tronc to San Diego: you're fired

Tweets bring bad layoff news for troubled daily newspaper

Malcolm CasSelle and Anne Vasquez talk artificial intelligence and monetization in the tronc video.
  • Malcolm CasSelle and Anne Vasquez talk artificial intelligence and monetization in the tronc video.
  • from tronc YouTube video

How much of San Diego can be run by robots controlled by unscrupulous industrial kingpins?

That's one of the questions being posed in local media circles by word that the city's only daily newspaper, the Union-Tribune, has just laid off "a bunch of online editors...including yours truly," according to an evening August 15 tweet by Sandy Coronilla.

She posted a multiple-choice poll, asking readers about the likely reason for the layoffs, including "Robots/AI are taking over," "Not needed in 2016, duh," "Part of LA. consolidation," and "#investifarted."

On Tuesday, August 16, another tweet said, "Hearing more layoffs have happened today at U-T. Feel awful."

Irwin Jacobs

Irwin Jacobs

The reports come just weeks after the paper, owned by the controversial Chicago-based newspaper chain tronc, endorsed the mammoth road plan and parking garage project for Balboa Park being promoted by La Jolla billionaire Irwin Jacobs, a self-styled take-no-prisoners efficiency buff who wants to cut as many park jobs as he can.

"Have you looked at further automation in the garage to decrease parking garage staff?" Jacobs queried the office of Republican then-mayor Jerry Sanders in a February 5, 2011, email.

"Should be almost human-free except for emergencies."

The super-rich Jacobs and the multi-national corporation he co-founded, Qualcomm, Inc., are long-time proponents of outsourcing jobs abroad and expanding the so-called H-1B visa program to allow more low-cost engineering staff into the country.

Michael Ferro

Michael Ferro

High tech and big money are also the watchwords at tronc, run by Midwest wheeler-dealer Michael Ferro.

The day before Coronilla tweeted her tronc-based bad news, the New York Times ran a profile of Ferro, portraying the tronc chief as an unscrupulous operator prepared to use the newspapers under his control to settle scores with his critics, including Los Angeles–based Oaktree Capital, a major tronc stock owner who favors selling the company to newspaper giant Gannett.

"During a meeting in July at his estate in Lake Geneva, Wis., he suggested to top editors and executives that their journalists investigate Oaktree and Bruce Karsh, co-chairman and co-founder of the firm, according to two people with direct knowledge of the meeting," the Times reported of Ferro.

"No damaging article about Oaktree was published, but the episode provides a glimpse into the combative business style of a relatively unknown technology entrepreneur who has become one of the country’s most significant and unpredictable media moguls."

The San Diego branch of the tronc family has so far appeared to be something of an asterisk to the company's corporate mindset.

Jeff Light

Jeff Light

A widely mocked tronc video, announcing the firm's transition to an online system that would act as a "funnel" to gather and monetize stories from across the chain, omitted the Union-Tribune from the list of tronc newspapers, increasing speculation that the U-T — whose printing is already done in Los Angeles by the tronc-owned L.A. Times — could be on the verge of being folded into the giant to the north, leaving a skeleton staff in San Diego

Jeff Light, the paper's publisher and editor — brought in from Orange County back in 2010 by a previous super-rich owner from Beverly Hills, who soon dumped the paper, recently assured the U-T's dwindling audience that tronc is good news.

Tom Gores

Tom Gores

"In many ways, tronc is a new beginning," said Light in an interview with the paper. "It represents an effort to do what every legacy media company is trying to do — unlock the power of original content in a world that has tilted toward aggregators and click bait."

Colonel Ira Copley purchased 24 newspapers, mostly small-town dailies in Illinois and California, including the San Diego Union and Evening Tribune from the estate of John Spreckels.

Colonel Ira Copley purchased 24 newspapers, mostly small-town dailies in Illinois and California, including the San Diego Union and Evening Tribune from the estate of John Spreckels.

Of Ferro's stewardship and the paper's ultimate fate, he offered insouciantly, "I’m not sure readers should worry too much about the battle to get our shares, or about all the posturing that came with it," Light said. "We are publicly traded, and the market will sort it out in the end."

Beginning with its acquisition by Ira Copley, another Illinois tech baron, in 1928, what has come to be known as the Union-Tribune has a long, if not proud, history of playing politics and manipulating stories to benefit friends and damn enemies.

"The all-out assistance you are giving us — ranging from the loan of [San Diego Union editor] Herb Klein and [Union reporter] Peter Kaye to the help on the San Diego programs — is most gratifying," Nixon wrote then-owner Jim Copley during Nixon's 1960 presidential battle with John F. Kennedy.

"I only wish we had more like you!”

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If they keep laying off employees, they won't need the four floors they leased downtown, and their new building signage (http://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/20...) might prove to be a waste of money.

Based on the dumb mistakes I see more and more frequently in the miserable rag, I began to wonder if there were any editors left. There must have been a few, because we now learn they are laying off editors. So, maybe now they are going with a staff that has no editors reviewing what is printed. (Example: Today's edition had a description of the November 8 election as the "primary" in a piece on the Gaspar vs. Roberts supervisor's race. The primary was in June. The headline was misleading too: "Roberts Leads in Fundraising Race" when the story reports that Gaspar is getting massive help from the Lincoln Club and SD Regional Chamber of Commerce. That help is not counted in Gaspar's expenditures.) Gee whiz guys, can't we do a little bit better than this?

If more U-T editing will be done by LA-based editors, we can expect a lot of mistakes. And will the tronc's U-T soon rely on the AP or a TV station partner for local news coverage?

Inexcusable errors about an important election. Apparently U-T workers are on vacation and we can only hope the electorate is at the beach as well.

In fact, incumbent County Supervisor Dave Roberts, the only Democrat to be elected in decades to that powerful five-member board, has done an excellent job in his first term. He deserves re-election this fall. Aside from Roberts' strong personal qualities, it is always healthy to have political diversity on such an important decision-making body.

Dave Roberts has been intelligent, effective and moderate. He is well-regarded in the community for serving local government in his district and for having his kids in local schools. He has withstood a scurrilous full-court press by the GOP to remove him from this job and he certainly needs accurate reporting to continue to raise money needed for re-election.

Matt Potter manages to fold Irwin Jacobs' controversial proposal for a fully-automated Balboa Park parking garage into the main story here -- about fewer humans and more automation at newspaper properties such as our own pressless and unhoused San Diego Union-Tribune, now owned by the odious "tronc," formerly Tribune Company of Chicago.

Anyway, lo siento fired U-T scribes! And we can't argue with U-T editor/publisher Jeff Light's existential assessment about the U-T's ultimate fate: "the market will sort it out in the end."

The big question is will tronc's odious, disruptive, artificial intelligence and celebrity-loving CEO Michael Ferro destroy both our Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune before those properties can be extricated and sold to Gannett or rich West Coast Oak Tree investors? Either of those suitors doubtless would salvage Southern California's two main journalism endeavors -- even including traditional reporters and photographers, groups "tronc" disdains -- rather than bleed them into oblivion.

We can only hope.

I usually have more to say, but I'm only going to call Irwin Jacobs an American traitor. He built his business on outsourcing and in-sourcing using fraudulent claims to the Department of Labor. Jacobs is an unindicted white collar criminal. He built his enterprises stealing and lying. He should be ashamed to even venture into public debates about our parks and infrastructure.

I agree. Some years ago he was most generous with funding and endowments for cultural groups. I guess that bought him some standing with the local old money. Now he's showing his real identity, a rapacious robber baron who, at times, will still support charitable, educational, or cultural activities. But really, he's a greedy old man, with greedier sons, and a corporation he spawned that is greedier still.

But wait. Jake is a Democrat, and "everyone" knows that the Dems take care of the little guy, the "working stiff", and he can't be doing these nefarious things. Can he? CAN HE? Well, yes he and his family gang can be doing all those things and more.

Matt usually stays above the fray, but his reporting on this crooked family reveals that he REALLY doesn't like them at all. Hear, hear!

In general, couldn't one say that most billionaires are greedy? That's how they became billionaires. But most will deny it, saying what they do is for the greater good.

Will the U-T become the San Diego edition of the Los Angeles Times? Wouldn't surprise me.

Or will they both be destroyed by a thousand cuts from "tronc" honcho Michael Ferro who is thus far unwilling to free any newspapers in his Chicago Tribune Co. portfolio?

Is Matt Potter obliquely suggesting that Irwin Jacobs could ante-up to save the Union-Tribune in league with his billionaire friend Eli Broad in Los Angeles who has expressed a similar interest in "saving" the Los Angeles Times? The two rich old guys have much in common -- love of civic power foremost among them -- and how better to shape one's community than by owning a newspaper? Hence Potter's reference to early influential Ira Copley who established San Diego's direction for years through the conservative pages of San Diego's Union and Tribune.

There are many times (pardon the pun) when I think that the U-T is already there. Then there are those times when I think both are just appendages of the NY Times/Washington Post cabal. Independent journalism seems to have died for lack of interest in our new millennium.

The Reader is still independent, and it breaks news regularly.

Has any corporation in memory come up with as bad a company name as tronc? It sounds like a rare disease found in the jungles of South America. ("Yes, unfortunately he died of tronc. We still haven't found a cure for it yet.")

The consolidation of our media is just in time to help control the "news" about the upcoming elections.

Expect to see even more BIA$ in the future!

Bureau of Indian Affairs? Business Improvement Associations? Business Impact Analysis?

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