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Union-Tribune employees are wondering once again just who will own their company, or whether the U-T could be folded into a conglomeration of Southern California papers. Two management missteps fomented the worry. First, the company said early this year that employees who had stockpiled vacation days (as layoff cushions) should bring their cumulative weeks down from 8 to 5 at a modest pace. Then, suddenly, employees were told to get down from 8 to 5 by April. Obviously, there was fear that the company is trying to get cumulative vacations off the books. Second, both employees and retirees who are on defined contribution plans were told without warning that they would be getting their checks from a different bank and should consult a different firm for pension advice. (At least, they were told that there will be no change in pension benefits.)

Platinum Equity, which bought the U-T in May of 2009, is a private equity operation. Such firms buy an asset, claim to improve it (usually changing the accounting), then sell it at a profit. One top Platinum executive stated in 2008 that the company's holding period averages 3 to 5 years. Hmmmm. Freedom Communications, which owns the Orange County Register and emerged from bankruptcy last year, will be auctioned off at some point. Bids were due earlier this month, but the company has not said when it will sort everything out. Platinum Equity is rumored to be interested in all or part of Freedom, which owns 100 papers and 8 TV stations. Platinum is run by Tom Gores, who is worth a reported $2.2 billion. A similar company, Gores Group, is run by his brother Alec, who is worth $1.6 billion. Together, the two brothers bought Alliance Entertainment late last year. On its website, Platinum lists only two media and communications companies: Alliance and the U-T. The brothers failed in a joint attempt to buy Miramax and Platinum failed trying to buy the Boston Globe and Business Week Magazine.

Some say Alec is more interested in Freedom assets than Tom is. But suppose Alec bought the Register and merged it with brother Tom's Union-Tribune? Possibly the Los Angeles Times and other Southern California papers could be thrown into the mix. Consolidation rumors are flying in media circles, and U-T employees aren't deaf to them. Any consolidation of Southern California papers would surely involve deep layoffs.

In a recent interview with SD METRO Magazine, U-T Publisher Ed Moss boasted that the U-T is now profitable. Management has been saying that for some time. But that's what you expect from a private equity firm that lives by gobbling up assets cheap (and it got Copley for well below the value of real estate assets) and then dumping them for a fat profit. Moss also said in the interview that, upon arriving in San Diego, he was amazed to find how slowly things moved at the U-T and in San Diego. But I called the U-T's flak, Drew Schlosberg, twice yesterday, beginning in the morning, leaving messages each time. I heard nothing. Then I called Platinum twice and also emailed it a list of questions, such as whether or not it is in the running for Freedom assets and whether it might be considering some kind of consolidation with other papers. I was told a vice president would get back to me. He didn't.

Slow, indeed. But the working stiffs aren't slow. For one thing, many are rushing to take those vacation days, leaving only a few to do the heavy lifting. Also, previous layoffs (one of the main reasons the company may be profitable) have left a skeleton staff to do work both in print and online. Complaints abound.

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Comments

Submariner March 22, 2011 @ 9:57 p.m.

Don,

"Complaints abound" indeed! I've just about given up on the cavalcade of grade-school gaffes that is the U-T's website, SignOn San Diego. A first-time reader would never know that this was once a major metro daily paper.

Actually, the morass of mistakes can be traced to a single source: last year's masterstroke of stupidity by upper management in getting rid of the copy desk — the real brain trust and institutional memory of any legitimate newsroom. Now there's nobody left with the requisite skill set to catch those errors before publication, so it falls to frustrated readers to point them out — and even that's no guarantee that they'll be fixed.

(Speaking of which, Drew Schlosberg is a FLACK, as in PR guy. FLAK is what the U-T catches for the daily disservice it does to its readers and to good journalism. Just sayin' ...)

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Don Bauder March 23, 2011 @ 7:53 a.m.

I agree with you that last year's decision to dump the copy desk -- thereby relying on reporters to get it right, factually and grammatically, the first time -- was a mistake. That's particularly true since so many of the reporters are cubs hired because they don't have to be paid much. You see errors every day, just about, on the U-T website. However, I would say this: it's we old folks who are so sensitive about bad grammar. Most younger people don't seem to give a damn, and many wouldn't know good grammar from bad grammar. And it's the younger audience that the U-T and other media are courting. Sorry about the misspelling of flack. That was not a typo; I thought that was how it was spelled at that time. Best, Don Bauder

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Visduh March 23, 2011 @ 8:13 a.m.

This new regime is, in addition to a host of failings, spoilsports. They won't even let the poor employees bank some vacation to add to their severance when they are laid off. (Note that I said "when", not "if".) One of the most obvious signs that employees are worried is when they start heavily banking their vacation days.

Ed Moss is a newspaper publisher who probably cares, in his own weird way, about the quality of the product. But when pressured by the absentee owners at Platinum, is willing, nay eager, to cut costs. I still fail to see how a paper with the lack of advertisers, such as the U-T, can claim to be profitable. Mindless cost-cutting has been a hallmark of American corporate life for at least twenty years now, often resulting in carving muscle while letting fat just sit there and grow. Thus the Light News eliminates the copy desk, and turns the place over to a flock of untrained and unmanaged rookie reporters.

I don't know just how close submariner is to the day-to-day operation of the Light News, but I'd like to hear more from him (assuming maleness) and more commentary on just how far "our" local rag has slipped since the sale.

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Don Bauder March 23, 2011 @ 9:49 a.m.

In the same interview that I quoted in the blog item, Moss and Jeff Light, editor, claimed that the paper will no longer bow and scrape at the feet of the downtown establishment, which they identified as the top 40 so-called leaders. That may be true to some extent, but I haven't seen much evidence of this. Certainly, the paper is giving Mayor Sanders and District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis a free pass. This is fine with us at the Reader, because we can expose what's really going on with those two. But I don't think it's good for San Diego.

The U-T claims that it is profitable. With all the cuts, that's possible. However, circulation is still sinking. As to the U-T making employees slash stockpiled vacation time, I am told (but haven't verified) that the same thing is happening at the Orange County Register. That's less surprising, because the assets of the parent, including the Register, are being auctioned at some point. But it may mean something. I think big moves are coming in Southern California newspapers, probably including the Los Angeles Times. Best, Don Bauder

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Visduh March 23, 2011 @ 10:18 a.m.

I haven't seen much real change in the editorial stance of the Light News in regard to the Sanders administration and cabal that put him in the mayoral slot. They do occasionally expose something that never would have seen the light of day during the Copley regime, but that is the exception and not the rule.

Why Dumanis isn't subject of more critical review is the big question. Attacking the district attorney is always a risk, due to the vast resources of the criminal justice system that can be misused to punish enemies. Does she have dirt on Moss, Light, and others in their circle? If she does, can she use it effectively? Back when Ed Miller had worn out his welcome, I don't remember the U-T going to his defense, but they sure didn't attack his record.

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Don Bauder March 23, 2011 @ 1:53 p.m.

Agreed. I see little change in the editorial stance. Also, the editorials seem puerile now. That may be an improvement on the blatant distortions cooked up by Bob Kittle when he was there, but both leave a bad taste. Best, Don Bauder

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MURPHYJUNK March 23, 2011 @ 9:50 a.m.

are they going to get replacements from primary schools this time?

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Don Bauder March 23, 2011 @ 9:53 a.m.

You know, I would like to see your kind of biting sarcasm show up in U-T columns. Alas, there is still mostly mush. Best, Don Bauder

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Psycholizard March 23, 2011 @ 3:32 p.m.

Finding younger readers involves finding younger writers, but don't think talented primary school students are going to work for piddling UT pay. They are rhyming the news in rap songs, and drawing comic books, they know where the money is. To know the future, listen to the young.

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Don Bauder March 23, 2011 @ 3:53 p.m.

You should hear Hollywood producers who are in my generation scream about ageism. The older writers and producers are being discriminated against. I can't figure out some of this. I can see why most advertisers want the younger generations, but there is still a big market out there of us old folks. And we're not hep. We don't understand the new language or the technologies, and we can't offer longevity, but generally we can offer more wealth, and often more discretionary income. Best, Don Bauder

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Psycholizard March 23, 2011 @ 7:34 p.m.

Older customers are more set in their ways, and therefore more resistant to advertising. It's easier to start a habit than change a habit, that's why they pitch booze to the young, before they become the stubborn drunk that changes wives far more often than whiskey brands.

The newspapers don't need very young readers to sell advertising, they need them to start the habit of reading in their spending years.

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Don Bauder March 24, 2011 @ 8:03 a.m.

When you refer to a "stubborn drunk that changes [spouses] far more than whiskey brands," you are not referring to the late Elizabeth Taylor, are you? Best, Don Bauder

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tomjohnston March 24, 2011 @ 12:32 a.m.

I don't know much about them, so I don't know if they are to be considered a legitimate source, but a few weeks ago a read the reports from a Pew Center survey. It said that 66% of Americans cite television as their main source of news, but 41 % get most of their news on the internet. In the 18-29 age group, 65% cited the internet as their main source, which was up from only 34% 3 years ago. If U-T has had thoughts of attracting new , young readers to bolster it's circulation, they are already losing that battle. As a whole only 31% of Americans use newspapers as their main source for news and information.

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Don Bauder March 24, 2011 @ 8:36 a.m.

The latest Pew report, which came out this month, concludes that people are spending more time with news than ever before, but the source of news continues to change. Online was up 17.1% in 2009-2010. But the rest were down: local TV 1.5%, network TV 3.4%, newspapers 5%, radio 6%, magazines 8.9% and cable TV 13.7%. In December 41% cited the internet as the place where they got most of their national and international news, up from 17% a year earlier. In discussing "any kind of news," 46% say they get it online at least three times a week, passing newspapers (40%) for the first time. Best, Don Bauder

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Ponzi March 24, 2011 @ 8:12 a.m.

I’m really irritated with the UT. I used to be able to line by birdcage for a whole week with the Sunday edition alone. The Sunday edition is so thin now so I had to spring for the weekly subscription to have enough paper on hand to keep the birdcage lined all week long.

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Don Bauder March 24, 2011 @ 8:40 a.m.

I used to be told that my U-T column was perfect to cure canary constipation. Trouble was, it then caused a wave of canary diarrhea. Best, Don Bauder

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Ponzi March 24, 2011 @ 8:20 a.m.

Don, I’m in the older demographic. However, I get most of my news from the internet. I’m not a big TV watcher except for channels like KPBS and the History Channel. I do check the SignOn San Diego website for their top news stories.

If I am interested in what is the “happening” subject, I go to Google Trends and see what the top search keywords are. Typically they are entertainment or sports related. However they often are breaking news stories that I can then “drill down into” to see what the news is. I also use Google News. Lately I type in “Japan” or “Libya” and see what the most resent results are.

This means that I may be fetching new from source as diverse as the New York Post, New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, BBC, Al Jazeera, Reuters, or any other major news source that posts internet content. I don’t pick up a newspaper anymore.

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MURPHYJUNK March 24, 2011 @ 8:42 a.m.

for real news, get a free to air satellite kit and watch world news broadcasts, not the filtered, watered down stuff we get from the networks.

well worth the investment.

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Don Bauder March 24, 2011 @ 1:02 p.m.

I've seen those broadcasts while traveling in other countries. Please give some examples of networks and shows you like best. Best, Don Bauder

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MURPHYJUNK March 25, 2011 @ 8:13 a.m.

well, al jezerra, and russia today are pretty good, not as biased as we are led to believe.

china news service is entertaining ( we are still yankee imperialists to them)

(english versions)

there are hundreds of channels to choose from, and come to your own conclusion as to what is "real"

check out lyngsat.com to see how much info is really out there.

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Don Bauder March 24, 2011 @ 8:43 a.m.

Our two sons, both in their early 40s, are avid readers of news but don't get newspapers anymore. It's all internet. Of course, they are techies in the Bay Area, but the trend is increasingly true across the country. Actually, in the 1980s research indicated that newspapers were losing readership among the young. But the industry didn't react fast enough. Best, Don Bauder

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SurfPuppy619 April 4, 2011 @ 10:41 p.m.

Don, where in the Bay Area are your sons living?

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Psycholizard March 25, 2011 @ 3:03 p.m.

Pay no attention to rumors started by boasting girlfriends, Psycholizard in no way refers to 'Liz and Dick'.

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Don Bauder March 25, 2011 @ 4:56 p.m.

I read today somewhere that Liz said that had Burton lived, she might have married him a third time. Also, somebody asked her why she had had so many husbands. She said she had no idea why. Best, Don Bauder

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Visduh March 25, 2011 @ 8:43 p.m.

That first Liz/Burton romance was big news the summer that I had graduated high school--1963. It was a slow news summer, but the fall had the Diem assassination and later the guy who signed off on that offing was offed himself, namely JFK.

I digress. Before the movie "Cleopatra" was released, the studio rapidly cranked out a B movie with Liz and Burton as stars. I remember it 'cause a buddy and I double-dated to take a couple coed fellow frosh to see it. That was the fall of 1963. That movie was set in only one spot, the VIP lounge of Heathrow and was called "The VIP's". It won little critical acclaim but probably was wildly profitable because you got to see the illicit couple in an actual movie. For such an improbable movie, it did manage an Oscar. An ancient Brit actress, Margaret Rutherford(?) won as Best Supporting Actress for her role as a bumbling, semi-senile fellow traveler at the airport, one who had some zingers that seemed genuine.

Liz was joltingly beautiful, at least up until she took up with Burton. Bill Ballance of radio talk fame a decade or two ago described her as the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen, describing her as a "green-eyed creature."

But she sure made a hash of her personal life, and messed up the lives of several others. Considering that she was in a London hospital fighting for her life in the 60's, it was a near-miracle that she survived past age 50.

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Don Bauder March 25, 2011 @ 9:37 p.m.

I used to be on Bill Ballance's show regularly. He was an absolute master with words. We became friends, and I will never forget his silky smooth delivery and the descriptive words that would roll off his tongue. Best, Don Bauder

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Visduh March 25, 2011 @ 9:45 p.m.

Hey, how did the subject drift so far? Being discursive again, aren't we?

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Don Bauder March 26, 2011 @ 11:06 a.m.

Schubert called it the Wanderer Fantasy. Best, Don Bauder

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mridolf March 26, 2011 @ 8:24 a.m.

"Foxfire" review today. Not exactly 'exiting' theater. And that's in the headline. Jeez.

I have a spelling checker, It came with my PC. It clearly marks for my revue, mistakes I cannot sea. I ran this poem threw it, I'm shore your pleas to no, Its letter perfect in it's weigh, my checker tolled me sew.

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Don Bauder March 26, 2011 @ 11:09 a.m.

I can think of exciting theater, but then I can also think of exiting theater -- as in getting up and leaving. Several centuries ago, when the actors were making a mess of things, someone in the audience would yell, "Give 'em the hook!" Best, Don Bauder

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gekko March 27, 2011 @ 2:24 p.m.

Don, back to the UT. What ever happenned in the Steve Kelley vs. UT lawsuit regarding the Steve Breen cartoon partnership that never materialized?

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Don Bauder March 27, 2011 @ 9:33 p.m.

Kelley lost at the trial level. He was talking about appealing, but I don't know that he did. Best, Don Bauder

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SurfPuppy619 April 4, 2011 @ 10:40 p.m.

He lost on a sumamry judgement motion, not trial.

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jv333 April 4, 2011 @ 7:16 p.m.

In the big picture, how sad and pathetic that the major daily in one of the country's largest cities is so inferior. Journalism has really suffered. Even the online edition of the SD UT has gone downhill and is lame.

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