Eric Slater Says Tribune Co. Will Give Him A Hearing
Slater was fired after a Times inquiry ruled that he had misperformed in a story he did earlier this year on a fraternity hazing death at Chico State University, and that, specifically, he could not satisfy management that he had interviewed the sources he said he had.
One issue in the hearing, according to Slater, who had worked for the Times 11 years, including five years in its Chicago bureau, is whether he deserves severance pay. Slater says the Times cut him off without a dime after the firing, and did not even permit him to take all his files away from the paper.
He reports that when he approached the Tribune Co., owners of the Times, he was told that its employee relations department had not received any report from Los Angeles on the events leading up to his termination.
This, in itself, may not mean much, however, since editors at major newspapers often hire and fire without much notice to their employee relations departments. On the other hand, under the Tribune, many employee relations operations have been centralized in Chicago.
Any inquiry by the Tribune Co. into the Slater firing by Baquet could be of considerable interest, if only because the exact relations between the Tribune Co. and Times management are somewhat cloudy. While the Tribune owns the Times, it said when it purchased the paper in 2000 that it would give local Times executives considerable autonomy. However, since last year, after circulation and advertising declines became manifest, Tribune CEO Dennis FitzSimmons has required the Times to cut back both staff members and other costs in an attempt to improve profit margins at the Times.
In fact, FitzSimmons and a colleague flew to the Burbank Airport in the spring of 2004, soon after the Times won an unprecedented five Pulitzer Prizes, summoned Baquet and editor John Carroll to the airport and curtly informed them of the cutbacks, without so much as ever coming downtown to the Times offices.
A number of employees have reported that the cost-cutting at the Times has severely impacted morale. Among the persons to have lost their job is the Tribune-appointed publisher, John Puerner, although he depicted his departure as voluntary.
Slater has confided that he first became aware that Baquet was dissatisfied with his performance in 2003, when he received a nasty message from the managing editor complaining that he had left Benton Harbor, Mich., too soon after being sent there to cover race riots.
Baquet, while cultivating a reputation in some circles as easy going, can be sharp in both his judgments and actions regarding personnel. There have been a number of reassignments and de facto terminations at the Times.
Possible high-handedness extended last week to the Times editorial pages when their director, Michael Kinsley, suddenly informed five editorial writers, including Pulitzer Prize-winning Alex Raksin, that they were being transferred to other jobs.
Even before the Tribune took over, and Baquet, formerly with the New York Times, was installed as managing editor, some high-level reassignments resulted in what reportedly have been sizable legal settlements. This was the case with the longtime national editor, Mike Miller, and the woman in charge of Metro for awhile, Carol Stogsdill.
Both Miller and Stogsdill retained attorneys to bargain with the Times. Now, Slater says he too has retained an attorney.