Monday, December 8, 2008

Tribune files for bankruptcy protection: more bad news

Happy Monday. We had a nice weekend. A little more about that later.

I never thought I would feel bad about the Tribune Co. hitting the rocks, but I do.

The Chicago-based chain today (Dec. 8, 2008) filed for protection from creditors under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Act. That means it will reorganize itself while protected from some creditors. 

Tribune owns, among other things, The Hartford Courant, WTIC and WTXX television stations, the New Haven Advocate, and major national publications such as the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Chicago Tribune. It also owns the Chicago Cubs baseball team, but that's not part of the bankruptcy. The team has enough problems on its own.

Sam Zell, the real estate magnate who apparently ran the chain into the ground, sent a memo to staffers, telling them their pay and benefits such as 401(k) plans were safe. The employee stock option plan (ESOP), however, is another matter, the memo said. 

I worked for Tribune in 1990-1991 at the New York Daily News. Trib's management style can only be called Draconian, and the chain finally gave the paper away to British con man Robert Maxwell, who ran it for a couple of years, stripped money from it, and it eventually lost it. He also lost his life in a mysterious fashion on his yacht, or rather under it. 

The papers and television stations owned by Tribune contribute a large percentage of what stands for news coverage in the state, and it would be really bad to have that pared down, especially with the probable closing of the New Britain Herald and Bristol Press. 

Newspapers in Connecticut are in big, big trouble. That's not news to anyone who's paying attention. Much of the state is relegated to the tender mercies of Journal-Register, a horrible company employing some talented reporters, editors, photographers, artists and the like. Last week, the share price for its stock was 60 mills - that's $.006. These reporters and photographers, at least some of them, are talented and hard-working, but have little in the way of resources. 

The Hearst Corp. has taken over Fairfield County, with the exception of the Norwalk Hour. Gannett sold the Norwich Bulletin to a regional chain and the New London Day has been laying off people. The Waterbury Republican-American is hanging on, as are the Manchester-Rockville Journal-Inquirer and Willimantic Chronicle.

At a time when we need more and varied information, it's getting harder and harder to come by. The weakening of the Hartford Courant will take us in the wrong direction.

Page 2: A little break from the sweetness

If you are getting  little sick of the sweetness and buy-buy-buy ethos of the holiday season, a little weary of 24-hour Yule carols on certain radio stations and the injection of the season in everything, there may be a respite for you. 

Two friends, plus friend wife and I, went to Bridgeport yesterday and took in "The Santaland Diaries and Season's Greetings" by David Sedaris at the Playhouse on the Green on State Street. 

This two-act, double soliloquy is irreverent, biting and funny in the black-humor sort of way. The first act is Scott R. Brill, telling of his adventures as an elf at Macy's Santaland.  He pulls it off beautifully, a droll wonder of an actor playing an actor playing a seasonal elf.

Kim McGrath is a wealthy, well-established housewife whose recent tragedy would not be allowed to interfere with the joy of the season. It's a prime example of black humor.

Go and enjoy. The seats are $27, $25 for seniors, $15 for students and less if you belong to TheatreMania or other discount groups. It's presented mostly on weekends, but the site will give you specifics.

My friend Al, who, with wife, Cheryl, accompanied us, said Bridgeport is trying to reinvent itself downtown with restaurants, theaters, clubs and the like. It's a few years behind New Haven in that regard, but many of the wonderful, old bank buildings have been reused.

Al says the Bridgeport plans include condos and apartments, so that people could live downtown, like New Haven. The skeleton of one such plan sits at a corner, the victim of the current financial crisis, but I hope this renaissance continues. 

Page 3: Three cheers for Barack

I watched President-elect Obama's interview with Tom Brokaw on "Meet the Press" Sunday morning. 

One of the questions Brokaw asked is that if the price of gas is coming down to where people can fill up for less than $20, aren't they going to go back to the SUV's and large trucks that are anathema to the move for more efficient transportation? If so, why not raise the tax on gasoline so that people are paying $4 a gallon, which people had been paying anyway until a month ago or so? Would that not raise money for infrastructure and help the drive toward greener cars?

This is the same theory that Thomas L. Friedman of the New York Times has been plugging.

Obama said no. He said because there are so many people who are hurting through no fault of their own, it wouldn't be right to penalize them even more by artificially raising the price of gas. These are people who had lost their jobs, whose houses were being foreclosed upon, whose savings had been trampled, and who may need their cars to seek out work.

Good common sense prevailed over theory. At some point, it might make sense to hike the price of gas, but not now. 

I think he's right. I don't want to see people selling pencils on the street corner, with signs saying "Homeless due to a theory."

Page 4: Happy birthday, Tamar

The day after tomorrow, a cute little girl named Tamar Spoerri will be 7 years old. She's very smart and very determined. Let's all wish her a very happy birthday. 

Until next time...

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