L.A. Times Employees, A Shareholder Suit, Put New Pressure On Tribune Co.
Today, it's reported that more than 400 editorial employees at the newspaper have signed a petition supporting the courageous editor and publisher, Dean Baquet and Jeff Johnson, in their stand against further layoffs and other slashes ordered by the Tribune Co., the negligent owners of the Times and other former Times-Mirror papers for the past six years.
In the past, I've referred to Johnson as a Chicago-toady. I now regret using that label. In the past week, Johnson has proven that he is committed to Times quality, and for this stand, possibly jeopardizing his tenure, he deserves the highest commendation. A second message to the staff today waffled a little but gave no overt ground.
As for the employee petition, the same words might be used about it that were once used to describe Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural address: it deserves to be inscribed in gold.
"We the undersigned staff members of the Los Angeles Times want to state our support and appreciation for the stand our publisher, Jeff Johnson, and editor, Dean Baquet, have taken on behalf of quality journalism in the newspaper we love.
"We hope their message resonates beyond this newsroom and inspires many more to recognize the vital role that a robust newspaper plays in our individual communities and our society as a whole. While more doesn't always equal better, we are concerned that further budget cuts will only serve to harm the integrity of an institution that many of us have labored to build over a number of years, as well as the quality of the product we help to deliver daily. We seek to up hold a tradition of excellence and here reiterate our commitment to pursue this newspaper's unique place in the greater Los Angeles area, California, and beyond."
Every employee who signed the petition will be able always to take pride that at such a critical moment, they took the stand they did. And those who did not sign should rush now to add their names lest they not also be part of the roll of honor. Editor and Publisher names longtime Times reporter Ted Rohrlich as one of the signers this morning. I've known Rohrlich a long time. His wife is a celebrated food writer, and he has long given exemplary service. But he never stood taller than this morning.
Times Media correspondent Jim Rainey, though restrained in his coverage, has also helped to get the word out through the world of journalism that Baquet, Johnson and the employees stand four square with a quality paper. For this, he deserves all of our thanks. His reports have allowed the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and Editor and Publisher to come steaming to support of the L.A. Times.
Today, Rainey also reports that a Tribune investor, Frank Garamella of Missouri, has filed a lawsuit against eight Tribune directors, all close to the Tribune CEO, the contemptible Dennis J. FitzSimons, alleging that these board members have pursued a "suicide pill" stock buyback program which has left Tribune Co. saddled with $2.4 billion in additional debt. Not sued were the three dissident Chandler family representatives on the Tribune board who opposed the buyback and were prescient in their warnings that it would neither strengthen Tribune newspapers nor enhance Tribune's depressed stock price.
The Garamella lawsuit asks the U.S. District Court in Chicago to create an independent committee to review Tribune Company's strategy and to consider alternatives. The lawsuit also asks for compensatory and punitive damages.
I suppose it was necessary to file this suit in Chicago, but the Chicago judiciary, like the city's political leadership, is notoriously corrupt. It's too bad this suit could not have been filed in Los Angeles.
If damages are eventually awarded, let's hope that FitzSimon's bloated salary can be attached to pay them.
The Tribune board meets tomorrow and the whole journalistic world will be watching. Let's hope the board will heed the impassioned protests of Baquet, Johnson and the Times staff, and set a new course, agreeing to break up a company that has long since outlived its usefulness and sell the Times back to local owners.
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