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In the mid-1990s, Copley Press went into debt to buy some Illinois papers. In the early 2000s, the company strained its finances again by buying some Ohio papers. At the time, some in the company said top management should be spending the money on technology, not buying other papers. At least one manager who said that was hurried out the door. Now, the company is stuck without a full pagination system (see post below) and it is struggling to get components for its antiquated operation. I have learned that the company is not only having trouble getting photographic film as discussed in the post below; it also is having difficulty getting certain kinds of tape and waxers used for non-paginated pages. I have been told that if the company had installed a pagination system in the mid-1990s, it would have been good for eight years. But that's when the parent company's management was on the acquisition trail. Those newspapers it bought were sold in early 2007.

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Comments

classico Feb. 5, 2009 @ 12:50 p.m.

Tape and waxers? Oh, man. I'll bet they're hard to get. What about wax? Rule tape was always outrageously expensive; it's probably unbelievable now.

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mythusmage Feb. 5, 2009 @ 1:51 p.m.

If the UT were to gather up their buggy whip collection and charged a fee to see it, maybe they'd raise a few bucks to buy up to date equipment.

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Don Bauder Feb. 5, 2009 @ 3:13 p.m.

Response to post #1: The two kinds of tape are specialized: border tape and hairline tape. A waxer is a device used in the process. Since this is a very old technology, I can believe that these specialty items are hard to get. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Feb. 5, 2009 @ 3:15 p.m.

Response to post #2: The U-T has, or at least had, a museum in Old Town. Maybe the company can move its current equipment down there for all to see. Or show the stuff on Antiques Roadshow. Best, Don Bauder

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News Light Feb. 5, 2009 @ 11:28 p.m.

What is it going to take for Karin Winner and Gene Bell to resign, or get fired?

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Don Bauder Feb. 6, 2009 @ 7:37 a.m.

Response to post #5: Bell has said he will leave once the company is sold (he is past 65). The prospect of a sale is dimming, although David Copley could essentially give the company away. Winner is tight with David Copley; she won't be fired as long as he is there, no matter how many blunders pile up under her inept management. You have to understand this company: friendships count for everything, and competence counts for very little, if anything. Best, Don Bauder

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JustCurious Feb. 6, 2009 @ 9:32 a.m.

Don, I'm wondering why there is this whole level of corporate suits at Copley Press, when David Copley has sold off all the newspapers with the exception of the U-T and the little Borrego Springs paper? Since there is no "chain" left, why hasn't DC saved a fortune by getting rid of his corporate do-nothings?

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Don Bauder Feb. 6, 2009 @ 9:59 a.m.

Response to post #7: I posed that question as soon as the company sold its Ohio and Illinois papers in early 2007, and again when it dumped its resort holdings in Borrego Springs. Hal Fuson is, effectively, chief executive. David is absentee. Gene Bell is president of the U-T, the only entity left other than the wee Borrego paper. Why does the company need both Fuson and Bell? Indeed, why is the Copley office in La Jolla even open? The answer is David, when he does show up, doesn't want to go down to Mission Valley. However, the company is now operating with two expensive offices that are totally underutilized -- the La Jolla one is almost empty. As to the executive situation, perhaps Fuson is handling the attempt to sell the paper and leaving the running of the U-T to Bell. Best, Don Bauder

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Portofinoan Feb. 6, 2009 @ 10:30 a.m.

Response to Posts 7 & 8: Copley is a case of too many admirals and not enough ships.

I remember when the newsroom technology switched to computers in the late '70's TV series "Lou Grant", and how everyone was struggling to adapt. The rise of the personal computers was certainly one of the great liberating forces in my speciality (medical research), and of course many others.

However, I never thought that it would lead to the demise of the classic "newspaper", or traditional libraries as well.

Does make one think of that old Shakespeare quote from Macbeth: "When the hurlyburly's done, when the battle's lost and won".

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Don Bauder Feb. 6, 2009 @ 1:29 p.m.

Response to post #9: It wasn't technology that led to the coming demise of daily newspapers. It was the lack of technology. The papers didn't get into online editions soon enough, and then gave away the service. The paper you get on your doorstep in the morning is out of date, and the companies' online offerings haven't closed the gap in a way that would be profitable. Demographics has also played a role in the coming death: young people have not been reading since the 1980s (although many are reading now online.) Best, Don Bauder

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HellcatCopley Feb. 7, 2009 @ 6:28 p.m.

Don, are you suggesting that the UT is not keeping its (very few) remaining employees informed on what is happening?! How unusual! What happened to that leitmoif they used to hang around the stables reading "Employees are our greatest resource"? Sounds like wax and film are the greatest resources now!

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Don Bauder Feb. 7, 2009 @ 8:51 p.m.

Response to post #11: I am almost certain that if top management were asked whether the company had recently been close to running out of backshop photo film, it would deny it up one side and down the other, even though so many employees know it to be true. Almost every company proclaims that "employees are our greatest asset." Some believe it. Copley never has. If it had, would it have built up so much enmity with the labor unions and hired a viciously hostile law firm to fight the unions? Best, Don Bauder

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sanman Feb. 9, 2009 @ 11:36 a.m.

Regarding the shortage of film,the purchasing department was dismantled and the veteran purchasing people are gone. The suppliers did warn their customers about potential film shortages but there may not have been anyone of experience to warn the suits. They had not moved away from the cut and paste layout method because it was cheaper than investing in a pagination system. They had the personnel on staff that could handle the paginating but they dumped half of their artists almost a year ago and out-sourced some of their ad design to India. Anyone that spoke up about potential problems was encouraged to find other employment because they weren't team players.

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Don Bauder Feb. 9, 2009 @ 12:39 p.m.

Response to post #13: Fascinating information, if true. Yes, I had heard that there had been layoffs that might have affected the shortages (this is in the original message), but I had not heard that the purchasing department had been whacked so seriously that it dropped the ball. That is quite logical, however, and I always thought that purchasers were the lower level people responsible. But, of course, as you point out, it was the people at the top that were really responsible. They had not thought about the consequences of not having a full pagination system -- that is, a film shortage that could result in the paper not being printed -- and they are the ones ultimately responsible for the failures of lower level employees in purchasing. It's interesting that suppliers warned the U-T about potential film shortages, but it never sunk in because of inexperienced personnel. I can easily believe that anyone who spoke up was told to work elsewhere. Best, Don Bauder

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WhatGoesAround Feb. 9, 2009 @ 3:37 p.m.

When large numbers of jobs are eliminated from a byzantine and red-tape-bloated organization like the Union-Tribune, the CEO needs to anticipate, adapt, and even get his hands dirty -- for example, find out where the storage closet is and count that inventory! (or otherwise seek out verifiable proof that all mission-critical factors are under control.) Assuming all was well would be less than responsible. After all, the U-T has always asserted its conservative, risk-averse approach to its finances. If a pagination system was too costly or did not show an ROI in the last round of vendor evaluations earlier this decade, then effectively the game was over for the U-T as a long-term business venture, and David Copley should have put it on the market immediately. My opinions of course, and I welcome your feedback Don.

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sanman Feb. 9, 2009 @ 5:49 p.m.

I can say that in my current employment we use an image setter that outputs film. We have been notified by our main supplier that they will no longer be selling image setter film because the market is dwindling due to cutbacks in page count and many printing plants are going direct to plate. You can be assured that the UT suppliers of large camera film passed along a similar message sometime back. The purchasing department at the UT had some of the longest term employees and most took early retirement and weren't replaced. It is a difficult transition period for an institution as stable as the UT has been. They have to try to replace many veteran employees with a lot fewer younger, less experienced and less expensive employees. The pension accruals are now gone so there will be more veterans leaving. Hopefully the paper will endure and what emerges from this turmoil is a more adaptable structure; one that isn't afraid to hear that the emporer has no clothes. The world still needs newspapers, maybe one with a little humility.

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Don Bauder Feb. 9, 2009 @ 8 p.m.

Response to post #15: When the U-T dragged out the full pagination commitment beginning in the mid-1990s, then continued without that full commitment right up the present, the major question is: who is responsible? Why didn't the company anticipate the film shortage? Or did it anticipate the shortage and figure it would be somebody else's problem? If so, that was a gamble. Obviously, the metro daily newspaper industry collapsed faster than anyone thought it would. Still, that is not an excuse. But I am not sure that this was an indication the paper was finished early the current decade. Pennypinching has always been a way of life at the U-T, particularly as it regards the editorial product, which has never been considered a profit generator. Somebody's neck should be in a noose over this. Unfortunately, it will be a low- or mid-level employee that will hang, in all probability. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Feb. 9, 2009 @ 8:06 p.m.

Response to post #16: I believe that you are right: the attempt to replace the higher-paid but more experienced employees with young, inexperienced help has hurt in more locations than in the backshop and purchasing department. That mentality has particularly backfired with reporters, editors, and columnists; the puerility comes through every day. I read an article and ask, "Why didn't the reporter ask this? Why is there such a wide hole in this story? Why didn't the reporter go to more sources?" Etc. Some retailers have made the same mistake --- jettisoned their knowledgeable but better-paid salespeople --and driven themselves into bankruptcy. Best, Don Bauder

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classico Feb. 10, 2009 @ 12:01 a.m.

I think most newspapers found there was no great cost-savings windfall in pagination, unlike the 1970s conversion to cold type.

It does seem odd that Copley had enough money to buy a new MAN Roland press and mail room, plus two pagination systems, for a certain Midwestern paper earlier in the decade but didn't have enough cash to paginate itself.

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Don Bauder Feb. 10, 2009 @ 8 a.m.

Response to post #19: I have not heard about this. I would like to know more. Which midwest paper was it? Two of those midwest papers were higher on the pecking order than others. Best, Don Bauder

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classico Feb. 10, 2009 @ 10:41 a.m.

Peoria Journal Star. And a slight correction: One of the two pagination systems, the paper's second, was purchased late in the last decade. The newest one was bought this decade.

http://www.newsandtech.com/issues/2003/04-03/nt/04-03_peoria.htm

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Don Bauder Feb. 10, 2009 @ 11:31 a.m.

Response to post #21: It has always been my understanding that the U-T got into a spitting contest with Gannett when it bought Peoria, and wound up paying too much. However, I can't swear by that; I have just heard it on fairly good authority. Label it hearsay. I always felt that Peoria and its cousin Galesburg got favorable treatment from the brass in La Jolla. Best, Don Bauder

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classico Feb. 10, 2009 @ 11:58 a.m.

I believe it to be fact that Gannett was the second-highest bidder for Peoria/Galesburg. That was used by management as a selling point to get employee-owners to vote for the Copley deal. The ESOP trustees originally said they'd make the decision about whom to sell to. The unions threatened to sue, and the trustees backed off and allowed a vote, conducted by a third party. Each owner got representation according to his ownership stake. In addition, Helen Copley insisted that each of the five unions vote to approve the sale.

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Don Bauder Feb. 10, 2009 @ 2:15 p.m.

Response to post #23: Interesting. I wonder how those Peoria employees are feeling now. Copley sold the company, along with all the Illinois and Ohio papers, to GateHouse Media, whose stock at time of sale, early 2007, was selling for $17. It is now below 10 cents. Stock of hedge fund Fortress Investment, which has a big chunk of GateHouse, and provided the cash for the deal, now sells for $1.60. Within the last year, it has sold for $16 and earlier for 50 percent more than that. Best, Don Bauder

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classico Feb. 10, 2009 @ 3:22 p.m.

The Journal Star, just a few weeks ago, had the first economic layoffs in the newsroom in 50 years. Last week, The Guild there ratified an agreement with GateHouse to forgo its 3 percent wage increase this year in exchange for a no-more-layoffs pledge through March 2010.

Meanwhile, The Guild is pursuing an alternative ownership model called an L3C that would buy the paper from GateHouse:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sally-duros/how-to-save-newspapers_b_164849.html

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Don Bauder Feb. 10, 2009 @ 8:41 p.m.

Response to post #25: That is very interesting. The U-T got rid of the guild in the late 1990s. Employees have felt bad that they didn't have the guild to fight for them during the head-choppings of recent years. Some consoled themselves that the guild wasn't exhibiting any potency in other newspaper layoffs, so it might not have done anything at the U-T. The fact that the guild seems to have made a good agreement with GateHouse, which is moribund, suggests the union still has some puissance. I appreciate the information you are feeding this blog. Best, Don Bauder

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Burwell Feb. 10, 2009 @ 9:46 p.m.

Helen Copley may have set up a trust to manage the newspaper after her death. Helen may have selected a trustee to manage the trust assets, including the U-T, according to her written instructions. She may be running what's left of the empire from the grave. David may have rights to any trust income, but he may not have any say in how the U-T is run, or who runs it. We also do not know whether Michael Copley has an ownership interest in U-T, or the size of that interest. Is there a trust? Does the trust provide that income from the trust will go to Michael upon David's passing? Would Helen leave her estate outright, with no strings attached, to a son with major health problems and no known heirs? Will Michael inherit the empire upon David's passing? We will likely never know the answers to any of these questions.

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Don Bauder Feb. 11, 2009 @ 7:01 a.m.

Response to post #27: I do not believe that any trust decrees that David can't run the U-T (although he really isn't running it and never has). I don't think Michael Copley is in the picture at all, and I don't think anything passes to him or his sister upon David's death. Their interests were bought out years ago, I understand. I have asked these questions and received no answers. It is possible that a non-profit organization has been set up to run the paper upon David's death, but I have not been able to find out if that is true, either. Best, Don Bauder

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HellcatCopley Feb. 11, 2009 @ 9:24 a.m.

Michael Copley (and his sister) are David's only family heirs. David was adopted by James Copley so Michael is David's adoptive half-brother, not his step-brother.

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Don Bauder Feb. 11, 2009 @ 12:02 p.m.

Response to post #29: I don't know that this distinction would affect legal matters. I do believe that Jim Copley's children by his first marriage (Michael is one of them) were paid off in an earlier settlement and are now out of the picture, but I may be wrong and would like to hear any arguments to the contrary. Best, Don Bauder

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Burwell Feb. 11, 2009 @ 8:47 p.m.

The Reader should dig out that article it published 20 or more years ago about Michael Copley and post it on the website.

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Don Bauder Feb. 11, 2009 @ 9:31 p.m.

Response to post #31: Sounds like a good idea, but outside my purview. Best, Don Bauder

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