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The Union-Tribune has instituted an employee suggestion program that includes cash bonuses. Under the old Copley regime, management was militaristic; ideas came from the top down and the bottom-up approach was a no-no. Further, under the current management, the program has been extended to union members. That would have been extremely unlikely under the anti-union Copley management. Pressroom employees, who belong to a union, were told they were included in a letter this week from Patrick J. Marrinan, manager of labor relations. The suggestions must pertain to cost or time saving, revenue-producing or quality of work issues. Cash awards will be 10% of net savings or revenue enhancement.

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Comments

JustWondering Feb. 7, 2010 @ 4:21 p.m.

New times, new thoughts.

Maybe there is a flickering candle at the end of the SDUT's long dark tunnel of demise. Taking ideas from those actually "doing" the major lifting to get the paper published each day seems like a wise move.

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ExDiegan Feb. 7, 2010 @ 4:35 p.m.

I found that ideas from below were not rejected out of hand, but neither were they rewarded. They sorts of dissipated, like a mist.

Toward the end there was definitely a Not Invented Here mentality that caused ideas from below to wallow, and it was also obvious that from around 2005 onward David was not longer interested in anything that didn't have an immediate and substantial return on investment -- no matter where the idea came from.

It's not that Helen and David didn't want to entertain worthy ideas. They simply didn't know what to do with them, especially beginning in the mid-1980s.

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Don Bauder Feb. 7, 2010 @ 8 p.m.

Response to post #1: If this move is for real, and not for show, it is an encouraging one. In half a century of covering business, I have concluded that the "bottom up" approach is much better than the "top down" one. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Feb. 7, 2010 @ 8:13 p.m.

Response to post #2: I'll give you a personal experience. In the late 1970s or early 1980s, I started digging into market shares of metro dailies. It was clear that the combined market share of the Union and Tribune (separate entities at that time) was lagging dailies in comparable markets, sometimes badly lagging. The editor was furious when I brought it up. Later, at a staff gathering out in Borrego, I was permitted to give an illustrated talk, but all the editors were even more annoyed that anyone had the chutzpah to challenge anyone at the top. I sent the material to both Helen Copley and Hubert Kaltenbach, president. Both were receptive and thanked me, but nothing happened until 15 or so years later, when Gene Bell with great fanfare launched a campaign to boost the market share of the Union-Tribune (by then the papers were combined.) The editor came by and said I had been "prescient" 15 years earlier. This was s.o.p. Best, Don Bauder

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ltrules Feb. 7, 2010 @ 10:01 p.m.

These idiots are asking for suggestions because they dont have any of their own. If I wasnt doing the job of 3 people I might have time to think about it. Isnt that what they pay Ed to do. I'm trying to get a union formed in my department - Harry just swears at us all day and were sick of it.

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Don Bauder Feb. 8, 2010 @ 7:25 a.m.

Response to post #5: When I was at the U-T, I thought it was overstaffed. Then when the massive cutbacks came (several years after I had left), I thought it might wind up understaffed. You seem to feel the cuts have been too deep. Please continue to make posts. We need your insight. Be careful trying to form a union. My email is don.bauder@mac.com and my phone is 619-546-8529. Best, Don Bauder

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shizzyfinn Feb. 8, 2010 @ 9:24 a.m.

Anybody stick around CBS after the Super Bowl to watch Undercover Boss? It felt a bit contrived, like most reality shows, but still was good TV.

Showed how the Chief Operating Officer of Waste Management disguised himself as entry-level employee and was shocked at some of the conditions faced by workers at the bottom of his firm...back-breaking manual labor, draconian time-card rules, one person doing the job of two or three, and women trash collectors forced to pee in cans to finish routes fast enough.

Overall, it was fascinating to watch an exec have to see personally the impact of the relentless drive for higher productivity enhancement programs that are imposed from the top down. Put a spotlight on how the gap between the upper and middle class in America goes beyond dollars...many folks at the top have absolutely no clue how tough day-to-day life is down below, even when it comes to their colleagues within their company.

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Leonard Feb. 8, 2010 @ 12:16 p.m.

DON On another,though possibly related topic,what is the status of the UT editor's position? I understand Karen stepped down at the end of last year,and I haven't seen anything in the paper about a replacement.Though other mid-level editors are still listed I haven't seen an editor listed since the beginning of the new year.Since they appear to have multiple managing editors,do they have an executive editor or someone in the #2 position on the editorial side of the house?

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Don Bauder Feb. 8, 2010 @ 10 p.m.

Response to post #7: Many people at the top of major companies lock themselves in their aerie, don't mix with employees or customers and wonder why business goes to hell. It's getting worse by the year. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Feb. 8, 2010 @ 10:04 p.m.

Response to post #8: First, I don't think Karin Winner "stepped down." I think she got a good shove. I was surprised when she remained on for several months after the others in the top management group were sacked. I keep checking sources and I have not heard a word about a replacement for her. My guess is that it will be somebody who has been close to the publisher in previous jobs. Best, Don Bauder

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Visduh Feb. 9, 2010 @ 9:24 a.m.

If the next editor of the U-T is someone who was close to Moss before, you won't see anything like innovation or editorial integrity. It will be someone who never threatened him, criticized him, or told him anything he preferred not to hear. His own record as a newspaperman is fairly stinky.

As to this program to elicit suggestions, they exist in many organizations, yet seldom really seem to make any sort of difference. Those I've seen usually have an exec thanking the employee for the suggestion, paying the idea a compliment, and then telling the suggestion-maker why they won't be doing it anyway. (The reason is usually budgetary, even when the suggestion was to cut expenses!)

Final point: If ltrules is really a U-T employee, I hope that he/she isn't expected to do any writing. Or is that posting written as it is to disguise the author?

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HellcatCopley Feb. 9, 2010 @ 10:27 a.m.

In the late 90s Gene Bell did attempt some genuine “bottom up” management. There were at least three very costly initiatives: the General Electric “WorkOut,” the Partners 2000 groups, and “400/500.”

WorkOut, intended to streamline and simplify existing processes and eliminate non-value added work, foundered shortly after a rank-and-file circulation employee publicly upbraided Karin Winner about the lack of effectiveness of the newsroom.

Partners 2000, intended to be customer service friendly by amalgamating ad sales, ad artists and credit, effectively went bye-bye when the new CFO realized that advertising folks were now heading up credit functions.

400/500, intended to boost circulation by employee input, was headed by the top graphic designer at the UT. This exec did not score points with Bell. When asked to give an update on 400/500 at the quarterly manager meeting, he instead presented the “dancing baby” animation that was web-hot at the time. The most visible outcome of the 400/500 initiative was the opening of the employee gym.

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SurfPuppy619 Feb. 9, 2010 @ 11:32 a.m.

When asked to give an update on 400/500 at the quarterly manager meeting, he instead presented the “dancing baby” animation that was web-hot at the time.

Classic!

:)

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Submariner Feb. 10, 2010 @ 2:25 a.m.

Hey, isn't swearing at people in the workplace illegal? Why doesn't somebody take this jackass to HR for a little re-education? There are laws, both state and federal, against creating a hostile work environment. (BTW, this is the third U-T person I've seen or heard in the past month complaining about "Hollering Harry," as this douche-nozzle is known. I overheard the first two commiserating over drinks at one of my favorite watering holes, so it's a good bet that something unlawful is going on here.) What's your read on this, Don?

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Don Bauder Feb. 10, 2010 @ 1:40 p.m.

Response to post #11: Fairly or unfairly, his critics say Moss is very good at making newspapers into shoppers. As to ltrules, I doubt he/she is a writer, reporter or editor. May work in the backshop. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Feb. 10, 2010 @ 1:46 p.m.

Response to post #12: Good points. The effect of 400/500 (the campaign to bring daily circulation to 400,000 and Sunday to 500,000, a modest goal because both were near those levels), flopped. Circulation and market share both plunged. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Feb. 10, 2010 @ 1:49 p.m.

Response to post #13: What was he going to do? Tell the truth -- that the campaign was flopping? He did what any artful dodger would do: he shifted the focus elsewhere to disguise what was really happening. He probably conned everybody at the meeting, including Bell. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Feb. 10, 2010 @ 1:55 p.m.

Response to post #14: I don't know who Hollering Harry is. I've been gone from the place for seven years. I don't know what department he is in. Whether his behavior constitutes an illegality is no doubt a gray area. Had such rules been followed when I was there, top management would have used them as a pretext to get rid of me. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Feb. 10, 2010 @ 2 p.m.

Response to post #15: Advice: write, report, edit, distribute, sell ads better --but most importantly, change the business model radically and succeed in the Internet age. Best, Don Bauder

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pascal Feb. 10, 2010 @ 3:02 p.m.

Response to posts #12 and others: It's been my experience that labor unions often discourage bottom-up communication like you're describing between employees and management. My recollection is that it was in the late 90's(?) that the U-T got rid of some of their unions. Perhaps Gene Bell's attempt at that time was a response to finally being allowed to do so by newly non-represented workers? As to whether that worked, or the new one there will, I dunno.

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HellcatCopley Feb. 10, 2010 @ 4:10 p.m.

Hey, isn't swearing at people in the workplace illegal?

No.

There are laws, both state and federal, against creating a hostile work environment.

The laws do not and are not intended to create a generally pleasant workplace. "Hostile work environment" means that a group or individual is being given bad treatment based on membership in a legally protected class (race, gender sexual orientation, etc.) Someone who hollers at everyone indiscriminately is just a plain old bad manager.

Interestingly, under the Gene Bell regime, Hollering Harry would have been quite rapidly walked off the plank. Mistreated employees are eager for unions to protect them, and Bell did not tolerate a manager who was running things by screaming.

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Don Bauder Feb. 10, 2010 @ 5:19 p.m.

Response to post #21: The guild voted itself out of existence in 1998. That was the major union -- the main burr in management's saddle, or so it thought. I think a lot of members had no idea how virulently anti-union Bell was. But he sweet-talked them. Ten years later, he was axing them massively, although I doubt if the guild could have done much about the pogrom. This latest move to reward productivity-enhancing suggestions from employees -- which may or may not be a phony -- has nothing to do with Bell. He was out as soon as Platinum came in last spring. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Feb. 10, 2010 @ 5:24 p.m.

Response to post #22: So did Bell dislike bullying bosses because they encouraged unionism, or because they inhibited productivity? It's always been my understanding that he was more interested in chasing the unions out of the joint than he was interested in seeing a smooth-running workplace. Maybe you knew him better than I did. Best, Don Bauder

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SurfPuppy619 Feb. 10, 2010 @ 11:18 p.m.

It's been my experience that labor unions often discourage bottom-up communication like you're describing between employees and management.

I don't know why the unions would discourage this type of mangement.

This has been very popular for at least the last 20 years, when it came into widespread management use and is referred to as TQM, Total Quality Management.

The main problem with TQM is that the top usually just gives it lip service and does not actually listen to, or take these recommendations seriously.

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muzzler1023 Feb. 11, 2010 @ 6:45 a.m.

I was there... 400/500 was the bastard child of an offhand remark by Bell regarding Circ efforts. It took on a life of its own when ambitious minds morphed it into a plan. The only problem was that their plan was to grow the News staff. Work out made progress until it tackled "deadlines" and rammed its head against the brick wall intransigence of the newsroom (read as L.C.) and the only result of three days of meetings was their "agreement" to create a committee to further study the issue. That was the end of work out. Partners 2000 made progress until it became a turf and control issue between finance and advertising. Decentralizing ad production and finance functions into "teams" where some members were more equal than others just made matters worse. During Bell's last years he was gone more than he was there - dropping in to dump and play "stump the dummy".

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Don Bauder Feb. 11, 2010 @ 6:46 a.m.

Response to post #25: Any such program is bound to be controversial. Some will say it works, others will say it does not. Remember the Japanese quality circles that were the rage 25 years ago? Best, Don Bauder

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MURPHYJUNK Feb. 11, 2010 @ 8:01 a.m.

why not take suggestions from the readers, much larger ( and dare I say educated) pool to draw from.

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pascal Feb. 11, 2010 @ 9:34 a.m.

Res[omnse to post #25:

"I don't know why the unions would discourage this type of management."

I don't know why either, but in my experience, it happens. I worked for a company once that tried to address issues they uncovered in one of their employee surveys. They attempted to arranged employee meetings similar to the "Work-Out" ones Hellcat describes above. However these were effectively stopped by the union representing those employees because it felt all the issues should be addressed only through the collective bargainaing process, and not through direct management-employee interactions. I'll never work at a Union shop again!

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Don Bauder Feb. 11, 2010 @ 10:53 a.m.

Response to post #28: Good point. For a number of years now, though, the U-T has taken readership polls and staged focus groups to try to find what readers want. It was self-defense: the market share was plunging, along with profits. However, there was one glaring problem. People who put on focus groups would hear over and over that one staff member's stories or columns were great. But if the editor hated that person, the results of the survey would never be sent along. Also, surveys would often indicate the paper should go in some direction, but if the editors didn't want to go that way, the surveys would be ignored. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Feb. 11, 2010 @ 10:55 a.m.

Response to post #29: That is a shame -- a case of a union not taking advantage when management opened the door. Best, Don Bauder

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RobertScorpio Feb. 11, 2010 @ 11:02 a.m.

I have a simple fix to both sides; put out a newspaper that MOST people want to read.

Rob

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pascal Feb. 11, 2010 @ 3:54 p.m.

U-T has a new Editor- just announced at SignOnSanDiego.com.

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HellcatCopley Feb. 11, 2010 @ 4:18 p.m.

The 'right' audience and effective sales can boost revenues

Jeff Light of Orange Country Register Communications talks about cohesive integration among audience size and engagement, audience quality and sales effectiveness at newspapers.

By Lorraine K. Lee | Medill School of Journalism Monday, January 4, 2010 8:49 AM CST

Without cohesive integration among audience size and engagement, audience quality and sales effectiveness, local newspaper company revenues could continue to erode, according to Jeff Light, vice president of Interactive at Orange Country Register Communications Inc.

“What tends to happen, unfortunately, is you might have a zealous newsroom crank up audience—but revenue doesn’t move and sales go down,” said Light, a presenter at Inland’s 124th Annual Meeting. He charged them thusly: “Please work all the dials!”

Though this advice may sound simple, Light said, it isn’t working well because the gap between print and Web is substantial and that is not ideal.

“It’s closing in an unhappy way because the print side is losing money,” Light said, while providing a PowerPoint presentation with slides that demonstrated deep declines in print revenue across the industry.

“Do not make print the root product for all your content,” he admonished the Inland audience.

But then Light assured them that there is money to be made—in providing online content conducive to local areas. He said that local media outlets are missing an opportunity to make money off their share of Internet usage, and that must be fixed.

“Of that 24 billion dollars that’s being spent to reach all web users,” said Light, “we represent a tiny slice of that opportunity for advertisers.”

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HellcatCopley Feb. 11, 2010 @ 4:21 p.m.

Not exactly the sounds made from a top-flight journo. UT: Mene, Mene, Tekel u-Pharsin

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Don Bauder Feb. 11, 2010 @ 4:28 p.m.

Response to post #34: Good enough. Why hasn't anyone at the U-T thought of that all these years? Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Feb. 11, 2010 @ 5:01 p.m.

Response to post #33: Thanks for alerting me. I just posted it separately. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Feb. 11, 2010 @ 5:13 p.m.

Response to post #34: I don't know if the Medill journalist correctly interpreted his speech. If so, it's disturbing. Actually, the print side of metro dailies is still making money, collectively, although clearly in diminishing amounts, and there are glaring exceptions. Some are losing a bundle. It's the online side that is not making money yet. There is almost universal agreement that online profits must appear and rise if daily newspapers are to survive. I would like to see the actual speech. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Feb. 11, 2010 @ 5:15 p.m.

Response to post #35: Yes, the handwriting seems to be on the wall, and if the Medill reporter captured the gist of his remarks, it's scary. Again, I would like to see what he actually said. Best, Don Bauder

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gekko Feb. 14, 2010 @ 3:18 p.m.

Response to post #12

WorkOut, intended to streamline and simplify existing processes and eliminate non-value added work, foundered shortly after a rank-and-file circulation employee publicly upbraided Karin Winner about the lack of effectiveness of the newsroom.

HellcatCopley:

Who was the rank-and-file circulation employee you mention? This person had some brass stones.

What department did you work in?

Gekko

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gekko Feb. 14, 2010 @ 6:53 p.m.

Don:

I saw the name of Pat Marrinan in the story at the top. I can't believe he still works there. I always thought he and Gene Bell had the same hatred toward unions. Think of the irony here. Bell was responsible for getting most of the unions to decertify. This made the U-T more easy to sell. When it sold the new owners got rid of Bell. So he engineered his own downfall.

gekko

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Don Bauder Feb. 14, 2010 @ 10:38 p.m.

Response to post #40: Yes, let's hear this circulation person's name. As to Hellcat Copley, it is his business what department he worked in, unless he wants to volunteer it. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Feb. 14, 2010 @ 10:42 p.m.

Response to post #41: I don't agree with your analysis. Bell got rid of the guild in 1998, a decade before the sale. I don't know that the clearing out of most unions had anything to do with the sale of the paper. Platinum Equity has a lot of union money. By the time the paper was sold, Bell was past retirement age. He had said he would retire when the sale took place, before Platinum was in the picture in all likelihood. If there is a change in attitude toward unions under Platinum, I am sure Marrinan will adjust. Best, Don Bauder

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muzzler1023 Feb. 15, 2010 @ 11:37 a.m.

response to #38...

Don, you continue to show ignorance of the business side. A while ago you said the Sports section was profitable when the fact is it was second only to the Sunday TV book as a money loser. Now you say the online wasn't making money. It was slow going, but by the time Jennewein left, SOSD was profitable and growing revenue every year. Once they fixed the obscene commission schedule things got even better.

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Don Bauder Feb. 15, 2010 @ 5:23 p.m.

Response to post #44: If you read my post #38 again, you will see that I was referring to newspapers in general when I said online is not making money yet. And that is true. Collectively, online is not yet profitable, although its growth is very sharp. I'm not sure that your statement on the U-T's online operation is true. It is my understanding that revenue peaked some time around 2006 or 2007 and came down. It may be back up again. I don't know that online is profitable at the U-T now. One problem is an accounting one: most of the news is produced by the print side. How do you allocate that cost between print and online? If you have heard definitively that online is profitable at the U-T now, please let me know. The entire operation is profitable, according to the new management, but I'm not sure about online. Best, Don Bauder

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Twister Feb. 15, 2010 @ 9:08 p.m.

Response to #34:

“Of that 24 billion dollars that’s being spent to reach all web users,” said Light, “we represent a tiny slice of that opportunity for advertisers.”

As Ben Franklin replied when queried outside Independence Hall thus, "Gentlemen, what have you given us?" "Liberty," said Franklin, "if you can keep it!"

"Eyeballs," if you can keep them--and get them to spend money! (Ads borrowed from the last century will not do the job.) So what if you "reach" them? They have to WANT what you have to sell or offer, and right now, they can't get there from here, expressed as a percentage of the time they invest in trying to find what THEY want, not necessarily what you (newspapers and newspaper sites as "cohesive, integrated" entities) want to sell them.

Look at the websites that make the lion's share of Internet revenue and are hugely profitable. That's where TODAY'S "formula" is--but not necessarily where the "next big thing" will be tomorrow. However, it is a good hint of the trend, as users get savvier and savvier. Adapt or die!

PS: These responses--from where the wheel meets the road--are pure gold! Keep posting!!!

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Don Bauder Feb. 15, 2010 @ 9:37 p.m.

Response to post #46: U-T employees obviously hope that the new management will find a formula that will work -- at least for awhile. Most people I talk with believe the new management is savvier than the last -- but that, unfortunately, is not saying much. Many think the new team is MUCH savvier. Best, Don Bauder

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Twister Feb. 16, 2010 @ 4:15 p.m.

Response to #47:

Don, please feed us more details about Platinum. I remember one day many months ago, in reading both the U-T and the LA Times, I said to myself, "Gosh, the U-T has gotten better and the Times has gotten worse!"

That's mere anecdote, of course; I'd be interested in your take on this, and that of your readers.

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muzzler1023 Feb. 19, 2010 @ 4:39 p.m.

Re #45 Don, SOSD moved out of their high rent space and crowded into Mission Valley. Revenue was growing @ 25 to 40% a year. Copy is essentially free. Web hosting is cheap. Believe me, they are profitable...

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Don Bauder Feb. 19, 2010 @ 4:59 p.m.

Response to post #49: Yes, SignOn moved out of expensive digs and into the MV building where costs are lower. Revenue may be growing as fast as you say. I have a good source who should know and I will check. But you say, "Copy is essentially free." But isn't most of that copy generated by the print side? And therefore, shouldn't SignOn absorb some of those costs? Those are the accounting questions that must be dealt with. Many thanks and best, Don Bauder

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