Robservations: Chicago Tribune offers staffers pay cuts or severance

Chicago Tribune

Robservations on the media beat:

Salary reductions were announced Thursday for employees at the Chicago Tribune as parent company Tribune Publishing seeks to offset “sharp declines” in advertising revenue due to the coronavirus shutdown. Effective April 19, the company will permanently reduce the base pay of non-unionized staffers on a sliding scale of up to 10 percent, with those earning more taking steeper cuts. Employees have until April 17 to decide whether to accept the salary reduction or leave the company and receive severance. Tribune Publishing CEO Terry Jimenez, who’ll take a 13.8 percent pay cut along with Tribune Publishing board members, said in a memo to employees: “We also will pursue cost savings within our unionized workforce with measures that will affect both employees covered by existing collective bargaining agreements and employees who are not.” In response, Megan Crepeau, president of the Chicago Tribune Guild (which represents newsroom employees), tweeted: “Has the gap between Tribune corporate and Tribune journalists — the difference in empathy, courage, perseverance — ever been so wide? We’re risking our health to inform readers about a worldwide pandemic. In return they deny us sick leave and try to cut costs.”

Tom Skilling

Monday marks the return of superstar meteorologist Tom Skilling to Nexstar Media Group WGN-Channel 9 six weeks after he underwent gastric bypass surgery to lose weight. But like most of his colleagues, he’ll be delivering his forecasts from home for the time being. “I couldn’t help but think undertaking originating weather shows at home when I started in the business 50 years ago would have been next to impossible,” Skilling wrote on Facebook. “Not so today — every piece of meteorological data, all model runs and today’s array of incredible satellite imagery and Doppler data can be accessed today anywhere!! We’ll be microwaving the home weather shows from the balcony of my building to the Hancock Building from which they’ll be relayed to the WGN studios to our viewers. The technology which makes all this possible boggles my mind!”

Eric Ferguson

Monday also marks the start of new hours for “Eric in the Morning” — the top-rated morning show on Hubbard Radio hot adult-contemporary WTMX 101.9-FM — to accommodate the disrupted schedules of listeners. In what’s being called a one-week experiment, the show will air live from 7 to 11 a.m. In addition 101.9 The Mix will replay one hour of “Eric in the Morning” at 5:30 p.m. every weeknight, according to Jimmy Steal, vice president of brand and content. “Figured I needed to fit the show into the adjusted lifestyles of the audience,” host and Radio Hall of Famer Eric Ferguson said. Continuing with Ferguson are co-hosts Melissa McGurren and Brian “Whip” Paruch and traffic reporter Violeta Podrumedic.

Justin Kaufmann

Cardinal Blase Cupich and U.S. Senator Dick Durbin will be among guests on the premiere of Justin Kaufmann’s live call-in show this weekend on Chicago Public Media WBEZ 91.5-FM. For at least the next four weeks it will air from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturdays. Kaufmann, who previously spent 21 years at WBEZ as a producer, is returning to the station after five years as evening host at Nexstar Media Group news/talk WGN 720-AM. “Public radio was built for moments like these,” Kaufmann said. “I know how important connection is right now. And I’m honored and humbled to be on the air for so many listeners in this time of need.” Also at WBEZ, the station just won “The Best in Show” Headliner Award for its “City On Fire: Chicago Race Riot 1919” radio drama/documentary in the 86th annual Headliner Awards from the Press Club of Atlantic City. (Here is the link.)

“Career Transition Advice, Working with a Recruiter and Understanding Unemployment Benefits” is the timely topic of a free video conference Wednesday to be sponsored by the Chicago Headline Club. A panel of experts will be on hand starting at 7 p.m. to advise journalists on their options and answer questions about dealing with troubled times. Participants must register in order to be sent a secure Zoom link. (Here is the link.)

Roger Triemstra

Happy to share news of a FaceTime reunion Thursday of former WGN morning star Spike O’Dell and meteorologist Roger Triemstra, who turns 90 this weekend. O’Dell, who now lives in Nashville, Tennessee, said he was surprised by the call from Triemstra, who’s living with his wife at a nursing home in Munster, Indiana. “That old goat is still sharp as a tack!” O’Dell said of his colleague. “We talked and laughed and giggled and pontificated, just like the old days on WGN Radio.” O’Dell, who retired in 2008, was inducted in the first class of the WGN Radio Walk of Fame in 2014. Triemstra, who retired in 1998, was inducted in 2018.

Thursday’s comment of the day: Tom Kallay: It just seems strange to me that in a time when our city and communities need information during this crisis, the corporate owners of our once proud local stations are laying people off. Having grown up here and listened to iconic stations like WLS, WCFL, WLUP, WMET, WBBM, (having interned at WLS AM at one time), I know about the time and effort that these and other stations made to connect with their listeners and communities during the good times and not so good. I don’t recall reading about layoffs during previous times of crisis and lord knows Chicago has had its share of crisis. I realize COVID is different in many ways but it is a crisis nonetheless. I cannot help but wonder if the corporate owners of these and other stations will use this to continue letting the hard working people at these stations go, piping in some voice from another part of the country that knows nothing about Chicago in an effort to beef up revenues and earnings. Terrestrial radio is so disappointing nowadays.