The corporate bosses of Sinclair Broadcast Group are claiming their acquisition of Chicago-based Tribune Media — creating a television juggernaut with 233 stations in 108 markets — isn’t just good for their company and their shareholders. They say it also will serve the public interest.
But the people who’ll benefit most from the deal may be executives of Tribune Media.
In a filing this week with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Sinclair disclosed plans for generous severance payments to top Tribune execs when they exit the company after the merger is completed. They include:
- Edward Lazarus, executive vice president and general counsel: $9,681,435
- Chandler Bigelow, executive vice president and chief financial officer: $9,248,157
- Larry Wert, president broadcast media: $7,760,566
Gary Weitman, senior vice president of corporate relations at Tribune Media, declined to comment on the disclosure.
Now that an FCC friendly to the politically connected Sinclair has relaxed its ownership rules and a federal appeals court has cleared the way, the $6.6 billion deal for Tribune (including $3.9 billion in cash and the assumption of $2.7 billion in debt) appears to be going full speed ahead.
Despite objections raised by citizens groups that consolidation on such a vast scale would harm local broadcasting and journalism, Sinclair has argued that the acquisition “will increase the merged company’s capability to serve the public by increasing its operational efficiencies.”
For a company as notoriously cheap as Sinclair, “increasing its operational efficiencies” is simply another way of saying mass firings. According to the SEC filing this week, Sinclair expects to realize “$266 million of synergies” — presumably through layoffs and other cutbacks.
“Sinclair’s business model is going into a market, buying multiple stations, moving them all to one facility, and firing three quarters of the staff to get as much work with the fewest employees,” one union official told Media Matters.
“Our employees are very nervous about the situation,” said another. “It is a combination of political influence and that Sinclair is extremely anti-union in dealing with its employees. What is it going to mean?”
For the parent company of “Chicago’s Very Own” WGN-Channel 9 and WGN AM 720, the dismantling of Tribune Media will mark the final chapter in the destruction of what was the city’s most iconic and powerful media brand for nearly a century.
Some trace the beginning of the end to the merger of Tribune Co. with Times Mirror Co., publisher of the Los Angeles Times, in 2000. Others point to the disastrous ownership of the company under Sam Zell in 2007, leading to four years of bankruptcy and the split of Tribune Media and Tribune Publishing (now tronc).
Regardless of when it began, there’s no doubt the wreckage culminated with the company’s current board and leadership. With singleminded determination they cashed out everything they could — from the company’s Gothic masterpiece Tribune Tower headquarters, to its forward-looking digital and data business Gracenote, to the very land under its television stations. The biggest shareholders on the board reaped millions in short-term profits while company execs enriched themselves with extravagant payouts.
All of which led up to the ultimate sell-out to some outfit from Baltimore you never heard of. Keep that in mind when Sinclair starts handing out pink slips to the working men and women who made WGN and Tribune Media the company it was.
(Update: Payment figures for Tribune Media executives have been corrected from the original post.)