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   The Sun Toils Toward its 30% Profit Goal

Public Evidently Not In the Equation:

The Sun Toils Toward its 30% Profit Goal

by Alice Cherbonnier
As the Tribune's stockholders get better returns on investment, The Sun's employees, readers, freelance writers and readers get stiffed. What ever happened to the idea that a newspaper is a public trust?
Don't let anybody say a large institution can't make changes fast. The Sun is proving it can be very nimble when it comes to seizing opportunities to squeeze more profit out of its operations.

Last week, Sun advertisers were notified that the paper would be reducing the width of its pages. This, we were told, would align the Sun with the Washington Post and the L.A. Times, which have also reduced from a 54-inch web to a 50-inch measure. Advertisers were told the narrower size was favored by readers in a test market survey (translation: "Readers want this"--but do they really?). They were also told this change will help "standardize" ad dimensions among newspapers (though only a few others so far have gone narrower). No mention was made of the major, and pretty much successful, standardization effort begun two decades ago that established Standard Advertising Units (SAU's) across the newspaper industry.

Most astonishingly, Sun advertisers were told that the column width reduction would not affect ad rates. What a flimflam! Any fool with half a brain knows that a narrower ad, with the same height, contains less space. So even if the "ad rate" per column inch stays the same, in fact advertisers are getting less for their money--in fact, about 10% less, representing a substantial price increase in this time of recession, should an advertiser need the same amount of space to get a message across. This price hike comes on the heels of an admitted ad rate hike announced at the beginning of the year.

No mention was made about the impact of a smaller size page on the Sun's news coverage. Will there be additional pages to make up for less copy per page? Or will there simply be less reporting?

Pimping Staff for Outside Customers

Well, we have a good clue how this will go. On Sunday, March 10, on the third page of the business section, The Sun published a large ad of its own, announcing that it stands ready to write, design, sell ads, print and distribute just about any kind of publication for anyone willing to hire them. This places the newspaper in direct competition with the hands that feed it (ad agencies, public relations firms, graphic designers, outside printers of ad inserts, etc.). It also means either (1) The Sun will be hiring additional staff to do all this work; or (2) The Sun will be diverting its existing staff to do work-for-hire for outside clients. Guess what? The answer is Number Two. Yes! The Sun apparently doesn't realize that such a move will necessarily dilute the quality of its existing "product" (that's what big media companies call their newspapers)--not to mention demoralize its already downsized staff, who will be expected to produce more work--work they were not hired to do--without being paid extra.

Pimping Newsroom Staff for Television Titillation

But wait! That's not all! Most of us have heard about the ill-advised "close affiliation" developing between The Sun and Channel 2 in the expectation that our clueless Federal Communications Commission will take down cross-ownership same-market barriers. We're already seeing Sun journalists more often on Channel 2 News. Now we've learned Channel 2 television cameras have been installed in The Sun's newsroom, so viewers will see BREAKING NEWS IN ACTION AT A REAL NEWSROOM (as opposed to seeing some talking head TV reporter having makeup applied, which is the kind of visual you're more likely to get at a TV "newsroom").

Now, consider what this means. It means the Sun's reporters will lack the privacy they need to do their jobs. It means they will have Big Brother cameras watching them whenever bosses decree. It means they will have to pay more attention to how they look. It means the whole process of news gathering and writing--which is an intense and decidedly not visual process--will be compromised and cheapened.

Pimping Freelance Contributors

The Sun not only retains rights to whatever its in-house writers produce, it also requires freelance writers to sign contracts that basically say The Sun can do anything it wants with their stories, and can use the writer's work (past stories as well as present and future ones) in any way it sees fit, now and forevermore. The contract is breathtakingly one-sided. Don't take our word for it. Ask to see it. And imagine getting $75 for an op-ed piece, and seeing it later published in a book, or syndicated across the country, or published online, or excerpted and used in an advertising campaign or promotion for theSun or someone else they farm your words out to--and not receive a penny more.

The Tribune Company has decreed that its "properties" (The Sun is a "property" that produces a "product") generate 30% profit annually. No doubt the paper's top managers will be handsomely rewarded with bonuses if they meet goals that benefit Tribune stockholders. Meanwhile, everybody else--the paper's employees, advertisers, freelancers and readers--gets hosed. What a great way to run a business.


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This story was published on March 14, 2002.
  
APRIL 2002
LOCAL NEWS
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ART & ENTERTAINMENT
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SPEAKING OUT
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NEWS MEDIA CRITIQUE
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NATION & WORLD
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CITIZENS REFERENCE: BLUE CROSS PRIVATIZATION ISSUES
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