously, though I hear everyone who's saying "I never even had  that luxury where I work", apparently they did... and now they don't. So, while this is clearly not the end of the world, it's just one more thing stacked on the big wall of cutbacks and cutoffs. In other words, it's certainly not a good sign for those bureaus or the Orlando Sentinel in general.