More than a dozen Tribune Publishing journalists in the Chicago area have left the Chicago Tribune, the Daily Southtown and other news outlets owned by the media company.
Employees with eight years or more at the company were offered buyouts last month in an effort to trim headcounts and personnel costs. The move comes after hedge fund Alden Global Capital became Tribune’s largest shareholder. That move has many in the newsroom – and many readers – worried that big cuts could be on the horizon.
One of the most recognizable names to take the buyout is longtime music critic Greg Kot, who described his emotions as “pretty raw.”
“When you’re at once place for 40 years it does hit you hard when that is over, but I wanted to leave on my own terms,” Kot said.
“My emotions were really raw last week as well,” said former criminal justice editor Matt O’Connor, who also took the buyout. “But as the days went on, as we got closer to Friday, I was gaining a little more confidence I think in the fact that I’d figure all this out.”
While Alden has a history of making deep newsroom cuts in an effort to maximize its profit from struggling papers, Kot and O’Connor both spoke of a spirit of resolve.
“We’ve been through this before,” O’Connor said. “For almost 12 years we’ve had a series of buyouts, layoffs, even a bankruptcy.”
“We’re not naïve,” Kot said. “At the same time, somebody asked me, ‘What’s the spirit like in the newsroom?’ and my (answer) was, ‘feisty.’ They’re fighters in there. Nobody’s giving up.”
One proactive effort made by staffers, particularly those represented by the Chicago Tribune Guild, is a public plea for a civic-minded owner with deep pockets to buy the Tribune.
“I sure hope (they find one), and I know they’re making a great attempt at it,” O’Connor said. “If we could find a civic-minded billionaire, (it) would be great.”
“The idea that journalism is somehow not worth investing in has been proven dead wrong by papers like the New York Times, the Washington Post, (and) the LA Times,” Kot said. “My hope is that the paper’s going to thrive going forward, as opposed to thinking it’s going to end. I don’t think that way at all. I have a lot of hope for the Tribune, and I hope the city and the people who are subscribers will support it.”